From Gütersloh to the World of Opera
Winning the “Neue Stimmen” International Singing Competition in 2007 catapulted Marina Rebeka to a global career. Today, she sings at the world’s greatest opera houses, while balancing family life and her career.
Marina Rebeka’s face is winsome, almost childlike, serene with a hint of shyness – but every now and then, her blue eyes gleam with mischief. The Latvian does not fit any stereotype, certainly not that of a temperamental prima donna. Airs and attitude are foreign to her. The hard business of international opera has left no traces on her face.
The soprano never dreamed that winning the “Neue Stimmen” competition in 2007 would send her career soaring. Then 27 years old, she impressed the jury with the arias “Qual fiamma” from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and “È strano, è strano” from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. After that, her career took off, with debuts at the Salzburg Festival, at London’s Covent Garden, at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Now the young woman is one of the most interesting international opera, lieder and concert singers of her generation, and much in demand. She is fully booked until 2018. “If anyone had predicted in 2007 that within two years I would sing at La Scala and in Salzburg, and with Andrea Bocelli, I never would have believed it.”
It was her grandfather, who inspired her love of opera. A conductor in his free time, he took her to see Bellini’s Norma at the National Opera when she was 13. “Until then, I didn’t even know what an opera was. But that night, I knew right away: I want to do that!”
And she did. Already too old to enroll in the state music academy, Rebeka attended a semiprivate school instead. After four years, she wanted to transfer to the national conservatory, but it was too soon. “I failed the entrance examination,” she explains. Fortunately, she was able to spend four years studying at the Jazeps Medins Music College in Riga. After transferring to the conservatory in Parma, she ultimately graduated from the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome. In 2007, she made her debut in Erfurt in La Traviata. That was also the year she took first place at the “Neue Stimmen” competition. “It would have been a fantastic experience even if I hadn’t won,” she says.
Music gave her private luck
She heard about “Neue Stimmen” from a friend. “My friend had participated and made it to the semifinals. She was very taken with the competition’s organization and professionalism,” the singer says. Rebeka therefore tried her luck as well, aiming to reach the semifinals herself. “I never thought about whether I would get any further than that. You never know whether you’ll suit the jury’s taste,” she explains. Not only did she win over the jury, she won the hearts of many enthusiastic listeners.
Five years ago, she also never could have imagined how much her personal life was going to change. Yet she did know what she wanted. “Children demand a great deal of time and attention, but they also transform you and make you think differently about many things,” she says, recounting her thoughts back then. “I knew that if God gave me the opportunity, I would be delighted to have the experience of starting my own family.”
She was given the opportunity, “rather suddenly,” as she puts it. Not surprisingly, music again played a crucial role. While singing in an opera by Donizetti, she quite unexpectedly found personal happiness and the love of her life. “It was in Latvia. We were singing the lead roles in L’elisir d’amore. And then, well, I guess we drank too deeply of the elixir of love,” she recalls. Her counterpart was the Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov, and they fell head over heels for each other. Today, he is her husband. Their daughter, Kathrin, was born in 2011.
Now, it is their own little family that defines their lives. “Granted, we both have to travel a good deal, but we have always arranged it so that one of us is free when the other has to work. That way, we each get to spend a lot of time with Kathrin,” Rebeka explains. And of course, no matter where they are, the best times are when they all have time together.
The good thing, she says, is that they still have a family life even when away from home. Whenever possible, the three travel together. “No matter where I am, in New York or in London or wherever, I always look for a suitable apartment. Hotels are impossible with a small child,” she explains. “We need our own kitchen, a proper crib and other things like a park nearby. And I always take a babysitter along, because my husband also has to work a lot. But we do also have free time, which is when we head out into the countryside.”
Dreams for the future
Much has changed in the soprano’s life since her triumph at “Neue Stimmen”. So many wishes, professional and personal, have come true. “That’s pretty good, I think,” she says, modest as always. And, as always, focused on what matters most: her family.
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