The Slovenia Times

Janez Lotrič: The People's Tenor



Janez Lotrič has a habit of smiling when he sings. Part of the reason, of course, is that this renowned tenor enjoys sharing his gift with the world. But his facial expression is also the key to making his voice as melodious as possible. "In order to produce a well-rounded voice the singer should lift the hard palate and the smiling muscle, which requires lifting your cheeks," he explains.
It's a voice which has been heard in diverse venues. On the one hand, Lotrič has performed in almost every notable opera theatre in the world, but on the other hand, he is glad to grace the most local of events with his presence.
"If only I have time, I respond to every invitation but there should be some mutual attractiveness between me, the place, the people, the organisers," he explains. "When I go to places like Davča, Sorica or visit mountaineers in Bohinj I go to my people."

Cowshed opera

It's this down to earth attitude which saw Lotrič perform in a cowshed on a remote farm in the village of Davča near Železniki, the singer's birthplace. "With all its arches, the acoustics in the cowshed were actually very good. In its fragrant and clean environment I actually felt much better than in an unsuitable hall," he remembers.
Despite his dedication to his homeland, Lotrič was relatively unknown in Slovenia until the early 2000s. He does not try to conceal a little bitterness at that fact. "The most difficult thing is to please your own nation. At the Vienna State Opera alone, I had played 13 different main characters in 117 performances, yet Slovenian critics were not particularly interested and only one representative of the old generation of critics attended one performance," he recollects.
He clearly feels a particular responsibility to his countrymen: "I was probably more nervous ahead of my first major role at the National Opera Maribor than today at the most renowned venues. However, there is an element of responsibility for any audience, especially if they have been used to listening the best opera in the world."


Too Good for La Scala
When practising for Troubadour at La Scala, Lotrič ended the stretta with high C, which is not written in the score, but was highly recommended even by Verdi himself to able singers. A few hours later, Lotrič received a phone call from La Scala's secretary who accused him of showing off. "I obeyed the request [to stop singing the note] but, if allowed, I would have produced high C as I did in all of my eight performances in Vienna."

Around the world

Vienna is one such place and it was here where Lotrič made his breakthrough into the world's top class of tenors. The year was 1996 and the role was Canio in Pagliacci at the State Opera. "I am still its regular visiting singer and there were times when I appeared in up to 30 performances per year in Vienna." Regarding the pressure, Lotrič admits to feeling anxious if he is not 100 percent fit "but otherwise, I cannot wait to go on stage. I am hungry like a lion."
Since this breakthrough there has barely been a major opera house in which Lotrič hasn't performed. In 2005, he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York with the role of Alfred in J. Strauss' masterpiece The Bat. But this came only after he had taken Vienna, Milan's La Scala, Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, London's Covent Garden, Paris' Opera Bastille, Berlin's Deutsche Oper and many others by storm. He feels at home in Vienna but he speaks particularly fondly also of Japan, where he even has a fan club. "A few dozen members would come to European opera theatres, collecting autographs and photos after the performance, only to greet you again in their home towns of Tokyo, Yokohama, Sapporo or Osaka!" Lotrič occasionally rewards them with a private concert in small halls for 20 to 50 people. He used to spend several months per year in Japan.


Lotrič believes it crucial that opera singers do not stick to one theatre. "You get bored and the audience gets bored with you. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to show something new in each role. If I had stayed in Maribor or Ljubljana throughout my career, it would have been nothing, compared to what I have achieved on the international scene."
His road to Italy was particularly rough. "Geographically, we are too close to North Italian opera houses and the political history also did not make the journey any easier. But when I sang in Rome, for example they accepted me with open arms, shouting 'Bravo, Janez!'" He is especially proud of his appearances in Palermo, in Verdi's Sicilian Vespers. "Can you imagine an Italian singing the main character in Slovenian traditional opera Gorenjski slavček? Well, my Arrigo role in Sicilian Vespers was something like that." It was a huge success and he was invited to Palermo for many other roles.
Lotrič was also invited to the famous Sydney opera but he turned the offer down: "I should have stayed there for six months and learnt a whole lot of new stuff." Regarding Slovenian venues, opera singers are more or less limited to Maribor, Ljubljana's Cankarjev dom and now also to the renovated opera theatre in Ljubljana, due to open early next year. "There is no ideal place in Slovenia. Cankarjev dom is a good if the orchestra is down in the pit, while we still have to see what the new opera theatre in Ljubljana will bring in terms of acoustics."

Quick learner

Lotrič's success is partly down to his incredible ability to relearn a role literally overnight. "I cannot tell you how many times I was called to places like Vienna, Paris, Hamburg or Berlin to step in for somebody at five minutes to midnight." He has a large repertoire of roles, including some of the most challenging. "Coupled with good health, this [knowledge] is a prerequisite in cases when little more than a chat with the director and the conductor is possible, and everything on the stage is in your hands. I may not be a model but I have been able to master the most difficult roles better than some of the more athletic tenors."
Lotrič is currently working on two big projects. The first is recording Richard Strauss's Daphne opera with the Budapest Philharmonic, in the role of Apollo. "We originally did it last year and it was such a success that it was decided to record it live. For me, this is a highly important project." The other task on his to do list, which he sees as probably even more important, is staging Slovenian composer Marij Kogoj's Črne maske (Black Masks). "For the first time, I will sing the baritone role of Lorenzo, the main character," Lotrič explains. "But because the role of Lorenzo is so difficult that no-one can sing it on two consecutive evenings, it will be split among two or even three singers."


Mistaken for Domingo
In 1994, Lotrič released a record with a collection of duets with Russian baritone Igor Morozov. Part of the record was used in Woody Allen's film Match Point. When the film was shown in Slovenia, film critics attributed Lotrič's voice to Placido Domingo.

Ongoing passion

The project - led by maestro Uroš Lajovic, who had been editing the note manuscripts for several years - will premiere on January 13 next year in Maribor. The opening will be followed by performances in Ljubljana, which will coincide with the opening of the refurbished opera house. In total, there will be ten performances in Maribor and another five in Ljubljana.
It is clear that Lotrič is still as passionate as ever about his vocation. "My singing is about a combination of passion and responsibility," he reflects. "When I take the stage, the audience must experience catharsis, some sort of healing, which was the original purpose of ancient theatres. I take the greatest pleasure in proving myself again and again. There are times when an opera is not directed to your liking or there are other distractions but the audience should not sense it."


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