Who is Lydia Caruana in the eyes of Lydia Caruana?
I’m a person who loves to be with people, whether I’m singing to an audience and sharing my interpretation of music, or whether I’m cooking up a dish and vying to entertain my family and friends’ taste buds.
Nowadays, I really can’t separate the singer from the woman, the wife and the mother. It’s one and the same person. Being me is important even in the music world, and my singing is also imbued with my personality and character. I’m my bubbly Mediterranean, passionate self and my sign is Scorpio. I have great faith in God and in the good of people, and I believe that everyone has an innate goodness in them, even if it’s masked at times. My philosophy is to think positive as much as possible, even in the face of life’s adversities. My motto is “life is too short to be little”.
What is your earliest memory of being on stage?
It goes back to when I was in primary school, where I had played Beth in Alcott’s Little Women. During the course of the play, I had gone to bed without taking my shoes off. One of the teachers spoke to me afterwards and remarked that I was a natural actress, but that nobody sleeps with his shoes on. Needless to say, I never made a likewise mistake again.
I was twelve years old when I first sang onstage. It was the performance of an aria called When I’m Queen of the Marionettes from Tchaikovsky’s The Puppet Show, at the Teatru Manoel. My solo aria had received a huge applause which left me standing in awe. I can still remember my skin tingling. I remember that I had vowed there and then to do this when I grew up, so I memorised every detail of the Manoel’s backstage and dressing rooms, because I knew that I’d be back.
Image: Night for Life, Teatru Manoel 2014. Yvette Galea pianist and Lydia Caruana singer
How was your voice discovered?
My father, who had a beautiful lyric tenor voice, was always playing operas and classical music at home. I’d listen carefully and then try and emulate the singers in my own particular childish manner. At secondary school, my teacher Joseph Huber had been the first to discover my voice by singling me out from the choir and chose me to sing soprano solos for school productions. When I eventually started voice coaching with soprano Antoinette Miggiani, I found her to be a huge mentor. She inspired me to aim extremely high, and her trust in my abilities was always a huge impetus.
Your extensive repertoire boasts a range of musical pieces. Is there a particular composition that speaks to you most?
I can say that Mozart is definitely one of my favourites and that Contessa and Elvira remain two of my favourite operatic roles, so for me, Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni are untouchable. However, I also simply adore his concert arias which are so beautiful. There’s something about how his work sits so comfortably and naturally on my voice. It gives me a great feeling while I sing.
Many other compositions speak to me, and the list is too long to mention. I’ve lately discovered an affinity for two extremes, musica da camera from the baroque period and songs from The American Songbook. I try to serve each piece of music well, to understand and dissect it in an effort to understand what the composer had in mind. If one strives to understand the musicality and structure of a piece, the appreciation makes you love it.
Image: Lydia Caruana, conductor Julius Selcan and mezzo soprano Veerle-Sanders
How does the quality of language contribute to the finish of a musical piece?
In classical training, good and clear diction is part and parcel of proper vocal technique, which includes the right placement and projection of the voice and a warm tone throughout the entire voice range. The professional singer adapts technique to bring out the best in each language without sacrificing tone. Italian is the language of singing, per eccellenza, because the language itself is rich in pure vowels, double consonants and structured in such a way that it aides projection and even placement of the voice. Because of its nuances, Italian remains a favourite with singers, also because it allows for colour manipulation and interpretation.
On the other hand, I love singing in French because of the way stresses are created in the language by lengthening a syllable without imposing extra weight, and this makes for a very fine legato line while singing. It also creates a more sensual form of singing where ethereal, dramatic passages are concerned.
German is Lieder’s language, and I can’t imagine singing Schubert, Schumann or Strauss in any other tongue. Maybe I love singing in German because the countries I’ve sung mostly in are Germany and Austria. One tends to associate the language with the people, and my performances have always been so greatly appreciated by these audiences.
English turns out to be the trickiest to classically sing in, and one must adapt a suitable technique to rest on the vowels and keep a rounded tone. I feel it’s better suited for musical theatre and oratorio than opera. The English language is also perfected suited to the genre American Songbook with music by Gershwin, Kern, Berlin, Chaplin and Weill, which I adore.
Contrary to what many believe, it’s not difficult to sing in Maltese if one knows how to do it properly. There’s a particular musicality to it which must be sought out, rather like the German language. To give an example of this uniqueness, the Maltese ‘għ’ is a great enhancer of tone wherever it’s placed, and one should capitalise on this. Whenever I’ve included songs in the Maltese language such as those by Joseph Vella and Charles Camilleri in any recital or concert, they’ve never failed to generate an extreme wave of interest in the audience.
Image: Lydia Caruana with Tenor Otokar Klein & Soprano Eva Hornyakova, Slovak Chamber Orchestra
How can the dramaturgy of opera contribute towards society?
Watching a live opera can be compared to watching a film, but the residual sensations are much stronger. The lights go out, the scenery takes you to another world; a point in history perhaps, or a purely fictional one. The music sweeps you into fantasy or floods your guts with pleasure, and the drama of it charges currents through your whole being. In one word, you get transported to a completely different world, and all your senses get stimulated.
Very often the music, setting and drama evoke a sense of nostalgia which, according to social psychologists, leads to feelings of being loved and to the sensation that life’s worth living. Isn’t this what every one of us wants to feel? Attending a live performance can give you a sense of camaraderie with the other members of the audience, with the orchestra and singers, and with the works of literature and historical eras upon which the opera’s based. Opera contributes to a great sense of well-being, to personal pleasure and an aura of fulfillment. You don’t need to be knowledgeable about music at all; the completeness of this form of entertainment will deliver.
Image: Flagey Theatre Brussels 2016, East Slovak chamber orchestra
Video: Jose Carreras and Lydia Caruana