Last fall, Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak made news with his acclaimed Lyric Opera of Chicago debut in the company’s production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice. “Korchak is taking his place as perhaps the leading contemporary exponent of the demanding title part,” wrote Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rhein von Rhein in his review.
The singer, who came to prominence in 2004 with prizes at the Francisco Vinas International Competition in Barcelona and Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition in Los Angeles, has enjoyed similar successes at many other major venues worldwide, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Opera Bastille in Paris and La Scala in Milan.
Korchak, now 39, also has returned to conducting, which his website describes as his “initial specialization.” Starting in 2017-18, he became principal guest conductor at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre in Siberia, where he has his own summer festival, and guest conductor at the Mikhailovsky Theatre of St. Petersburg.
The tenor will make his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut June 21-24 under Riccardo Muti in Rossini’s Stabat mater and Cherubini’s Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn, part of a season-ending program with three choral works. Also featured will be the Chicago Symphony Chorus and a stellar roster of guest vocalists: soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova and bass-baritone Eric Owens.
In an email interview, Korchak discussed how he divides his time between singing and conducting and his first appearances with the Chicago Symphony:
What drew you to conducting? How much of your time do you devote to conducting each season?
This is not a new profession for me. My primary line of studies was dedicated to choir conducting, and afterward, when I started my vocal career, I started taking up symphony conducting lessons regularly. I always felt that such a solid education helped me with singing: I have felt music differently, it was easier for me to learn new roles, and my contact with conductors was always very responsive. Now in 2018, after 14 years of an international solo vocal career, I have performed more than 60 main roles, as well as cantata-oratorio music and chamber music. All this was possible only because of my serious educational base. Now I feel the moment has come when my vocal experience can start helping me to understand all the technical and artistic subtleties needed to prepare opera productions with singers as a conductor.
Conducting is, for now, not a principal activity for me. I still need to accumulate more experience in the close work with an orchestra and singers — which I acquire mainly at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre of Russia, where I became principal guest conductor a year ago. I do all this in the intervals between my vocal engagements, which were signed several years ago and are planned five years in advance. As a conductor, I work regularly in Novosibirsk and at the St. Petersburg Mikhailovsky Theatre, where during this season, I will conduct [Donizetti’s] L’elisir d’amore; [Verdi’s] Aida; gala concerts with René Pape, Lawrence Brownlee, Julia Matochkina and Veronika Dzhiova; Rossini’s Stabat mater, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, [Halévy’s] La Juive, [Bizet’s] Carmen, as well as different concert programs.
When did you introduce the Korchak Festival at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre? What kinds of repertoire do you present?
On June 2, 2018, I inaugurated the Dmitry Korchak Festival in Novosibirsk with a very interesting program. It started with L’elisir d’amore by Donizetti and will end on July 7 with an opera gala concert in memoriam of a great Russian mezzo-soprano and my close friend, Elena Obraztsova.
Apart from these, the festival will feature performances of Carmen and Aida with opera stars from different countries, including my friend, American tenor Charles Castronovo. To be mentioned additionally is a concert with music by Georgy Sviridov on the poems of Alexander Pushkin. It was a choir concert with the participation of the theater’s orchestra. After my concerts in Chicago, I will return to Novosibirsk to perform a program of Russian sacred music and Russian folk music a cappella with the theater’s choir.
How was the experience of performing in Lyric Opera’s Orphée et Eurydice? Any plans to return to the company?
For now, I have nothing planned with Lyric Opera of Chicago but would be very glad to return to this wonderful theater. Lyric Opera is an amazing opera house of the highest artistic and management level, with very good acoustics and beautiful productions. All the people who work in the theater create an unforgettable atmosphere of home, which helps [artists] to create and to perform.
What upcoming roles or opera productions are you especially excited about?
Apart from new titles in my conducting schedule, I have also new roles awaiting me as a singer. This season was a difficult one with many complicated debuts — Orphée by Gluck in Chicago, The Tales of Hoffmann by Offenbach in Tokyo, Guglielmo Tell in Palermo and Torvaldo e Dorliska at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. In the upcoming season, I will perform two new titles: Robert Le Diable by Meyerbeer and Semiramide by Rossini.
Have you worked with Riccardo Muti previously?
Yes, I am blessed to have worked with Maestro Muti many times before: in Ravenna, Salzburg, Paris, Tokyo, Naples and Madrid. I can’t stop admiring his talent for learning the new, searching for meaning and music in every single note and his desire to work not only with music but also with recitatives. He works like actors work on plays — talking through every single word. All that goes without saying that he is a brilliant musician, pianist and conductor. He is a constant example for me, and I always try in my work as a conductor to follow his precious advice and to grow, to develop always with full respect to the music and to a composer’s heritage.
You perform Rossini’s Stabat mater frequently. What do you enjoy about this work?
Indeed, I have performed Stabat mater a lot, including several times with Maestro Muti, and have also conducted it myself. This is a magnificent work, full of drama — very unexpected for Rossini’s music in general. It goes without saying that for a tenor this composition is unbelievably difficult. The tenor aria is written with extremely high notes in the cadenza — D flat. The other soloists also have difficult arias. The music written for the choir is also extremely beautiful. And Maestro Muti conducts this piece in a very special way. Under his baton this music acquires additional greatness and depth.
What are some of the qualities that singers must have to perform Rossini well?
Well, Rossini is very different. Many mistakenly think he composed only comic operas. But listen to our Stabat mater, for example, and also the other “serious operas” that he composed. You need special, rare voice types to perform them. That is why they rarely make it into the theaters’ repertoire. In any case, for Rossini, as for Mozart, vocal quality is very important, as well as precise in-tune singing and technical perfection. I think this is what makes those two composers special, first and foremost.
Are you looking forward to your debut with the Chicago Symphony?
Of course, I am! Very much! I often attend concerts by this famous orchestra. Last year I was at the CSO’s concert in Vienna’s Musikverein with my wife and son — it was an unforgettable concert. I am so much looking forward to sharing the stage with [the CSO and Muti] in their hometown.