Tenor  Vyacheslav  Polozov

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Vyacheslav Michailovich Polozov (Russian: Вячеслав Михайлович Полозов), is a Soviet-born opera singer, professor of voice, entrepreneur. He sang at many opera houses around the world, appearing in a variety of leading roles from lyric to dramatic repertoires in French, Italian, German and Russian. He was a Laureate at International Competitions, and Meritorious Artist of the Byelorussian SSR.

Polozov was born January 1, 1950, in the industrial city of Mariupol, Ukrainian SSR, where his parents, mother Ludmila Danilovna Roschina (1918-2003) and father Michael Semyonovich Polozov (1918-?), worked on the local railroad. From 1967 to 1970, Vyacheslav studied at Donetsk Music College. While studying, he sang some small roles at the Donetsk State Academic Opera Theatre. From 1970 to 1972, Polozov served his military duty in Soviet Red Army Choir, Kiev, Ukraine. From 1973-1978, he studied voice at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music (or Kiev Conservatory), during which time he made his successful operatic debut in 1977 in the role of Alfredo in La Traviata at the National Opera of Ukraine.


In 1978, he became the leading tenor of the Saratov Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre when he performed Vladimir Igorevich in Borodin's Prince Igor, The Prince in Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka, Lensky in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and Lohengrin. In 1980 he became a member of the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus when he performed: Faust, Alfredo, the Duke of Mantua, Prince Kuragin in Prokofiev's War and Peace, Pinkerton, Vodemon in Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, and Tsar Berendey in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden. As a member of the Opera Theatre (Minsk), in 1982, Polozov made his successful debut with the Bolshoi Theatre when he performed Alfredo, and Turiddu opposite Makvala Kasrashvili and Elena Obraztsova. In 1983, he made his debut in the role of Faust at the Lithuanian National Opera, and in 1984 he sang the Duke of Mantua at the Bulgarian National Opera, and Lensky at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre. In 1984, he performed the role of Alfredo at the Estonian National Opera and Latvian National Opera.

In 1986, he made his debut at La Scala as Pinkerton, which, along with the role of Rodolfo, very soon became the most important in his repertoire. In May 1986 after winning the prestigious Madama Butterfly singing competition (Tokyo, Japan), Polozov announced his intention to live in the United States. Since his arrival in the USA, Polozov has appeared in Chicago, Boston, New York (Pinkerton opposite Renata Scotto), California, and Texas (with Julius Rudel). He also appeared in a concert and recording in Washington D.C. (Kennedy Center) as Dmitry in Boris Godunov, under the baton of Mstislav Rostropovich.

He appeared as Calaf in the New York City Opera, and the very same week repeated this role in Munich's Bayerische Staatsoper with Giuseppe Patane. During the 1988/89 season, he performed Enzo in La Gioconda at the San Francisco Opera opposite Eva Marton, and Cavaradossi at the Canadian Opera Company, which has been issued on video. He was also engaged in Paris, Hamburg, Barcelona, Rome, Lyon, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, Santiago, Tokyo, and other world opera houses.

==  Names which are links on this webpage refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Vyacheslav Polozov made his American operatic debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago in the first four performances of La Bohème in the fall of 1986.  Also in the cast were Katia Ricciarelli, Alessandro Corbelli, Barbara Daniels, Paolo Washington, Paul Kreider, and Renato Capecchi.  The conductor was Michael Tilson Thomas, with John Copley directing the Pier Luigi Pizzi production, lit by Duane Schuler.  He would return in 1990 for Lensky in Eugene Onegin with Wolfgang Brendel, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Dmitri Kavrakos, Sandra Walker, and Jean Kraft, conducted by Bruno Bartoletti, staged by Pier Luigi Samaritani, with ballet by Maria Tallchief.  

polozov We met during his debut season.  It was a busy time for the tenor, but he graciously agreed to spare a few minutes for a conversation on a day between performances.

While setting up for the interview, I asked about singing Verdi, and he said he did not sing those roles.  He mentioned that he had only sung one performance of Trovatore . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   What are the operas that are right for your voice now?

Vyacheslav Polozov:   I would like to sing Puccini.  Puccini is my most favorite composer.  He wrote romantic music, and that is the closest to me.

BD:   To your heart?

Polozov:   Yes.

BD:   Did Puccini know how to write well for the voice?

Polozov:   Yes, he did.

BD:    What did Puccini know that nobody else knew?

Polozov:   Puccini really knew dramaturgy of development through the action of the opera.  Puccini has real contrast.  I like the contrast, with the high strong voice going into a pianissimo.  The unexpected transitions and the contrasting music are very interesting.  It seems that the resolution already should have taken place, let’s say, in Act III, with Rodolfo and Mimi’s meeting.  They should not part, but they do part.  They meet, and they get together, but again part, this time supposedly forever.  This happens in many operas of Puccini.  In all of his operas, such contrast exists.  There is love, there is romance, and suddenly it doesn’t happen.  That is most of his operas.  But the contrast is not only in the drama.  The contrast is also in music and in the voice.  If he completes this drama with music, the whole thing becomes as if one completes the other, or fills out the other.  When I hear the music of Puccini, I get very emotional, and I love it.  I am full of it.  Puccini has a lot of cues. The orchestra goes into the background, and then the singer enters.  The singer goes away, his partner steps in, and it’s very interesting.  This is called cueing.  When the singer singing the role goes out, and partner appears, it is constant motion.  The partner stops, and the soprano enters, but not the bass.  Puccini only loved the tenor and the soprano voices.  Mostly his music is for tenor and soprano, with a little for the baritone.  We have to thank him, even love him for that.

BD:   Was Puccini incapable of writing a happy ending?

Polozov:   Opera is serious music.  Seldom is there a happy ending in opera.  In some there’s a happy ending, but it’s really serious music.

BD:   What about Turandot and Gianni Schicchi?

Polozov:   Turandot ends well, but that is about the only one.  Most of his operas have a tragic ending.  Turandot ends happily, but it’s too bad Puccini didn’t complete it.  He died, and one of his pupils wrote the ending to this opera.  There’s also a tragedy there.  Every time I hear Turandot, at the place where Puccini died, I always cry.  I am very sentimental.

BD:   Should we stop the opera there and not do the ending?

polozov Polozov:   Maybe we should, in the sense of the pupil finishing it, but the audience wants to hear the end.  In Italy, there used to be a tradition whereby the orchestra and all the action on stage would stop, and the audience would get up, as if to honor Puccini’s memory.  Then they would go on to the end.  That’s how it used to be in Italy.  I don’t know about the present day, but they used to have such a tradition.  You know how the Italians love their Puccini!

BD:   Tell me about the character of Rodolfo.

Polozov:   Puccini wrote his own personality in the image of Rodolfo.  So, Rodolfo is Puccini.  I really get an understanding of what Puccini was like when I sing that role.

BD:   Are there any other characters which are Puccini?

Polozov:   No, only Rodolfo.

BD:   What do you expect of the audience that comes to see this tragic opera?

Polozov:   I have not given much thought to this question.  I would like to depict truth on the stage, to show truthfully how Bohemian painters and writers live.  One wants to show the truth, and then how the audience accepts this all depends on the audience.  I also want to say that the role of Rodolfo is the largest, and the most encompassing and contrasting role because Puccini was writing about himself, and portraying his own image in the role.  It is a noble role.  It is also the most contrasting, and because of all that it is complicated, and the transition from joy to sadness is rather contrasting and immediate.   To get the contrast from joy to sadness is difficult.  In the fourth act, they are joyous, running around in general.  It starts when each of them is thinking about his own love
Marcello thinks about Musetta, and Rodolfo thinks about Mimì.  Friends arrive, and they become happy, and fool around.  Musetta comes and tells them that Mimì is sick and is dying.  She is outside, and so ill she can’t get up the stairs.  Here again contrast is used, but it is a very complicated transition.  It is a similar contrast as in the first act and in the second act, but it is a different contrast.  Dramatically, it’s very interesting.  There are some days when one is not in the best of voice or is tired, but when you get on stage, it somehow seems to sing itself.

BD:   Is there ever a chance that you can give too much?  Might you become too involved in it all?

Polozov:   No, never.  I try to be natural.

BD:   What happens to Rodolfo in the 
‘fifth act’?

Polozov:   In your so-called ‘fifth act’, Bohemian life continues as in the second act.  All the characters get together, go to the restaurant, and life goes on as in the second act, as previously.  Maybe they go to a Chinese restaurant!

BD:   What happens to you after the final curtain?  Do you carry the character of Rodolfo to the restaurant with you?

Polozov:   I haven’t thought about it.  I still suffer, and feel the character even in the restaurant amidst the voices, with Italian being spoken and English being spoken.  I don’t know English that well, but I continue thinking about Rodolfo when I get home and go to bed.  The character is constantly with me.  That’s a natural process.  To switch it off is very difficult because I attempt to live the character, and not act the character on stage.  Yes, I look forward to seeing him.  I’ll see him in a couple of days
time.  I remember when my performance in Varna, Bulgaria ended, and the fourth act was over and Mimì died, I had tears in my eyes.  I felt my own life had ended, and I didn’t want this performance to end.

BD:   Can you get so involved that maybe your throat closes up because you are too emotionally involved?

Polozov:   That is a complicated question.  It used to happen.  When I was studying, that happened sometimes.  Now I use the voice as if I speak with my voice, and I move along the ways of Chaliapin.  That’s what Chaliapin used to say.  

BD:   That prevents any tightness in the throat?

Polozov:   Yes, Now I am talking, and my voice is the expression of myself from within.  I never over-act.  The expression I have on my face, in my soul, in my heart, is expressed by my voice as if I were speaking.  Chaliapin did the same thing.  I read Chaliapin’s two-volume memoirs, and he wrote about this, and about his artistic pursuit.  I didn’t quite understand at the time, or knew that it is was possible when Chaliapin wrote, ‘Sing as if you are speaking’.  I just could not understand this expression, or how one was supposed to do it, or the technique, or in general what the expression actually meant.  Eight years have now passed and I understand it well.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   I want to ask you about Russian operas of Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka, Borodin, etc.  Did these composers understand the Italian singing line?

polozov Polozov:   As a matter of fact, Russian opera is different from Italian opera.  In Italian opera, like Puccini and Verdi, the orchestra helps the singer.  The music is such that even if you don’t have a voice, you’ll sing.  But in Russian opera, that is different in the sense that it is psychological.  Not knowing the language, you won’t be able to sing it.  It is possible to sing it, but it’s necessary to know every single thing that you singing about.  Otherwise, you cannot project.  Russian opera is like Dostoyevskyit’s all in the mind.  There is inner suffering.

BD:   Is that one of the reasons why Russian operas have not become popular in the West?

Polozov:   Perhaps, but I’m not sure about that.  The Russians for the past seventy years have failed to communicate with the West.

BD:   Even when Russian operas are presented here
Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinkait seems that people have a harder time assimilating them than they do the Italian, German, or French operas.

Polozov:   That might be because they are not popular.  They are not brought here.  Boris Godunov, and Eugene Onegin are the only two that they play here.  Prince Igor has been performed in Europe, but it has not been performed in America.  I read that Aleko of Rachmaninov is being prepared for a festival in England.  I recorded that work with Yevgeny Nesterenko as Aleko.  I’m the young gypsy.

BD:   Do you sing differently for a recording than you sing for the public?

Polozov:   During the recording, I try to make it theater.  If there is no theater, then there won’t be a good recording.

BD:   You must create the sense of theater?

Polozov:   Yes, you must give it what it is.  I close my eyes and I imagine a picture of what I’m singing, that is, what I’m saying.

BD:   Are you pleased with the recording?

Polozov:   Yes, the recording is very interesting.  It’s a very good one.  Apparently it will be released without my name.  I recorded in May, and I then left for the States and for Japan.  I made that recording, but my name will not be on it because I left Russia.  But I know my voice, I am still able to recognize my own voice.  [Note that his name is also missing from all references about the Glinka Contest...]

BD:   Have you made other recordings?

Polozov:   No, no others.  In Bulgaria they recorded something of me during a competition of young operatic singers.  I was a contestant, and because I won first prize I was recorded when I was there.  I also won first prize in the Glinka Contest in Russia.

THE GLINKA INTERNATIONAL VOCAL CONTEST is one of the oldest and the most prestigious musical contests held in Russia. It is carried out since 1960. In the period 1968 – 2009 the famous Russian singer and pedagogue IRINA ARKHIPOVA was the Chief of Jury. 

The program of the contest includes both opera and chamber pieces, which corresponds to the tradition of the Russian vocal performing art where opera singers participate in Lied recitals as well. The main part in the contest program is given to the classical Russian and world vocal music, but the required program also includes creations of the modern composers (written not earlier then 1975)

The most important distinguishing feature of the Glinka contest is that there is no preliminary selection by records. The jury estimates the competitors only according to the live performance auditions open for public.

Results of the contest are of importance for future professional career of the young musicians. Almost all singers in Russia and the CIS being the leaders of the domestic and world opera scene for decades are laureates or diploma winners of the Glinka Contest. Here are just some names from the different generations — Vladimir Atlantov, Aleksandr Voroshilo, Galina Gorchakova, Gegam Grigoryan, Sergei Leiferkus, Yuri Mazurok, Yevgeny Nesterenko, Elena Obraztsova, Maria Guleghina, Olga Borodina, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Vladimir Chernov, Anna Netrebko, Askar Abdrazakov, Ildar Abdrazakov, Sergei Murzaev, Olga Trifonova, Elena Manistina, Mikhail Kazakov, August Amonov, Anna Viktorova, Albina Shagimuratova, Oxana Volkova, etc.

polozov BD:   [Jokingly]  Do you get tired of winning first prize all the time?

Polozov:   [Laughs]  I can hardly wait until I go and get them!  It’s very pleasing to receive them!   I like competitions and the excitement of competitions.  I’m not joking now, but I do like competitions.  During the performance, when one is surrounded by outstanding singers, an atmosphere of competition exists between the singers.  I love the challenge, and I’m not afraid of it.  When one gets the sense of competition and vitality, this challenges me, and it’s always interesting to be in such a performance, in such an operatic creation.  Although we shouldn’t say that Wagner is lesser in value, or that Tchaikovsky is of lesser value either, but Puccini, for me subjectively, is closer to my heart.

BD:   Have you sung Lensky?

Polozov:   Yes, I sing Lensky.

BD:   Is that a good part for your voice?

Polozov:   Yes, very good.  Lensky is a very good role.  Tchaikovsky reminds me of my home, my friends, my parents, and the people who are close to me.  So that music is very close to me.

BD:   Does it make you homesick or nostalgic?

Polozov:   No, not nostalgic.  When I lived in Russia, I felt the same.  It’s always that the music of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka, or Rachmaninov that makes my heart ache.  When I hear the music of Puccini, that’s different.  I just want to sing.

BD:   You are a natural singer.

Polozov:   Yes, a natural singer.  When there is a lot of emotion, and people are watching, it’s very pleasing and it’s very exciting.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What other Puccini operas have you sung?

Polozov:   Tosca and Butterfly.

BD:   Tell me about Cavaradossi.  Is he at all like Rodolfo?

Polozov:   He is somewhat different... the opposite, actually.

BD:   The characters are all different, but is the music the same?

Polozov:   The music is almost the same for me.  It’s the character of the music that is different, but the style of the composer is essentially the same.

BD:   Is that the genius of Puccini?

Polozov:   Yes, it is, and one can hear that.  In general, it seems to me that Puccini is the summit of operatic art.

BD:   Did you sing Puccini in Russia?

Polozov:   I prepared it.  Somehow, in Russia I always tried to sing Italian music, because in Russia, Italian music is considered to be the highest of singing.  If you sing Italian music, you’re a better singer.

BD:   But they insist that it be sung in Russian?

Polozov:   Most of the operas are translated, but that’s the opinion.

BD:   Leaving aside the political ramifications, does opera work well in translation, in order to bring it closer to the audience?

Polozov:   Yes, in a sense when one sings Italian opera in Russian.  The audiences take to it very well.  They accept it less well when it’s sung in Italian, or a language they don’t understand.  Although, when Italian singers come to Moscow with their operas and sing in Italian, the audiences like it very much.  Just as the Americans like foreigners, such as Italians and Russians, it’s the same in Russia.

polozov BD:   What lifestyle in the West has surprised you the most?

Polozov:   I’ve only been here since August, so I don’t know yet.  I certainly don’t miss Russia.  I only miss my family and my close friends.  I’m not nostalgic.  In general, the atmosphere in the opera house is very good and very warm.  I have a lot of work, and I am also working with Russians.  In general, when there is work and where there is warmth, there is no nostalgia.  I only want to see my parents, and to have them join me.  I am going to work with Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya in The Tsar’s Bride by Rimsky-Korsakov in Washington.

BD:   Will it be done in Russian?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Ruggero Raimondi, and Paul Plishka.]

Polozov:   Yes.  It’s just in this country, when most of the operas are in Italian, with very few in French and Russian that they all go together to hear the Russian opera.  But it isn’t with a Russian opera company, so it’s not authentic.  I don’t always enjoy it myself.  I once saw Eugene Onegin, and the only one who sang good Russian was Lensky, because he studied it at the Russian Conservatory.  The cast had Freni and Ghiaurov, but the tenor was a Czech, Peter Dvorský.  I know him.  [This was possibly the video of the Lyric Opera of Chicago production from 1984.  Perhaps Polozov did not hear Ghiaurov (as Prince Gremin) since he only appears in the third act, and Lensky is killed in Act Two...(!)]

BD:   Is there a competition amongst tenors?

Polozov:   Yes, of course, just as here and everywhere else.

BD:   Are there any Russian operas that would work particularly well in the West?

Polozov:   For the States in particular, one needs Russian opera to be grandiose.  I have in mind some wonderful ones that would depict old Russia, and the Russian character and nature of the people.  A very good opera for that is The Tsar’s Bride.  This shows the personality and the character of the Russian people.  Prince Igor is another very good one, as is Ivan Susanin by Glinka.  It also takes us to the hearts of the Russian character.  This was staged at La Scala in 1959, with Renata Scotto and Boris Christoff.  I have a photo of them.  Renato Scotto was very young then.  She was only starting out as a singer.

BD:   Does opera work well on television?

Polozov:   Frankly speaking, I don’t like to watch it on television, but I like to see it live in the house.  Even when one looks at a video recording, frequently the large scenes are badly shown.  There’s not enough light, or the film producer doesn’t know the opera, so something is always missing.  It’s a pleasure when the film producer knows the score and important scenes.  Then it comes out better.

BD:   So he has to be selective with the camera shots?

Polozov:   Yes, camera shots.  It doesn’t turn out well with something always missing.

BD:   [Trying to be helpful]  Perhaps if we could have an assistant conductor to be with the technical crew?

Polozov:   An assistant conductor?

BD:   The rehearsal pianist, or repetiteur could help out technically.

Polozov:   That’s no solution.  It’s very difficult.  In general, one has to hear opera in an opera house.

BD:   Do you sing differently for different houses?  Does the size of the house affect your vocal production?

Polozov:   Of course.  I have to work with a lot of energy when the acoustics are bad, or when the theater is not so big, or the stage not very comfortable.  When the place is not like here in Chicago, it’s more difficult to sing.

polozov BD:   Is it drier, or more dead?

Polozov:   Everything concerns the sound.  There is no microphone, so one has to project.  We are tied to the sound.  When the acoustic is bad and when the place is not made for vocal art, it’s difficult and you have to work much harder.  I used to be afraid of the large houses.  They used to scare me, but not anymore.

BD:    What about them used to scare you?

Polozov:   The bad acoustics and the poor stagecraft.

BD:   They don’t scare you anymore?  [Vis-à-vis the video shown at left, the stage-director is Frank Corsaro.]

Polozov:   No, not anymore.  I just go on now and sing.  That’s it, because, as I told you, I live on the stage, and when you live on the stage, all the acoustical problems are forgotten.

BD:   You don’t forget about the prompter and the conductor do you?

Polozov:   In general, I never use them!  I try never to look at the conductor.  The conductors always ask me to look at them, but I am just the opposite.  I never need a prompter and I don’t like to look at the conductor.  I listen to the orchestra and get the cues from the music.  I get my musical line from the orchestra.

BD:   Are you looking to move into heavier roles, Verdi or Wagner?  Are you going to Lohengrin again?

Polozov:   Of course!  I sang Lohengrin in Russian in Russia, and I liked it.  Even now it is one of my favorite operas.  When you talk about the difficulty of singing Wagner, I feel it’s wrong.  Maybe it’s difficult, but Wagner wrote very rationally for the voice, especially Lohengrin.  It’s not so difficult for me.  When one sings it, and one lives in the music, it’s not difficult for me.  I consider the most difficult place in Lohengrin is the third act, when Lohengrin has his narration, and I then sing to Elsa.  This is the most difficult episode.  I addressed Elsa heartily, so it’s not difficult at all.  When one begins to think about vocal problems, then it becomes difficult.  But I get over it, and try and try.  Singers look at the vocal line.  They begin to look for vocal difficulties.  Wagner has many low notes, and this is difficult for a tenor.  One always has the height, so it’s a little difficult for a tenor because they have to go low, and a tenor doesn’t do that.  Tenors don’t like low notes, so this is where the difficulty starts.  But when you narrate, or do the recitative, if you live this music, it’s not difficult.

BD:   Are you going to sing any more Wagner [with a gentle nudge] perhaps Tristan or Siegfried?

Polozov:   [Laughs]  I don’t know these.  I want to do various composers.  I have sung Lohengrin once in Saratov in Russia, on the Volga, and a few times in Minsk.  Minsk has an opera company, and is where I live with my family, so I’ve sung there.  I started out singing in Kiev.  I sang for the Kiev Opera, and then I moved to Saratov.  I sang in many opera houses of the Soviet Union, and in Minsk because I moved there, and also at the Bolshoi in Moscow, and all over Russia wherever there was an opera house.

BD:   Do you like the life of a wanderer?

Polozov:   Yes, I’ve liked it from my childhood.

BD:   Will you be singing any of the lighter roles of Bellini or Donizetti?

Polozov:   I have never sung any operas by Donizetti, even though I like them.

BD:   Have you sung The Barber of Seville?

Polozov:   I have not sung it because my voice is somewhat larger.  It needs a tenor leggiero.  It has to do with the weight of the voice.

BD:   Thank you for being a singer.  I wish you lots of continued success.

Polozov:   Thank you.

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© 1986 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on September 29, 1986.  My sincerest thanks go to George Kremenesky for helping with the translation.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks also to to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.