Carpenter-turned-opera- maestro does not gasp for air

  • 2010-07-28
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

Upon a bit less generous twist of fate, maestro Vytautas Juozapaitis (pictured with his wife), one of the most prominent contemporary baritone singers, might still be scooping up chips on his carpenter’s bench, if his fate had not succumbed to his vocational charm, catapulting him to the top. After graduating in vocal singing from the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater in 1989, the young baritone’s blissful international acclaim arrived in 1993, when he won the International Luciano Pavarotti Vocalist Contest in Philadelphia. The same year, seeking wider recognition, the 30-year-old Lithuanian interned with Marlen Malas in New York and with the Finnish baritone Tom Krause. For several years in a row the singer participated in the projects of the European Center for Opera and Vocal Art (E.C.O.V.), based in Belgium: he sang parts in W. A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni and G. Bizet’s Escamillo, as well participated in the gala concert in the Theatre Royal de la Monnai.

His recent repertoire consists of more than twenty roles, among them Enrico (G. Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor), Baron and Germont (G. Verdi’s La traviata) and Scarpia (G. Puccini’s Tosca).
The soloist has collaborated with famous foreign and Lithuanian conductors, such as  Mstislav Rostropovich, Eduard Muller, David Agler, Pinchas Steinberg, Justus Franz, Jonas Aleksa, Juozas Domarkas and others.

For the parts he has prepared during the last five years, as well as for the popularization of Lithuanian music, the opera soloist Juozapaitis was awarded the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Arts in 2003. Being widely acknowledged as an opera singer and vocalist teacher, he is involved in numerous other activities, ranging from heading a Cultural and Arts Center that bears his name to slagging rookie singers off on trendy TV shows. Whatever the man assumes, he sparkles with wit and optimism.

The Baltic Times spotted the music prodigy in the resort town of Palanga, where he was to perform for his admirers.

What does the Baltic Sea mean to you? How does it interact with your creative exuberance?
The sea means to me an enormous power, which has a unique ability to attract me any time of year or day. It embodies an entity filled with sweet freedom, the smell of a secret, the breathe of the Neptunian wind, the magic sigh of waves and an immeasurable horizon, upon which our unrealized dreams are being cherished. It serves to me as a source of rejuvenation and inspiration. Speaking more down-to-earth, I try to come to the resort every year. My last time here was with my wife, exactly one month ago.

You are involved in numerous activities, working your tail off. How do you manage to handle all these commitments?
Oh, yes, it really may sound impressive. However, all my commitments and pledges are interconnected, supplementing each other. Therefore, they do not hinder each other. On the other hand, I do like to stay busy - the feature I attribute to my big workload in theater. The theater has nurtured my best virtues, determination and a strong sense of duty among them. Being busy, I hate being late. Believe me, being on time is not an issue to me. Furthermore, a day can start way before 8 a.m. Does anyone suffer from my busyness? I guess only those who assume I have taken their positions.

However, your rise to musical stardom has not been quite that simple. How did you end up in a vocational school’s carpentry class?
(Grins). Carpentry can be as creative and rewarding as opera singing. Honestly speaking, I made up my mind to become a musician in the eighth grade. What I did was I sat down nearby a drum in the school hall, and I got hooked up. The next step was, I started singing. Head of the-then school ensemble most likely got impressed with my crooning, as he encouraged me to pursue a career in singing. However, after being conscripted into the Soviet Army, I had to put my musical career on hold. After this, I felt I needed to start living on my own, so I enrolled in a vocational school’s carpentry class. Frankly, I am proud of my carpenter’s diploma and I am hoping to come back some day to the carpenter’s bench. Being engulfed with singing all the time increases the risk of being bored and fed up with what you are doing. Carpentry is a good getaway.

Did you inherit your vocal skills from your parents?
I do not think so. Unlike me, they are quite normal people. My father is a teacher of mathematics and my mother is a teacher of the Russian language.

You work in the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater, which is considered  to be the main Lithuanian forge of would-be operetta and opera singers. How often do you stumble upon a voice that raises your eyebrows?
It does not happen often. Paradoxically, those who come to the Academy, coincidentally, achieve the best results. There is a handful of our graduates on the best European opera scenes. It proves we work in the right direction.

What part of  a singer’s success lies with each of his or her talent, hard work and beneficial circumstances?
In any regard, the crucial part in the “cocktail” belongs to work. I can repeat this several times. However, without talent, it would lose its sense. Nevertheless, my experience shows that the best results can be achieved when professional and personal circumstances line up accordingly.

What theatrical roles are the most complicated? Do you ever gasp for air when singing? Are you always satisfied with your performance?
All roles require devotion and preparation, otherwise, an unprepared performer risks gasping for breath. No other known condition, unless the singer is physically impaired, can make him or her gasp for air while singing. If a singer or any artist is satisfied with his or her performance, he or she should get off the stage as soon as possible. Self-criticism is crucial in pursuing mastership. However, the other extremes, self-humiliation and a lack of self-esteem are no less dangerous.

Can you recall a funny happening behind the scenes?
Once, while performing Don Giovanni’s role in a theater in the U.S., in Boston, after the intermission I was in the elevator on my way back to the stage when, all of sudden, I heard my…voice performing “E via buffone…” I was startled and confused over what was happening. Later, it turned out that the play manager, having not made sure about my presence, gestured the bandleader to assume the second part. Having realized my absence, he scrambled to take over my part in the wing. My singing partner, Leporel, was in awe, singing out his words frantically and twisting his head in hopes to see me. It seemed eerie and… hilarious as well.

Were you born under a lucky star? Whom do you attribute your acknowledgment?
I am really happy, as I have the most important things in my life – my loving family. It is my utmost foundation of my success. First, I am very grateful to my wife, Egle, for creating the conditions letting me pursue my professional goals. Also, I am thankful for my daughters who support me and rejoice over my achievements. Obviously, I am deeply indebted to my teachers and all the people that I have met on my path. As for the acknowledgment, I am thankful to my audience. Each artist’s dream is to have as many of them as possible.

Being plunged into various TV shows, how do you evaluate the scene of Lithuanian popular music and TV talent shows? Is there more talent or kitsch?
Likewise, as in classical music, there are a good deal of unique performers and sheer kitsch about it. Sometimes it makes me wonder why some singers want to go on stage. However, recently, I am pleasantly surprised as I see a certain leap forward in our TV music shows and contests. I mean repertoire and performance quality-wise.

Are you not fed up with television overall?
You got it right. Most often I watch entertainment and musical programs only being shot in the TV studios.

As a TV talent show judge, a quite ruthless one, you have conjured up an image of a jerk to many contestants and TV viewers. Does it bother you? Why do you not flatter the people a bit?
(Smiles) Well, I can admit that I have a very nasty trait - I never flatter anyone. Maybe except my granddaughters. My life philosophy is as follows: to speak what I think. Well, sometimes, judging on TV shows I prefer saying some things in the language of Esop, which means I use allegories and metaphors. Though when making TV judgments, the factor of amusement remains very important, I stick to my credo – be professional and straightforward. I do understand that a TV audience can be of very different backgrounds, education, ages and musical tastes. That makes me somehow adapt when picking up certain musical terms in evaluation, but never to flatter the audience or contestants. The bottom line is all my remarks and wishes are aimed to make the young people aspire for proficiency.

Being an acclaimed artist and having many performances abroad requires multilingual skills and a certain proficiency of languages. Can you share your secrets in learning a foreign language?
Well, it is not exactly the way you are trying to present. Performing a role in a foreign language does not necessarily mean I am fluent in it. Usually, it is enough to learn a certain passage from the performance, simply speaking, only the words of my role. Sometimes “polishing” and excelling in pronunciation takes up much more time. Thus, I have sung in Italian, English, German, French, Polish, Czech and Norwegian. However, I can say I speak quite well only Lithuanian, Russian and English. If it were necessary, I could communicate in Italian, using the librettos of the Italian operas I have sung.

Who is your severest critic?
My wife. Egle is a teacher of singing at Vilnius College. Besides, she is my dearest Alma Mater mate and, most importantly, my life’s fellow traveler. I am deeply indebted to her for my professional achievements and the level of my performance. She is my true other side. I have to admit, a better one…

The trio of your wife, daughter and you seems very amusing to many. Who came up with the idea to perform together?
(Smiles) Well, in our family classical democracy prevails, which means we consider things together, however, I decide. Frankly speaking, when I proposed it, I was fretting over their response. To my sheer joy, they arduously agreed to take the challenge. As it turned out, it was very fulfilling for all of us. Honestly speaking, it brings us a tremendous joy to sing together.

Always being in public, you deal with many different people. What kind of people is it that you cannot stand? What traits do you admire?
I do despise selfish people and intrigants as well. I do love honest, moral and devoted people – virtues make up the true essence of a human being. Besides, a sense of humor and a musical ear are of great value to me.

If you were in a capacity to bring novelties to the Palanga resort, what would they be?
I wish I could bring an international music festival to Palanga. Who knows, maybe it will happen some day? I am truly looking forward to it.