The nightingale of Sakhalin

16. March 2016

Julia Lezhneva was still a young girl when she received Cecilia Bartoli's Vivaldi aria CD as a present at the turn of the Millennium. Today she possesses probably one of the most exciting voices and personalities of the post-Bartoli generation. She will be giving an aria recital at the Liszt Academy.

A “typical American career” is how we accurately used to describe a lightening-fast explosion into the professional world. But these days you don’t necessarily have to be born in the New World (or head that way) for a career to be catapulted skywards. Julia Lezhneva is still only twenty-six but she took her first, slightly uncertain steps in the Far East when, as an infant, she was enrolled into a music school in Yuzhno-Sakhalin on the Sakhalin island in the Pacific Ocean. Then came Moscow and afterwards a scholarship that took her to Cardiff, followed by such distinguished teachers as Kiri Te Kanawa, the tenor Deniss O'Neill and Yelena Obrazcova. And not least in the evolution of Lezhneva's career was the role of one of the most important features that rule our modern day lives: the internet. Or more precisely YouTube, where a video of the seventeen year old Lezhneva's triumphant performance at the 2007 Obrzcova singing competition was uploaded. The distinguished French conductor Marc Minkowski came across it, discovering this poetically young singer for himself – and for us.


Photo: Uli Weber


Minkowski cast the Russian soprano in his recording of Bach's Mass in B minor and in 2011, conducted her in her first solo recording which explored arias by Rossini. And in 2012, he was musical director of the Salzburg production of Handel's Tamerlano, featuring Placido Domingo, Bejun Mehta and in the role of Asteria Julia Lezhneva. This genuine coloratura virtuoso singer developed remarkably. Radiating vitality from her every pore, she soon outgrew her status of “promising talent” and was soon established as one of the most exciting performers of 18th and early 19th century repertoire. Just like her former idol Cecilia Bartoli, who of course is still going strong, Lezhenva feels equally at home in the Baroque universe as she does in the worlds of Mozart and Rossini. And like Bartoli, Lezhneva has constructed her repertoire and career with imposing consciousness and restraint.

Budapest audiences have been blessed to encounter this charming soprano on several occasions, most recently last spring, alongside Max Emanuel Cenčić, in a performance at the Vígszínház of the opera Hasse Siroe. This will be her debut in the grand hall of the Liszt Academy, and for the first time in Hungary, she will give a solo aria recital, accompanied by the period instrument La Voce Strumentale group. Julia Lezhneva will perform Händel and Vivaldi arias under the title of Händel in Italy. And who knows, perhaps there will some a young girl in the audience who will be touched for a lifetime and feel encouraged to take up a similar career having encountered this charismatic personality with such a superb voice.

Ferenc László