Music and Vision homepage




the tenor Zoran Todorovich


He was the star of the much-talked about Bregenz Tosca last year, and his career is on an upward roll: following his critically acclaimed début as Manrico at Covent Garden in 2007, Belgrade-born tenor Zoran Todorovich is being ranked by some critics as among the world's top ten tenors already. The declared favorite tenor of Edita Gruberova seems to have well and truly arrived in the major league. By now, he has performed in many of the world's foremost opera houses, under the batons of some of the most celebrated conductors of our time. Despite his critical acclaim, he is modest almost to a fault and does not like to be made a fuss of or to be pushed by PR agents. In a world that is brimming to the rim with grand egos, this is a rather refreshing approach from a tenor whose reputation precedes him and, more often than not, guarantees sold-out houses. This July, he sings the part of Pollione in Bellini's Norma at the renowned Munich Opera Festival, together with Edita Gruberova. Having waited almost a year for an interview opportunity with Todorovich, we eventually caught him for a brief chat the day before his final performance on 11 July 2008 ...

Tess Crebbin: Tomorrow is your final Norma performance at the Munich International Opera Festival. The critiques couldn't have been better: 'A tenor power package', 'A tenor to make you melt away', 'a heldentenoral Pollione', and so it went. When you leave Munich now, what happens next?

Zoran Todorovich: Then it is off for a few weeks of well-deserved vacation. I am going to Mallorca with my family.

TC: You live on an equestrian estate and in your very limited private time, you go riding?

ZT: We have eight horses right now, of which two of them are broodmares. We breed showjumpers, Westphalian Warmbloods, and my wife is also a riding teacher and competes in showjumping.

Edita Gruberova and Zoran Todorovich in Bellini's 'Norma' at the 2008 Munich Opera Festival. Photo courtsy of Bavarian State Opera
Edita Gruberova and Zoran Todorovich in Bellini's 'Norma' at the 2008 Munich Opera Festival. Photo courtsy of Bavarian State Opera

TC: Does fitness make a difference to being a good singer?

ZT: I think it helps, certainly. Training your lungs is good in whatever way, as good singing is a lot about technique and how you manage your breathing. A fitter body has fitter lungs, can store more breath. Aside from horse-riding, I also play golf. All that walking around the golf course, which amounts to several miles in any one playing day, really is good for you.

TC: Speaking of singing and good lungs, you made the switch from lyric to dramatic tenor in 2004, and ever since, you have been on a steep upward climb ...

ZT: I have always had a rather dark timbre but it has darkened further, and I still have the top range as well. So I have not given up my lyric Fach, just merely added to it and am now able to sing both, or mix and match lyric and dramatic at will, even in the same aria, the same opera. That comes in very handy.

TC: How did the change come about?

ZT: It was really due to Marcello Viotti, who was a most magnificent conductor and who also had this knack for discovering new singers for the world opera stage. He discovered Rolando Villazon, for instance, and paved the way for his career. And he did the same for me. Marcello had this very special manner of not just listening to your voice, but really diving into it with his very astute ears. So, when he heard me sing, I had a good lyric tenor voice at the time, and he said to me: You have dramatic tenor in you, you need to develop this. I had already recorded my first 'Portrait' CD with Anguelov, and received some good reviews for it. Then Viotti got me my first Norma part, and then basically set out to launch my world career. It is just a great pity that he isn't around to see it anymore. I would have loved to have had him present at Covent Garden last year or even right now, for the Norma.

Zoran Todorovich as Pollione in Bellini's 'Norma'. Photo courtsy of Bavarian State Opera
Zoran Todorovich as Pollione in Bellini's 'Norma'. Photo courtsy of Bavarian State Opera

TC: You were friends with Viotti right until he died. Can you share with us some of your favorite memories?

ZT: We had some great times together. I remember once, when we were together on vacation in San Francisco with our families. We went to the beach together and, since I was just launching my international career with his assistance, we were supposed to get some photos done for our agent back in Germany. It was supposed to look like we were lazing around on the beach, having a great time, but truth is, it was freezing cold in the water, something like twelve degrees or so. Marcello had us go in and look all cheery and smiley, and make it seem like we were in nice warm, water. We got the photos done, came out, and because he was always concerned about you not catching a chill, he made me wrap a towel round my head, and bury myself in the sand to warm up., He did the same and lay down next to me. Next thing I know, his little son turns up, takes one look at us and runs back to his mum, screaming: 'Mum, Marcello and Zoltan are so weird. They are lying side by side in the sand there, looking like a gay couple, with these weird towels wrapped around their heads!' We all killed ourselves with laughter. I also remember, on his fiftieth and last birthday, his orchestra manager called me and said two of his favorite singers in the world were me and Edita Gruberova. Would we come to Munich for a surprise party for him? We both came in for him from rather far away, and when we took to the stage to serenade him, he was so touched that he just burst out in tears. So, whatever good is happening in my career right now, I owe a big part of this to Viotti, his encouragement, his recognition of my vocal talents and his absolute insistence that I develop my voice to the very best of its ability. This is something I am never going to forget.

TC: We are being joined now, via telephone from Berlin, by Gernot Rerl, the former director of Viotti's Munich Radio Orchestra and a close friend of the late conductor. Mr Rerl, how do you remember the time with Viotti and Todorovich?

Marcello Viotti. Photo © Johannes Ifkovits
Marcello Viotti. Photo © Johannes Ifkovits

Gernot Rerl: Marcello thought that Zoran had a very expressive voice with an amazing range of vocal colors that needed to be developed, but slowly and evenly. He wanted to open these opportunities to him, and he did, at the same time warning him not to take on too much too soon, but to give his voice time to mature. Zoran has taken this advice and it has paid off. The good thing about Viotti was that he came from singing himself and so he could really recognize and identify a singer's quality, which is perhaps why so many of today's top singers owe their beginnings to him. As his orchestra manager, I had singers, from Gruberova to Domingo, knocking at my door and saying: If there is a chance for us to perform with Viotti, please make it possible.' They all wanted to perform under his baton, because he would breathe along with them, he understood everything about singing, from technique to colors and timbre, and how to develop it. I believe that he was the best opera conductor we had, and Zoran did the right thing in walking through the door that Marcello opened for him, developing his voice without overstraining it, which is probably why right now he is at his very best in his singing.

TC: Thank you for sharing this insight with us. Back to you, Mr Todorovich: do you realize that last year, at Bregenz for Tosca, they primarily came to see you?

ZT: Ah, I don't know ...

Zoran Todorovich as Cavaradossi at the end of the 2007 Bregenz Opera production of 'Tosca'. Photo © 2007 Phillip Crebbin
Zoran Todorovich as Cavaradossi at the end of the 2007 Bregenz Opera production of 'Tosca'. Photo © 2007 Phillip Crebbin

TC: It's what the papers wrote, and it's what went round the Festival scene: go to Bregenz to see Todorovich. The very renowned newspaper Die Zeit called you 'stimmgewaltig' ('vocally powerful') and wrote of your unique timbre and amazing range of colors in your voice. This year, Bregenz is still doing Tosca, but you are not. And it is much less talked about this year, actually. Now, they all talk about Norma, and you happen to be in it. Coincidence?

ZT: I don't worry too much about what the papers write, I worry about what my voice sounds like and I care about giving my best wherever I appear. But yes, I have heard some of the talk about Bregenz and read some very good reviews, which pleased me. But it was not my favorite, no matter what others wrote. Singing under those circumstances was very difficult for me. For instance, having to sing that entire aria, 'E lucevan le stelle' while kneeling some twenty feet up, on an unstable platform, suspended from the main stage!

TC: Yet, you managed to do it, as the papers wrote, spot-on, with lyric and dramatic elements in it at the same time, as Puccini had meant it to be sung. Audiences called for you to return to Bregenz this year, especially the Americans, where you got rave reviews and with many fans planning to make the trip across the Atlantic, especially.

ZT: Still, I think I prefer singing without microphone, in a less musical-like atmosphere, and without having to hang some twenty feet above the audience. So, for me, it is back to having solid ground under my feet again and I think I shall stick to the stable floors of opera houses from now on. But for those who haven't seen me at Bregenz last year: they released the Bregenz 2007 Tosca on DVD recently.

TC: Speaking of keeping your feet on the ground: You come from Serbia, which is a bit difficult ...

ZT: Why?

Zoran Todorovich in conversation with Tess Crebbin in Munich. Photo © 2008 Phillip Crebbin
Zoran Todorovich in conversation with Tess Crebbin in Munich. Photo © 2008 Phillip Crebbin

TC: The war ...

ZT: True, there was the war between the Serbs and Croats, and like almost everyone else, my family was affected. So I decided to use music, which like all art can span a bridge between the two sides, as a reconciliation tool.

TC: How so?

ZT: I don't like hate, and I don't hate. So, in 1993, I organized a benefit concert for the victims of war ... but for Croatia and Bosnia. In that three hour concert, we raised 300,000 euros. I wanted to show that war is not about the people. It is about the politicians, and if we set ourselves against this, if we the common people stick together, then all the hatred will just go away, and it did.

TC: And later, you found out that it worked ...

ZT: Yes, it did. Later, the people of Croatia gave me the present of an ornamental stone-earth house to thank me, which was very significant because of the earth element. I did a concert in Croatia, and the mayor said: 'he is a former countryman, because you know it all used to be one country, and he is making us all proud.' That was very nice, because it was a statement for, and not against, the unity of the people in the region, regardless of what the politicians wanted us to believe or do. They all cheered me, and there was no division between us.

TC: Is this a responsibility of us as artists or those involved in promoting art: to build bridges?

ZT: I think it is. Art is a gift, a beautiful gift. As such, it can reconcile and bring unity where there used to be hatred, division and hurt. If we can have a chance to touch someone with a voice, a symphony, a beautiful rendition of a cello or piano piece, and if we can maybe touch people on two sides of a dividing line and unite them again by embracing our art, then yes, I think we should strive to do so.

TC: Speaking of voices that touch the people: how many octaves in yours?

ZT: Two, standard, like everyone else.

TC: No way.

ZT: Okay, maybe two and a half. I don't have to push when I go into the baritonal range and I can still get my high tones very clear. I never really dwelled on this. I leave that up to the critics.

Zoran Todorovich in conversation with Tess Crebbin in Munich. Photo © 2008 Phillip Crebbin
Zoran Todorovich in conversation with Tess Crebbin in Munich. Photo © 2008 Phillip Crebbin

TC: Be that as it may, you meanwhile have an international Fanclub, and are singing at most of the world's big opera houses, with bookings going all the way to 2012. Let's talk about Pollione, which you are singing here at Munich ...

ZT: As mentioned before, my first Pollione was a concert performance under the baton of Marcello Viotti, with his excellent Munich Radio Orchestra, some five years ago. And we talked about the complexity of the Pollione character, how this must be expressed by the singer, with a combination of bel canto elements and dramatic tenor. Pollione cannot show his true feelings in public, but they are there. He is vulnerable and he is scared for his children when Norma uses them as a pressure tool. This inner dualism must be shown, and also the dramatism, when Pollione suddenly develops into a very strong character. While this part is one of the few left-over from my bel canto days, its unqiue dualism also gives me the opportunity to develop the dramatic elements through my voice.

TC: Did your family foresee the great success you now have on the opera stage, also here in Munich?

ZT: Yes and no. In our family, we often sang folk music and played the accordion. I was fascinated by the instrument, as I was by all music, and eventually, still at a very young age, decided to develop the instrument inside my throat. When I wanted to become a singer, they allowed me to take part in a singing contest at age ten, which I won. Later, they supported me when I decided to move to Germany and study first at Frankfurt and then at Munich. But it was a big shock for them when I suddenly became a real opera singer. They came to see me singing at Athens, in Il Trovatore, and everyone was cheering me and clapping like crazy during curtain calls. After the performance, my mum hugged me and had tears of joy in her eyes. But my dad suddenly treated me with awe, like he couldn't believe this was his son who had just gotten all that applause. It took him a while to realize that it was still me, and that, aside from the stage presence, nothing had changed. But now, he is used to the fans, the autographs, and he is very proud of me.

TC: How do you relax in between performances?

ZT: Coming home to my family is my greatest joy. We live on this equestrian farm, and when the weather is nice, I will grab a horse and go out hacking. It is so very peaceful, riding through the beautiful German countryside, and a perfect way to recharge my batteries in what has turned into a very tight and busy schedule indeed.

Zoran Todorovich in conversation with Tess Crebbin in Munich. Photo © 2008 Phillip Crebbin
Zoran Todorovich in conversation with Tess Crebbin in Munich. Photo © 2008 Phillip Crebbin

TC: Can you tell us, in closing, one of your favorite memories of your career?

ZT: There are many, but I will share with you one of the most touching things that happened to me. There is a very famous Austrian actor by the name of Karlheinz Böhm. He is the son of Karl Böhm, the conductor. When I was performing in Tosca at Bregenz, he came up to me at the post-performance party and introduced himself with the words: 'I am the son of Karl, the conductor.' And then he said that he had been waiting twenty five years to get the same feeling of goosepimples from a Tosca that he experienced when Giuseppe di Stefano sang Cavadarossi, and then went on to say that, tonight, he had finally experienced this type of emotion again in a Tosca production. Then he asked me for an autograph. I thanked him for the compliment and then replied, 'I don't just know who your father was, I know who you are. I have been living in Germany for a long time and I know your movies.' So he turned around to the people he was with and said: 'Can you believe, he knows of me?', and he was so happy about it, which I thought was really sweet.

Copyright © 16 July 2008 Tess Crebbin, Munich, Germany








 << Music & Vision home                  Alban Gerhardt >>