Saioa Hernandez, from novice to soprano

The international media described Saioa Hernández's interpretation of La Gioconda in Sidney this August as “magnetic” and “powerful.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 September 2023 Monday 10:31
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Saioa Hernandez, from novice to soprano

The international media described Saioa Hernández's interpretation of La Gioconda in Sidney this August as “magnetic” and “powerful.” The 40-year-old soprano from Madrid had debuted that role in extremis in 2019, dazzling the Liceu audience, replacing Iréne Theorin. But on this occasion, at the Australian Opera, and with a concert version of this title by Ponchielli, the Spaniard was already rubbing shoulders with none other than Jonas Kaufmann or Pinchas Steinberg.

That is the league in which the unique Madrid singer plays. A diva who, as a young woman, longed to be from an army officer to a cloistered nun, but luck led her to debut in the opera with the two most difficult Bellini: Norma, in Catania, under the teaching of Montserrat Caballé – who predicted that she would be the soprano of the 21st century–, and Il pirate, in Sabadell, by Mirna Lacambra, with whom she grew up as a soprano.

Saioa is not having a hard time being a prophet in his land. Perhaps because his career developed in Italy, where he opened the season at La Scala. He now inaugurates Real's, starring in Cherubini's Medée with editing by Paco Azorín. And the fact that he does not sing today, at the official opening, but tomorrow, is not due to "second distributions."

“What's up, that doesn't work like that. It has to do with the free dates on my calendar,” she says in conversation with this newspaper. “In a theater of this category there is no interest in which cast you are in as long as respect is shown in your cache and you have the number of performances you want. For me it is more important who I sing with in my cast and who directs me,” points out who has also been Aida and Turandot in the last seasons of the Madrid lyrical coliseum.

Saioa – whose Basque name is due to the great friendship that his father made during military service with a colleague from Euskadi – has been debuting roles for a decade, most of them Puccino and Verdi, since his Italianità is a unique case. And the fact that she is married to the tenor Francesco Pio Galasso contributes to it.

“He has transmitted all that to me and has emphasized that I do it well and that it is in the Italian style. And I have learned to listen to the great Italian singers of the golden years. In any case, it is a repertoire that I like, I feel close to it and I think it defines me. He has come out naturally, bringing out the essence of what singing means to me and what I want to convey and can convey with my instrument,” he states.

His seems like a race against time assuming the most complicated roles. In addition to Turandot and Aida, he has debuted in record time La forza del destiny, Nabucco, Un ballo in maschera (which he will sing in February at the Liceu), Macbeth, Tosca and Madama Butterfly (with which he returns to the Teatro Real in July).

This urgency is due in part to the feeling that he has begun to enter the world of opera very late. “It was my decision that came late. I studied since I was 19, but I was 25 when I decided to dedicate myself and I didn't debut until I was 29. Because it was one thing to sing in the choir, wrapped up, and another to sing alone standing there. I was embarrassed, it made me super nervous. However, when I discovered this other way of singing, getting into a character, I found that I completely forgot that I was in front of so many people. And I told myself, this is my thing,” she confesses.

The truth is that theirs was a youth of multiple vocations. “I was very attracted to religious life, military life and art itself: writing, dancing, singing. But it is difficult to know if art is your thing and, since I had to choose a university, I opted for the right one, to take the exam for an army officer. Having already taken tests for the Air Force, I saw that it was not for me and, through the nuns of a school in Las Rozas, I entered the convent for two years and began Theology at a distance... until I changed to Teaching of Music..."

They were two “wonderful” years as a novice candidate, she says. “It is a path of introspection and knowledge of yourself and what you want. The nuns told me: 'but you sing very well, are you sure about this?' When I decided to leave, the first thing I did was return to the university choir. But it was a very useful period for my career and for life. Because you learn a lot to know yourself, to foresee certain things that go through your mind or to not inhibit your feelings, but to redirect them, to control your temperament, of which there is a lot, and this also serves me a lot in some operatic productions and in life in general ".