Serbian bass Sava Vemić is in Toronto, ON singing Don Fernando in the Canadian Opera Company‘s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, running Sept 29 to Oct 20 (tickets here). Johannes Debus conducts an all-star cast that also includes Miina-Liisa Värelä (Leonore), Clay Hilley (Florestan), Dimitry Ivashchenko (Rocco), Anna-Sophie Neher (Marzelline), Josh Lovell (Jaquino), Johannes Martin Kränzle (Don Pizarro), Wesley Harrison (First Prisoner), and Alex Halliday (Second Prisoner).
Vemić is an alumnus of The Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, where he made his debut in Verdi’s Nabucco. He’s performed on many of the world’s leading stages including Opéra National de Paris, Carnegie Hall, Semperoper Dresden, the Canadian Opera Company, and Belgrade National Opera. Up next, he’s headed to Paris to sing Il Principe de Bouillon in Opéra National de Paris‘s production of Cilea‘s Adriana Lecouvreur from January 16 to February 7 (tickets here).
This week, we discussed all things opera with him: what inspired him to sing, the roles he’d like to be singing in ten years, and how he defines happiness. In Vemić’s words, “being with the people that you love, having good health and a clear head, and being present in the moment.”
When was your first singing lesson and with whom?
It was 19 years ago in Belgrade with my first teacher, mezzo-soprano Tanja Obrenović. I was 17 years old.
What inspired you to sing?
My family; my sister who played violin, my mother who played accordion and my father who played “gusle” and recited poetry. All of them sang, so I started as well.
Drink of choice?
Gin-tonic, with really sparkling water with lemon.
Favourite city that you’ve worked in?
New York City! I started working there professionally as one of The Met Opera’s young artists. But I also love Paris, Munich, and Tokyo and am looking forward to seeing Sydney soon. Right now, of course, I love Toronto, a city that is part urban jungle (downtown!), but which also has Lake Ontario and Niagara Falls close. That is fantastic!
If you weren’t a singer, you’d be…
A pharmacist or a basketball player – an old dream of mine!
Top 3 favourite Composers
Verdi, Mozart, Tchaikovsky
Top 3 favourite operas
Verdi’s Don Carlo, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and The Magic Flute, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
Which opera role do you want to be singing right now?
The one that I am doing now, Don Fernando in Fidelio! Also, King Philip from Verdi’s Don Carlo.
Which opera role do you want to be singing in 10 years?
Gurnemanz in Wagner’s Parsifal and Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov – but I could do it earlier!
Who is a singer you admired from the past?
What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you on stage?
Being on stage is always strange, and therefore fantastic. The funniest thing that happened to me was a long time ago, when I sang in a non-professional choir (“Krsmanac”) with my friends and one of them would change the words in the text during the performance, which changed the meaning drastically in a really funny way. Inside, I was crying of laughter while continuing to sing and needed to compose myself at the same time. The conductor was – of course – not happy at that moment.
What’s your favourite orchestral instrument?
Flute. Why? I am married to Anja, and she is a flutist!
What’s your favourite thing about singing with an orchestra?
The width, richness, unity and warmness of the sound that orchestra brings.
What’s something most people don’t know about opera life?
The level of discipline and the demands that you need to fulfill in order to have a long and balanced opera life.
What is one surprising thing that you have learned in becoming an opera singer?
The importance of being present in the moment.
What was the first opera you ever saw?
Bizet’s Carmen in Belgrade.
What’s your favourite mind-calming practice?
Taking a longer shower.
What’s your favourite movie?
if I can only choose one, “12 Angry Men” (both versions).
What’s the downside of being an opera artist?
Not seeing family and being close to friends on regular basis – but there are always video calls.
What’s the best thing about being an opera artist?
Exploring a rich operatic repertoire and visiting the whole world while traveling.
What book are you reading at the moment?
The libretto of Gound’s “Faust” and “By the Sea” by Abdulrazak Gurnah.
Which TV show did you binge-watch last?
“Spiderman” on Netflix!
Do you sing in the shower?
When did you know you wanted to be an opera singer?
When I stepped on the stage for the first time as Sarastro.
Do you enjoy cooking?
Increasingly, yes. I love cooking fish or chicken with zucchini and potato, in a cream sauce.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
That I can sing while dreaming.
What is the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?
The very first thing – I would yell “Wow”!
What is one very popular thing that you have no interest in?
Driving electrical scooter. Walk people, walk.
When was the first time you cried at the opera?
When I listened the Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra on YouTube (not even in the theatre) hearing the duet between Fiesco and Simon “Piango, perch mi parla”, and at the very end of Puccini’s La bohème at the Metropolitan Opera. That moment moved me to tears.
What is happiness for you?
Being with the people that you love, having good health and a clear head, and being present in the moment.
LEARN MORE ABOUT SAVA VEMIĆ
VISIT HIS WEBSITE
Ⓒ Miloš Lužanin
Sava Vemić (Don Fernando), Miina Liisa Värelä (Leonora), and Dimitry Ivashchenko (Rocco) in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, 2023 Ⓒ Michael Cooper
Canadian Opera Company
Sept 29-Oct 20, 2023
CONDUCTOR Johannes Debus
DIRECTOR Matthew Ozawa
COSTUME DESIGNER Jessica Jahn
LIGHTING DESIGNER Yuki Nakase Link
PRICE FAMILY CHORUS MASTER Sandra Horst
STAGE MANAGER Stephanie Marrs
FIGHT AND INTIMACY COORDINATOR Siobhan Richardson
LEONORE Miina-Liisa Värelä
FLORESTAN Clay Hilley
ROCCO Dimitry Ivashchenko
MARZELLINE Anna-Sophie Neher
JAQUINO Josh Lovell
DON PIZARRO Johannes Martin Kränzle
DON FERNANDO Sava Vemić
FIRST PRISONER Wesley Harrison
SECOND PRISONER Alex Halliday
With the COC Orchestra and Chorus
Beethoven’s only opera follows the story of Leonore, a woman who disguises herself as a man to go undercover into the very prison where she suspects her husband is being held as a political prisoner. As she descends deeper into the prison’s cells, she uncovers a sinister plot of abuse and oppression.
Acclaimed director Matthew Ozawa transports the action to a modern-day prison facility, reminding viewers that Beethoven’s warnings in Fidelio—about power, corruption, and tyranny—remain as relevant today as they were 200 years ago, while crystallizing the composer’s vision for justice and freedom.