Askonas Holt is delighted to welcome mezzo-soprano Adriana Bignagni Lesca to its roster for general management.
Born in Gabon, Adriana studied at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux. Her recent roles have included Brambilla in Offenbach’s La Périchole with Les Musiciens du Louvre and Marc Minkowski, Fatouma in Rabaud’s Marouf, Savetier du Caire at the Opéra-Comique de Paris and Rossweisse in Wagner’s Die Walküre for Opéra National de Bordeaux. Forthcoming highlights include a return to Bordeaux to sing Mistress Quickly in Laurent Pelly’s production of Verdi’s Fastaff and a European tour of Mitridate, Re di Ponto with Les Musiciens du Louvre.
Adriana’s manager, Nathan Morrison, caught up with her during Mitradate rehearsals at Staatsoper Berlin to talk about her musical journey.
Tell us a bit about your journey towards becoming a classical singer?
When I was 14 I joined the largest choir in Gabon; a year later, I started piano lessons with the late Pépé Abate. It wasn’t until after leaving my native land to study in France that I discovered opera for the first time in my life. At first, I auditioned to study piano, and then started to study singing in the vocal department at the Bordeaux conservatoire. I did two years of bel canto training in order to immerse myself in a culture that was entirely alien to me.
The fact that I had come to study piano but was offered a place as a singer makes me laugh – at the time I was actually afraid of this way of singing as it was such a foreign concept to me! When I think about it today, it was my innate curiosity to try new things which spurred me on to discover more about my voice, and through this, about myself.
During my studies I sang in the chorus at the Opera national de Bordeaux. Donizetti’s Anna Bolena was my first opera with them, and then Otello – something that shocked me at the time was that the face of the singer performing Otello was painted black. This was my first brush with this kind of racism and I found it disturbing.
How has the rich heritage of music in Gabon influenced your attitude to classical music?
One of the greatest influences in my musical life is Pygmy Song. For me it is the original musical and spiritual source of my country, Gabon – it is a way of singing which almost has a similarity with classical singing as it also requires a very precise technical approach and training. I really enjoy exploring the rich heritage of this music in my spare time or in moments of inspiration. These are my roots, it’s part of my culture, my Gabonese culture – for me this is the beginning of music.
The Gabonese Blues (my personal naming!) is when we sing a variety songs in our native languages. This creates a special type of sound which is very ‘blues’ – very melancholy, very bruised. Even if the lyrics can be quite happy, there is still this melody which brings out this little ‘blues’ side. As an example of this, I performed with pianist Sophie Pornin a song of a mother who consoles her child, juxtaposed with Bach’s Prelude in C Major – I love this very much.
What inspires you as a performing artist?
When performing I always strive to convey emotions as they are, to be able to share energy with the audience, the orchestra, the conductor, the choristers, the stage. I always try to give a part of me as a black African woman – as a black African, I have experienced (whether we like it or not) a lot of difficulty in the opera world finding my place as an artist.
The good thing about changing from character to character on stage is that you don’t have to identify as black, or African, or the feel like a hindrance – on stage I express myself and I am fulfilled with who I really am: a real artist with my faults, qualities, and personality – everything is there. Coming to Europe from Gabon was an emotional and cultural shock at the beginning. I cut myself out of one universe to another. I love these two cultures, they are part of my balance and have become part of who I am.