Albanian-born soprano, Anna Tafani, is a graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. Anna was recently a 2021 Lisa Gasteen National Opera Program artist and winner of the prestigious Joyce Campbell Lloyd Scholarship. Anna joins Voxalis in its inaugural concert, Songs of Love, as a featured artist performing Dvořák’s Love Songs Op. 83. We sat down with Anna to chat about Dvořák and the process of learning to sing in a new language.
Singing Czech and other things.
If you’re a fan of classical music, and I mentioned the name Dvořák to you, you might be reminded of the hauntingly beautiful Cor Anglais solo from the New World Symphony, or perhaps the Slavonic Dances for orchestra, or even the aria, Song to the Moon from his opera, Rusalka. Whatever your familiarity though, there is no arguing that Dvořák was` a prolific composer, creating masterpieces in many genres. Písně Milostné, translated to Love Songs, is a revised version of the composer's Cypresses with poetry by Pfleger-Moravsky. The latter was dedicated to Josefina Cermakova, a colleague, piano student, and the older sister of his future wife Anna Cermakova. Although this might seem like a bit of a complicated situation, Dvořák later explained that behind these songs “you just have to imagine a young man in love - that’s all there is to them.”
So Anna, Love Songs is certainly a captivating piece of music. Dvořák once described it as “a young man in love”, what are your thoughts on the work, and what is your connection with the cycle so far?
I think that everyone can find themselves in this song cycle in one way or another. You would correctly assume by the title that it is a beautiful love story with a happy ending, but this song cycle is so much more than that. Each song, independent from one another, has captivating and meaningful text and melodies where you can find different emotional shades.
Anna Tafani performing in the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University production of Cavalleria rusticana in 2019.
For you, what makes this song cycle stand out musically, and how does it feel to sing it?
For me, I find it to be very Dvořák. It has a wonderful combination of different elements. On one side you have this compositional style very typical of the Romantic period, and you can hear some of the influences from some of the composer's contemporaries. Then you also have a very common characteristic of Dvořák with his inclusion of Czech folk music.
Singing wise, the notes haven't been too much of a challenge; however, when you add the text in, that is where it gets a bit demanding. It is tricky to sing in Czech and with good technique, but you know, like in every piece, it is a balancing act.
As part of your training, you studied languages such as German, French, and Italian. How has learning these languages helped you to tackle something like Dvořák’s Love Songs which are in a different language such as Czech? Is the process different?
I don’t think any of that has helped directly. It is a totally different language. I have been looking at the IPA, you know the standard phonetic alphabet, but that is not everything. I have had to listen to native Czech speakers to get used to the sounds and how people pronounce vowels and consonants. People usually have unique ways of pronouncing things in their languages that don't translate to the IPA, so even that is another balancing act. You have to follow the rules but also sound as natural as possible when singing.
Interestingly, Czech is like Spanish and Italian, they have their specific rules of pronunciation. So if you follow those, reading Czech becomes a lot easier. It is not like English that there are different ways of pronouncing the same vowel. I would say that singing in Czech in general is a good skill for classical singers to develop.
Anna Tafani performing as a soloist with the Brisbane Concert Orchestra.
Do you have a favourite moment or song that you are looking forward to performing in Songs of Love on the 5th March?
I actually like the one you shared on Voxalis’ social media accounts the other day - the seventh song. Don’t get me wrong, each one of them is unique and beautiful, but the text of the seventh one is exquisite - “In that sweet power of your eyes how gladly I would die, if only the laughter of lovely lips did not beckon me to life". I can't wait to share this moment with our audience.