She dazzled the audience as the fiery, feisty Carmen on the Erkel Theatre stage when the Hungarian State Opera season re-opened in September. As a character of such powerful seduction and mesmerising beauty in one of the most popular operas, Atala Schöck burned a trail of fire across the stage, disintegrating everything in her path.
The Hungarian mezzo-soprano has an enviable repertoire spanning many years and countries. She was the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music 1999 International Wagner scholarship winner and has performed in theatres across Europe as well as Hungary: Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville, Opéra Bastille in Paris, Teatro Regio in Turin, Národni Divadlo in Prague as well as Bayreuther Festspiele in Germany to name just a few.
At what age did you decide to become a singer?
I began to sing at 18, but at the beginning I was not sure I wanted to be an opera singer as I intended to study at university and needed time to go to music academy. I studied German language and literature and then attended the academy, which was small and intimate. It was the ideal environment to improve ourselves gradually. I began my career at the age of 22 as an oratorio singer when I was in music school. It was here that I took part in a competition. In the judging panel was the Szeged University musical theatre director, and on completing my studies I returned to Szeged where I spent two years performing on the opera stage. From that moment I was certain I wanted to be an opera singer. I competed in three international competitions in 2002. I made it to the finals and although I didn’t win, it opened the door to many opera roles after this. For the Hungarian State Opera House I did an audition in 2004.
Which language is your favourite for performing?
French, although the German language is my second language so I understand the feelings behind the words in real depth. Some years ago I went to the French Cultural Centre but I also learned a lot in Paris at Opéra Bastille in 2010. Italian is beautiful and the best for fitting into the musical score, but as it is not really my language I am worried that if I make a mistake it is difficult to correct it in a language I am not so comfortable in. So for Italian opera I have to know the words inside out.
You have played the role of Carmen a number of times now. Is this your favourite character?
Yes but I also like the role of Cherubino in “Le Nozze di Figaro” or Sesto in “La Clemenza di Tito” and Örzse in “Háry János”. “Carmen”, of course. I love this character and my very first time playing her was in the beautiful Prague Opera House. The following year I performed “Carmen” again in Debrecen and it was directed by a French female director; it was a great show and I had the same passionate feelings about the role. Some years later for the first time in Budapest, I played the role of Carmen.
Is it difficult to come out of character after performing, especially such an intense central role?
It is very difficult as it is so intense when you are playing a character, especially to relax post-show. The audience have come to the theatre as they want to be involved in something sensational, so I feel a big responsibility to give absolutely 100% to the performance. They are looking for intensity and beauty to lift them out of this world for those hours they are absorbed in the opera.
Comic opera versus tragic opera – do you have a preference?
Both are good, especially going from comic opera to tragic. After all, you can’t die every day on stage, it is so exhausting. It is important to have a balance of roles between the two extremes. I am excited about the upcoming production of “Werther“ as it has been my dream to play the role of Charlotte for a long time now. Charlotte and Carmen are absolute polar opposites although both operas have tragic endings. Regarding the two contrasting characters, Carmen and Charlotte, I feel that every woman has aspects of both personalities within them, but as a singer I am lucky to have the chance to show this to the audience. As performers we can play situations which in everyday life we may have no chance to feel or to experience.
Do you have a favourite theatre?
Prague theatre is beautiful but really it is the team you work with which makes the performance so special; after all, when performing on stage we cannot see a beautiful auditorium such as La Scala, only darkness. Rehearsals also take place in separate rehearsal rooms, only moving to the stage itself one week before a premiere, so a beautiful theatre isn’t so vital. It is the company and the audience which make the performance great.
Are they any other roles that you would like to play?
Yes, Delilah in “Samson and Delilah” and also maybe some more Wagner roles. Theatre is such an amazingly strong and powerful place where we can learn a lot about ourselves through the characters. I am very grateful to God to be given this chance in life.
Atala Schöck will be performing the role of Charlotte in “Werther” by Massenet in the Hungarian State Opera House from October 25. Later roles in the season include Selinda in “Farnace”, which returns in December. Also, in 2016, roles in “Die Fledermaus”, “Parsifal”, “St John Passion” and “Rigoletto”.