Diana Pirags is back in Latvia after three-year absence with a new string to her bow

  • 2020-04-01
  • Philip Houseley

Famous Latvian singer, Diana  Pirags has returned to her homeland after  being in Italy and Malta for the past three years.  Because of the Corona virus she has had to cancel concerts in Italy, but will make Riga her home, and her base for the future. With her is Italian opera singer Mikele Troia.  Together they perform classic songs, Opera, as well as Diana’s signature sounds of Jazz and Latino.  

Diana was born into a musical family and her mother was a famous Latvian singer. Now Diana has learned to sing opera, and has added that genre to her extensive repertoire.  The lead singer of many Baltic bands and winner of a stack of prizes at festivals, and with many albums and singles to her name, this popular singer will be welcomed back to Latvia as a national treasure.  The Baltic Times sat down to talk about her immediate past and her future plans, and to learn more about her partner, Mikele Troia.

The Corona virus has knocked your immediate plans sideways I suppose?

It is a terrible disease and I just hope a cure can be found soon, but in the meantime, we must follow our government and hope for the best.  Yes, I had to cancel concerts in Malta and Italy, but in May and June I have bookings in Jurmala and appearing at weddings and private functions like birthdays, etc.  Hopefully, in late summer, we will return for a working holiday to Malta, where I met Mikele.

You had no shortage of work when you were living in Malta?

In Malta, there is always a DJ or a band who will organise a lot of work for me.  I have a choice of venues to perform at whenever I go back for a visit.

Where do you call home these days?

For me, the best place to live is Riga, because I know everyone here and my family is here. It may not be as hot in the summer as Malta or Italy, but it is more comfortable, and with global warming, the winters here are getting better!  Apart from anything else, the work here in the Baltics is much better.  I spent almost two years in Malta, and before that I was travelling around Italy. I was based in Rome where I recorded an album, and co-operated on another album of Hip Hop music – something I had never sung before, but found I was surprisingly good! Not only that but I sang in Italian.  That is a language I now speak well – making four languages that I speak and 8 languages I can sing in.

What is Mikele’s background?

He lives in Sicily with his family and his father was an opera singer.  He must have been very good, because he sang with Maria Callas amongst other famous singers.  His father aid he should get some professional voice training because it sounded like he had a voice that was perfect for Opera. And that was the case when he eventually decided to get some voice coaching.

How and where did you meet?

I was in Malta on holiday with some girlfriends and we appeared to be the only ones in this bar, so we decided to sing some Latvian songs, then progressed to pop songs, and suddenly we heard another voice from another room – a strong powerful voice, joining in with us.  Yes, it was Mikele . We invited him to our table and sang some more songs all together, and we talked a lot. And that was it!  We sent the rest of the holiday together. I had to fly to Italy a few days later and was surprised and happy to find that Mikele was booked on the same flight.

So we were in Sicily for a few days and I met his family and stayed at their home.  

When I had to return to Latvia, Mikele could not come with me because of work.  He worked at a marble factory, where he had a two-year contract.  But his boss eventually agreed to release him after a few months and he joined me in Riga.  We planned a series of concerts where we could sing together, both solo and duets.

Now that you have a partner who has a strong fabulous ‘operatic’ voice – has that changed your repertoire?

Most opera singers can only sing opera or classical music. For me it is different. Because I could sing jazz, which is the basic for music, I found that it worked when we sang together – be it opera, classic, jazz or the blues.  So now I am much more versatile and I can change style easily and smoothly.  I can perform a concert in any of these genre’s, or even a mix of all of them.

Changing the subject, you had a strange experience when you found your son had a likeness to a famous actor?

Well, yes.  A few years ago, I posted a photo of my son when he was 2 or 3 years old, and one of my friends said he had a remarkable likeness to the famous film actress Ornella Mutti. Although known as an Italian film star, she originally came from the Baltics. Her father was Italian and her mother was Estonian. Her former name was Krauze, which is also the surname of my great grandfather.  We are checking the family tree now, to see if we are related - you never know!

Talking of surprises, you had Michael Bolton in your audience one day I believe.

I was taking part in the Euro Voice festival in Greece, in 2010. I was representing Latvia. The manager of the Festival was Ciro Orsini who was well known in music circles.

We got to know each other and when he opened a restaurant in Riga - Ciro’s Pomodoro. He invited me to the opening.  I sang there a few times. He also invited me to a Michael Bolton concert in Riga, and to sing at the after-show party at his restaurant. My set was an hour, and Michael Bolton was very complimentary afterwards, and he and his musicians became good friends.

It is not all singing. Later this year you have a new co-operation with the International School of Latvia, which will take you back to your school teaching roots?

Hopefully, yes. They have a programme that links with a similar school in Switzerland. In September the plan is that I help with the vocal study and music management course.

Yes, I have worked a lot with children in the past, including teaching singing and so, if I have the time. I would like to do this.

This brings us to the future, an uncertain future of course with the onset of the Corona virus.

We will be staying in Riga anyway, until at least July.  Hopefully then, or soon after, we can return to Malta and , even more uncertain,  we have offers of concerts and festivals in Italy.  We do not know if these will take place, of course. We are thinking of Mikele’s family in Sicily and praying everyone there will be alright in these terrible days for them and their nation.