It has the power to soothe and heal and we want to dedicate this concert to all those who have been affected by the tsunami, say soprano Donna Zapola and pianist Ioannis Potamousis

Slim, with finely etched features, Donna Zapola looks quite different from the mental picture I have of an opera singer. But her resonant voice and stage presence are clearly the stuff that opera divas are made of. The New-York based soprano, who is of Czech-Croatian origin, won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and made her Met debut as La Contessa di Folleville in a much acclaimed production of Rossini’s Il Viaggio A Reims.

Since then she has delighted opera lovers with performances as Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen, La Traviata’s Viloletta, Rosalinda in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, Liu in Puccini’s Turandot, the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and many other challenging roles.

Zapola made her Avery Fisher Hall and Lincoln Centre debut in Janacek’s Danube and has performed at Carnegie Hall, with John Rutter conducting his Requiem.

The award-winning operatic singer has worked with many well-known conductors and orchestras in the US and abroad and has performed in cities such as Cairo, Bangkok, Seoul, Beijing and Hong Kong. A regular visitor to Dubai, she is in the city again to perform in the Music Without Boundaries tour organised by Bravo Productions and presented by Emirates airline.

Accompanying Zapola at this concert is pianist Ioannis Potamousis. The young, good-looking Greek musician is a gold medallist in piano from the Piraeus Federation Conservatory in Greece and did his graduation and master’s degree in Germany.

He has won several competitions for young performers, including the prestigious Concerto Competition at Rutger’s University in the US, where he is currently doing his doctoral research. Besides solo performances, Potamousis has featured in recitals and chamber music concerts all over the US and in Europe and is excited about performing in Dubai for the first time.

The first concert of the tour took place at the Madinat Theatre on January 4 and the next, hosted by the Abu Dhabi Music Foundation, will take place on January 10 at the Cultural Foundation Theatre, Abu Dhabi.

Tabloid met the two artistes for a joint interview. Excerpts from our conversation:

Tabloid: What is it like working together?

Donna Zapola: We have collaborated before and it is a surprise for me that we manage to do so, because we always argue a lot. But eventually we reach a point where it all comes together.

Ioannis Potamousis: Donna is a great musician and we have collaborated before. But each time is a new time and each concert is a new concert where we try to do so something fresh. We have lots of arguments and fights, but we respect each other and it is a pleasure to be together on stage.

What attracted you to perform in Dubai?

DZ: This is my fifth performance here and I accepted the invitation from Janet Hildebrand-Hassouneh of Bravo Productions because I like this place and I appreciate what she is doing to popularise opera and classical music in this part of the world. Over the last 20 years I have seen amazing growth in the city. It is wonderful to see that the audiences are getting bigger and that more UAE nationals are getting interested.

IP: I was happy to be invited by Janet, particularly because she made this wonderful suggestion of playing with Donna. This is my first performance in Dubai and as soon as I landed here I could feel the warmth of the city and the people and am looking forward to playing here.

How do you relate to the Music Without Boundaries theme of the concert?

DZ: It reminds me of a concert I did where the audience was not provided with translations of my songs and I was furious with the organisers. But afterwards so many people came backstage and told me that they had understood exactly what I wanted to say. Music speaks to the heart. It has the power to soothe and heal and we want to dedicate this concert to all those who have been affected by the tsunami.

IP: I am Greek, Donna is Czech-Croatian; we met in the US and will perform together for a multinational audience here. This is possible because music is a universal language — a uniting force that brings humans together and has no boundaries.

Given the theme of the concert, how did you choose the music?

DZ: I always try to get a great range of music that people have not heard before and will do some pieces by Dvorak, which is in a language close to what I grew up with.

I will do art songs by Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni, Richard Strauss and also some numbers by Spanish composers Granados and De Falla that audiences here may never have heard before. With the theme in mind we have chosen music that we hope will speak to the heart and soul of the audience.

IP: Our goal while selecting the music was to create a magical atmosphere for the audience. We have tried to combine different composers and different styles such as Debussy, Gounod and Manuel de Falla. Among our performances together will be the Jewel Aria from Faust and on Janet’s request I will do a debut performance of The Dante Sonata by Liszt — which I am quite stressed about.

You are both studying for your doctorate and are also involved in teaching. What is the role of teaching and continual study in a musician’s career?

DZ: Teaching is very important to me and at the forefront of my career today. I am an active member of the National Teachers of Singing Inc, Music Teachers National Association, Music Educators National Conference and the New Jersey Educator’s Association.

It is wonderful to be able to pass on my knowledge to youngsters and to guide them so that the learning curve becomes a little shorter for them and they do not have to go through the bad things I went through.

I would love to come to Dubai and teach students here. Although it is difficult to find the time, I believe that whatever stage of your career you may be at, to maintain your position and to grow as a performer it is important to continue learning. For my doctorate at Rutgers University, I am doing research on Croatian music, which is my heritage.

IP: It is difficult to balance performing, studying and teaching, but the importance of all three makes me find a way.

I am doing research on German philosophy and German music because as a Greek, philosophy is an element of my heritage. It is wonderful to be a student, but I also feel that as a student we always take from our teachers, hence it is also important to give back something to others. For me teaching a musical piece is almost like creating something new.

In Dubai, we got to hear classical music on the radio only during the recent period of mourning. What is the place of opera and classical music in today’s world? Why are new compositions so rare?

DZ: Classical music does have a stoic and stodgy image but things are taking a kind of turn with the arrival of new, young stars.

There is a young Russian singer who has started making videos that have helped to lure a younger audience. I would love to direct a video too. As for modern operas, very few are interesting and that is why they are not attracting audiences, who still prefer the classics. But I feel optimistic because as a teacher