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'It feels like we are part of the OBV family'

The singing couple in Die Fledermaus and Les Pêcheurs de perles

by Maarten Boussery, Tue, Apr 25, 2023

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Singing couple Maria Chabounia and Kartal Karagedik return to Opera Ballet Vlaanderen for Die Fledermaus and Les Pêcheurs de perles.

Soprano Maria Chabounia and baritone Kartal Karagedik performed the fiery love between Marcello and Musetta in Robert Carsen's iconic La bohème in season 2021-2022. Coincidentally, they are also a couple in real life. They met at various singing competitions, until finally at a dinner party after one such competition the spark ignited. Now they live in Hamburg with their dog and doughter, and they regularly perform on stage together. Next season, Maria and Kartal will each take on a different production at OBV, but that won't stop them from traveling to Belgium with their family. 'When we are together, we feel at home. That's all we need,' said Maria.

The last time you were together at our company, corona made the work pretty difficult. How do you look back on that period?

MARIA It was a strange time. Right before the premiere of La bohème, we were told that we could only play to smaller audiences. A week later the culture houses had to close. Eventually we were allowed to sing again, but still for only 200 people. We never got to be in front of a full house, even though I am sure every performance would have been completely sold out. I am greatly looking forward to finally being able to sing in front of OBV audiences next season without any capacity restrictions.

KARTAL Unlike Maria, I did get to sing in front of full Ghent and Antwerp halls during Don Carlos and Le duc d'Albe. But I will not easily forget La bohème either. I loved the direction and the atmosphere in the team was particularly good. I have already sung in several houses, but what OBV did when the corona restrictions became known still gives me goosebumps. With great courage and responsibility, the house decided to open the doors and play anyway. Everything was done in an elegant way, with respect for the arts. I thought that was such a strong statement: we do it for the sake of the art and we do it for the public, however limited. We are very grateful to have been able to experience that.

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MARIA The house never let us down during that period of uncertainty. When it was announced that we would no longer play performances and could go home, we decided to stay for a while. Our apartment was booked and we thought to ourselves: let's make the best of it and try to enjoy our stay. In the end, we even celebrated New Year in Belgium. Suddenly the culture houses were allowed to play again and OBV contacted us immediately. There was a lot of desire to finish this story with the people it had started with.

'I am sure the operetta is going to be fun, both for the audience and the singers. Who won't be cheered up by that catchy music, the comic acting and that extra scoop of drama?'

— Maria Chabounia

There is a good chance that the halls will be full now: next season you will sing in the audience favorites Die Fledermaus and Les Pêcheurs de perles. What roles do you play in these productions?

MARIA I play Adele in Die Fledermaus, the first operetta I sing. My father worked at an operetta theater in Minsk, so the repertoire is certainly not unfamiliar to me (laughs). I'm looking forward to bringing Adele to the stage and bringing out all the playfulness in me. The maid is quite reckless: with great audacity, she goes to a party she was not invited to at all, assumes a new identity and pretends to belong to the rich bourgeoisie. When she is almost exposed, she sings a bravura aria with which she effortlessly bluffs her way out of the situation. I love her courage, she goes full steam ahead for her goal. At the end of the story, Adele explains she wants to be an actress and be in the spotlight of the theater. That sounds very recognizable, because being seen and heard is what I always wanted myself. I find it quite exciting to make a debut in Strauss' most famous operetta, but I am convinced that this project will be all fun, both for the audience and the singers. Who doesn't get excited by that catchy music, the comic acting and that extra scoop of drama?

KARTAL It will also be an exciting debut for me: I will be singing Zurga for the first time in Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de perles, a beautiful work about love and friendship, lost relationships and sacrifice. I have already listened to the opera several times and am initially trying to unravel the role of Zurga. That helps tremendously for the rehearsal of the score: only when you understand the character do the interesting musical interpretations emerge. Zurga is a challenging role, especially in FC Bergman's direction. In it he must exude much life experience; he is marked by a deep sense of nostalgia. Zurga is consumed by a jealousy that spans several stages of life. Musically, the role is very lyrically composed, with many bursts of emotion. I love the large spectrum of emotional contrasts that is addressed. There are a lot of other productions currently underway that take up a lot of time, but I'm looking forward to getting to know Zurga better.

Combining a busy international singing career with a family life seems like a tough job. How do you manage to get everything worked out?

MARIA We try to take the whole family on trips as much as possible. Just recently Kartal and I sang Le Nozze di Figaro together in Malmö, which meant we all lived in Sweden for a while. There we found someone to look after our daughter during rehearsals and performances. In the beginning the search for a babysitter was often difficult, but in the meantime we have gained more confidence in how to find someone. And you see: not only is it fun to sing together in the same production, it also has an organizational advantage. We hope we can continue to work that way.

KARTAL Unfortunately, due to the political situation, we have little recourse to family. Maria is from Belarus and I am from Turkey. It is very difficult for our parents to stay in Europe and assist if needed. Last seasons were exceptionally busy, all the performances postponed by corona came together with other assignments. That organizational puzzle should normally simplify. But we notice that many opera houses plan their productions more carefully. You notice that programming and budgets are under pressure, which means that we singers know much later when we will sing what and where. We are not discouraged and try to go along with these changes as much as possible, as long as we can be together.

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'Zurga is a challenging role, especially in FC Bergman's direction. In it, he must radiate a lot of life experience, he is marked by a deep sense of nostalgia.'

— Kartal Karagedik

What is certain is that soon you will be spending a lot of time in Belgium again

MARIA Indeed, soon we will come to Belgium for Tom Goossens' Le Nozze di Figaro, where Kartal sings the role of Count Almaviva. A few months later we will be there again, as my rehearsals for Die Fledermaus begin at the end of October. It looks like we will then stay in Belgium until the end of January, when Kartal's work for Les Pêcheurs de perles will be over. It will be a challenge to get everything packed for such a long time (laughs). Some people think our way of life is crazy, but we love that our work allows us to discover so many new things: people, languages, cities, music... Our little daughter adapts quickly and can experience something incredible. For her, traveling is the most normal thing in the world.

KARTAL Belgium is slowly starting to become a second home. We are there often and it always feels good to be back. We know where to eat and drink well, we have friends there and we are starting to know the people in the house well. It feels like we are part of that family. OBV is a special place, you feel that art is made with passion. You also sense that the houses are strongly connected to the amazing cities they are located in. I look forward to coming back. Crazy how we love our work so much, but don't actually think of it as that. Singing and traveling together is just what we do and what we love. It's how we want to live.

Discover Die Fledermaus

Discover Les Pêcheurs de perles

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