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<<  -- 4 --  Roderic Dunnett    LIFE IN THE OLD TIGER

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At the Chisinau (then, Kishinev) College of Performing Arts Muntean benefited from the mix of Russian and Romanian traditions taught there; his teachers were drawn from both. After four years' naval service based in Kiev (aptly, as an acoustician) and with the Soviet Baltic fleet, he returned to singing, determined to carve out a professional career [listen -- Donizetti: 'Una furtiva lagrima' from L'Elisir d'Amore].

'I believe in destiny', he laughs -- Muntean, an impressive personality, small in stature but with a magnetising presence in real life to compensate, has a bewitching laugh, though fortunately one less sinister than his Canio's -- one of his finest roles, in which he mesmerises his audience : 'that's why my favourite opera is Verdi's La Forza del Destino! My first solo role was exactly thirty years ago, on 2 February 1972. That was when I sang Cavaradossi for the first time.' Alvaro, Alfredo and Maurizio (Adriana Lecouvreur) soon followed, plus Tchaikovsky's Lensky, Hermann in The Queen of Spades -- Pikovaya Dama in Russian ('I see him as a poor, sad man, not as some kind of terror') -- and also Vodemon (Vaudemont, in Iolanta).

Mihai Muntean as Canio in 'I Pagliacci'. Photo © Sergei Kartashov
Mihai Muntean as Canio in 'I Pagliacci'. Photo © Sergei Kartashov

Muntean typifies the very best of the Moldovan opera tradition. But he was lucky. 'Getting permission to work abroad was near-impossible in Soviet days, even including the Gorbachev period', he explains. 'Whenever foreign companies phoned Gosconcert, the state agency in Moscow, they'd make any excuse to fob them off, saying you weren't there, or that you were already booked. They permitted you one trip a year -- if you were lucky!'

Mihai Munteanu as Cavaradossi (foreground) with Boris Materinco (rear) and Ludmila Magomedova in the title role in the 2001 Chisinau National Opera production of Puccini's 'Tosca'
Mihai Munteanu as Cavaradossi (foreground) with Boris Materinco (rear) and Ludmila Magomedova in the title role in the 2001 Chisinau National Opera production of Puccini's 'Tosca'

Happily he was : his prodigious talents scored a rare success when in 1977, five years after his début, he was one of four winners of a vast Soviet competition for singers from throughout the USSR, and won an exchange scholarship with Italy ('The Italians sent four ballet dancers to study in Russia, and we four went to study opera in Italy'). Muntean spent just over a year as a student of Gina Cignea at La Scala, Milan. 'The orchestra leader there remembered accompanying the great Italian tenor Franco Corelli,' he recalls cheerfully; another of his heroes, one supects : the pliant quality shows in the voice. With Cignea he studied 'the major Italian repertoire, much as you'd imagine : Tosca, Trovatore, Turandot and so on.' Not surprisingly he and several of the others went on to major careers.

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Copyright © 6 October 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

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