A Kazakhstan singing prodigy makes her mark in Italy’s opera scene07 october 2014, 22:43
The first miracle came when she began dreaming of studying opera in Italy, but had no idea how to pull it off. Her stroke of luck was a chance encounter with Italian music teachers who invited her to attend their storied academy in Milan.
The second miracle came when Maria needed financial help to turn her Italian dream into reality – and President Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped in to make it happen.
One of the highlights of her still-blossoming music career is praise from Placido Domingo. You can see pictures of her rubbing shoulders with the legendary tenor and other opera icons, along with photos and videos of her performances, at www.mariamudryak.com.
Maria, whose father Alexander is an engineer and mother Olga a university professor, displayed an artistic bent while still a toddler.
But the initial indication was she’d be a ballerina rather than a singer.
At 3 she danced as Thumbelina in the ballet of the same name. She relished performing, but at the same theater she heard the enchanting sound of a children’s choir.
“I want to sing, too, Mom!” she enthused. The change of artistic direction “was to become my destiny,” she said in an interview.
Maria, center, at a recital in Pavlodar when she was 6. Photo courtesy of Maria Mudryak.
She became a voice student of Michael and Olga Giunavshvili, who helped her polish her natural talent to the point that she won every singing competition she entered as a child.
A perfectionist, Maria said she was “always trying to figure out what I could do to sing better and better.”
When she was 8, a classical-music producer told her mother she should study opera.
Her initial reaction was “nyet.” “When my mother and I listened to opera, we both thought it sounded like the singers were straining rather than giving a relaxed and smooth performance,” she said.
Over time the two began appreciating the beauty and strength of opera.
“When we began listening to the great singers of the past, it sounded as if we were listening to angels,” Maria said. “We also came to understand how divine the music of the great opera composers is.”
Among the judges at a voice competition that Maria won in Sochi, Russia, when she was 10 were faculty of the Milan Music Academy.
They were so impressed with her performance that they encouraged her to audition for a spot in their school.
The audition was in Milan – a strain on the family budget – but the Mudryaks scraped the money together, and Maria aced the try-out.
She was thrilled to have an invitation to attend a great Italian music school. But her exhilaration was tempered by the knowledge that her family lacked the resources to pay for her studies.
That’s where President Nazarbayev came in.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev welcomes Maria at an event recognizing the 20 Most Outstanding Women in Kazakhstan at the Akorda in 2012. Photo courtesy of Maria Mudryak.
Maria sang at an event that included a lot of other performers when she was 11 – and the president was one of those who showed up.
Sitting with him was Minister of Education Berganim Aitimova, who told President Nazarbayev that the Milan Music Academy had asked the ministry to find a way to send the talented youngster to their school.
President Nazarbayev remembered Maria from a performance she’d given when she was just 7, but with the additional seasoning she’d obtained, she was even more impressive this time.
Her moving rendition of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Memories” struck such a chord with the president that he strode up to her after the performance, gave her a hug and promised to get her to Milan.
Maria won a Bolashak Scholarship to the Milan Music Academy, where she received two degrees – a high school diploma at 18 and a master’s at 21.
The Bolashak program, which President Nazarbayev founded, has sent thousands of Kazakhstan’s most gifted students abroad for degrees and technical training at the government’s expense.
Olga Mudryak accompanied her daughter to Milan, taking a job to help make ends meet, while Alexander remained in Pavlodar, seeing his family when time and money permitted. It was a major sacrifice for him, but he felt it was worth it to see Maria reach her potential.
Maria credits much of her growth as an opera singer to Carlo Gaifa, her voice coach at the Milan Music Academy, whom she refers to as “the maestro.” Gaifa was a prot?g? of the acclaimed voice teacher Ettore Campogaliani, whose students included heralded tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
Maria is the epitome of glamour in a concert at Astana’s Pyramid in 2012. Photo courtesy of Maria Mudryak.
Gaifa “sang for 50 years on all of the world’s most famous stages,” Maria said. “My connecting with the maestro was nothing short of a gift from God. He has taught me all the subtleties and nuances of opera. I’m going to do all I can to be worthy of him.”
Because of her immense talent, at 14 Maria was allowed to enroll in another renowned musical institution, the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, at the same time that she was studying at the academy.
She had another superb voice teacher at the conservatory, Demetrio Colaci, also a former performer.
Her enrollment in the conservatory, which in its 200 years of existence has produced some of Italy’s top opera singers and conductors, meant that at 18 she earned both her high school diploma from the academy and her bachelors degree from the conservatory.
The brown-eyed beauty began pursuing a professional opera career last year at 19. At the same time, she began pursuing a master’s in music from the Milan Music Academy, which has programs for students of all ages. She completed the master’s this year.
Most of her performances have been in Italy. But she’s sung in other countries as well, notably at this year’s Salzburg Music Festival in Austria, one of the world’s showcases of classical music and theater.
The springboard to her professional opera career was a familiar one: winning singing competitions.
“Because of these successes I won roles in several operas this year,” she said.
Maria as Suzanna in “The Marriage of Figaro” in Genoa. Photo courtesy of Maria Mudryak.
Her professional debut, when she was 19, came in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Carlo Felice Theater in Genova. She played the maid Suzanna.
Her second role was as the singer Musetta in Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” at the Rosetum Theater in Milan.
Then she went to Salzburg, where she played the step-sister Clorinda in Gioachino Rossini’s “Cinderella.”
Maria in the costume she wore for the role of Clorinda in the opera “Cinderella.” Photo courtesy of Maria Mudryak.
She will play a major role in her next performance: Adina, the wealthy land owner in Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love.”
The staging will be at the Piacenza Theater in Piacenza.
Her contract after that will be her best yet, in terms of length and number of venues. She will play the mistress Juliette in Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” at five theaters in Italy from October to March.
Maria’s performances in the cradle of opera have led to her meeting several members of the craft’s glitterati.
Her encounter with Placido Domingo at the Salzburg Music Festival was especially memorable because after they met he agreed to listen to her perform.
Maria with legendary tenor Placido Domingo at this year’s Salzburg Music Festival. Photo courtesy of Maria Mudryak.
“He was there to sing in (the Giuseppe Verdi opera) ‘Trovatore,’” Maria said. “He and his family watched me in ‘Cinderella.’ I was so excited. And when it was over he and his wife praised my performance.”
Pretty heady stuff for a girl who grew up far from the heartland of opera on the steppes of Kazakhstan.
What’s next for Maria?
“I just want to sing and sing and sing,” she said. “I like seeing people enjoy music, seeing the happiness on their faces.”