Luciano Pavarotti, after listening to Victoria Lukyanets sing at a concert in Naples, said that her voice was so strong that it must have been heard in Capri. Victoria Lukyanets began singing at the age of four and did it so well that her parents, ordinary people of limited means, decided to do everything possible to help her become a professional singer, a star. At the age of 14, she became a student of Kyiv music school. At the age of 19 she got married, had a daughter, but continued her career of an opera singer. At the age of 26, she signed a contract with the Vienna Opera House, which is considered to be one of the leading opera houses in the world.She is good-looking, slim, persevering and determined to achieve whatever goal she sets before herself. She gets a lot of moral support from her family. Her husband and her brother are musicians too.The journalist Heorhiy-Hryhoriy Pylypenko talked to Mrs Lukyanets and to her mother, a teacher, and what follows is what they told him.
Says Alla Lukyanets, the singer’s mother:

When I was pregnant, I listened to classical music a lot, maybe that’s how my daughter got her musical talent. I was so determined to encourage my daughter to develop this talent to the full that when she was getting married, I told her: if you quit professional singing, I’ll renounce you. I never thought though she’d make it so big, you know, singing on the stage of the Vienna State Opera is something I’d never imagined could happen. But I can tell you that my daughter loved music from her early childhood. In fact, I loved music too, sang a little, but I grew up in a poor family and my parents could not afford to give me a musical education. So, I just listened to classical music on the radio, could do it for hours. I loved the sound of the violin. I was so eager to pass on to Victoria all the music inspirations that did not get realized in me. My husband was from the peasant stock but he liked music too, he could play the accordion. So, love of music must have been passed on to Victoria through the genes. I encouraged her to go to a music school. Incidentally, at school she majored in the piano playing, not singing. Her teachers said she could have made an excellent pianist. But she went into singing. Her husband is also a singer, he graduated from the Kyiv Conservatory of Music. Now he sings in the choir of the Vienna State Opera. If not for him, she would have never achieved what she actually has. He takes care of all the housework. My granddaughter Darusya lives with her parents in Vienna, she’s fluent in three languages, like her mother. It’s a great advantage. Victoria could have easily become a welcome figure in the Vienna high society, but she does not care for that. Which does not mean she’s a recluse. Among the people she’s acquainted with are Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli. She’s in the prime of her life and singing career, she turns her singing into real art, it’s not just a perfect skill.”

I talked to Mrs Lukyanets in a chic make-up of room of the National Philharmonic Society of Ukraine and was pleasantly surprised by the accessibility, friendliness and sincerity of the prima donna.

Pylypenko: Mrs Lukyanets, how does it feel to be living in Vienna?
: Oh, it feels fine. Almost like home. Even the architecture of Vienna reminds me of Kyiv. Lots of trees and parks, hills, many churches. Besides, it seems to be quite close to Kyiv — an hour and a half by plane. Vienna is a major European and world music centre and so many things happen every night in the music life of the city. When I’m not singing myself, I go to the Staatsoper, climb to the gallery or go to the “kunst-box” specially reserved for singers, and listen to others sing: Edith Gruberova, Carlos Alvares, Jose Bros, Ramon who is my favourite tenor, Vergas. Even if some of the singers do not sing too well — yes, it does happen sometimes, because a visiting singer can be tired, not in the right mood or shape — you can learn something useful for yourself.

Pylypenko: You are a leading singer of the Vienna Opera. Do other aspiring singers envy you? Have you already been called a diva?
: I think some may be envious. But you can hardly hope to be called “a diva” after only five years of singing career. Yes, I want to be called that. It’s a special status, which you achieve after so many years of professional singing, after you’ve proved you’re a very good singer and a strong personality. For me, among the present-day singers, Edith Gruberova is definitely a diva. Before her, Mary Calas was one, Joan Sutherland too. Well, I’ve been already told in Vienna: “You’re going to be our next diva.” One has to be careful in order to make it really happen, not to let it slip away.

Pylypenko: Do you get along with people you work with well?
: I think I do. I’m quite gregarious by nature, but even when I see something that I don’t like, I don’t say anything, don’t remonstrate. However, I’d do something to make either the director or conductor immediately understand that something’s wrong. I believe in compromises.

Pylypenko: Tonight you were singing to the accompaniment of one of the best chamber orchestras in the world. What’s so special about Roman Kofman as a conductor?
: He knows how to understand a singer and supports the singer beautifully. As a rule, the conductors like to show they’re number one, undisputed leaders, particularly in chamber orchestras. Roman Kofman is different, he allows the singer to be number one, to get most of the audience’s attention. He makes it possible for the singer to show the beauty of the voice to full advantage. It is a pleasure to sing with an orchestra conducted by such a person. You feel at ease. Tonight, it was a duet, not accompaniment, it was a dialogue of a singer and of an orchestra. It would make any singer feel happy.

Pylypenko: When I listen to you sing, I can’t help thinking about Montserrat Caballe.
: Why? Because of the way I handle my voice? Or because of my pianos? I’ve been told more than once that I’m paid big money for my pianos, rather than for singing in high register. Only very few singers can sing piano well. Caballe’s became so famous thanks to her pianos.

Pylypenko: Yes, I understand, the technique of singing is very important. But isn’t the way you act on the stage of a great importance as well?
: Of course, it is. Incidentally, I sang together with Caballe’ in a concert in 1993. She’s of a short stature as I am, but much plumper (Mrs Lukyanets gave a laugh here). After the concert, which was very strenuous, I looked at her and was amazed to discover that there was not a single trace of fatigue on her face.

Pylypenko: Mrs Lukyanets, in spite of the fine dress you’re wearing now, it’s quite easy to visualize you in a T-shirt and jeans.
: Well, I sometimes wear them. I can’t say I have a lot of dresses made to measure, neither do I often go shopping looking for something special. I’m a very impulsive person and when I see something I like in a shop window, I just go in and buy it.

Pylypenko: Can I ask you a personal question?
: Go ahead.

Pylypenko: Do you make a lot of money?
: Enough to maintain a decent living standard. Our household is run by my husband, he takes care of everything — paying the bills, handling mail, and contracts. He’s great at it, and such a help. Instead of coming with me to Kyiv, he’s stayed behind in Vienna.

Pylypenko: Mrs Lukyanets, when can we hope to see you next time in Kyiv?
: I’m preparing a special Easter programme with which I hope to come to Kyiv in April. The programme will have a lot of Ukrainian and religious music. There’ll be an orchestra, an organ, a children’s choir.

Pylypenko: Will you give any charity concerts?
: I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it. I used to give a lot of charity concerts before I left for Vienna in 1993. But, you see, how should I explain it… An opera voice is a very special gift, you must husband your voice, it’s very precious. In fact, I’m a slave of my own voice, I work so hard to keep it, as it were, in a good condition. I am at the service of my voice. You asked me how much I make. Opera singers make very little compared to pop stars or soccer stars. You’ll say: what about Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras? They receive millions for their concerts. All right, but do you know how hard a singer must work to sing like that? A singer is utterly exhausted after a performance. Now, at this moment as I’m talking to you, I’m perfectly all right, but when I come home fatigue will clamp down on me, and tomorrow I’ll feel so exhausted, it’ll be like being sick. Our nervous system cannot sustain such strains for long. I think here in Ukraine people must start to realize that for good art you must pay good money. Artists deserve it.

Pylypenko: What’s your favourite way of relaxation, Mrs Lukyanets? Where do you go to have a rest?
: Last summer we went to Italy, had a very good rest. As far as ways of relaxation are concerned — well, I love the tranquillity of the countryside, I can go to a cosmetologist, such visits take my thoughts completely away from the next performance. Alternatively, I can do some needlework. Or cook something. Or do some physical excercises.

On stage that night she was impeccable in everything. Her singing, her black dress, her diamonds. She’s indeed an Ukrainian diamond herself.

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