Sabina Cvilak has two loves. And grey eyes flashing behind an easy laugh she will tell you that you don’t make her chose between her music and her horses. The Slovenian-born lyric soprano, currently visiting Sri Lanka for a performance with Rohan de Silva and the De Lanerolle Brothers, was born with a love for [...]

Sunday Times 2

Opera singer with a mission to move hearts

Globe trotting, Slovenian-born soprano Sabina Cvilak, who's here to perform along with Rohan de Silva and the de Lanerolle brothers, talks to Namali Premawardhana about her two passions in life, music and horses

Sabina Cvilak has two loves. And grey eyes flashing behind an easy laugh she will tell you that you don’t make her chose between her music and her horses.

The Slovenian-born lyric soprano, currently visiting Sri Lanka for a performance with Rohan de Silva and the De Lanerolle Brothers, was born with a love for music. But treading the beaten path, at 18 years old she was heading into a career of scientific research, treating music and horses as just hobbies.

Pic by Indika Handuwala

“I didn’t know there was a chance for me to be a classical singer or a professional singer of any kind. I just didn’t perform!” she laughs.
Luckily for the world of opera, Cvilak’s voice instructor suggested and kept pushing for her to apply to a conservatory. “I sang in choruses and took vocal lessons just for enjoyment … It was never an option in my head, somehow.” She didn’t know she was going to make it, and make it so big, but she finally auditioned for music school, was pleasantly surprised when she was selected, and stepped into the making of a dream.

After training in Austria, Cvilak made her professional debut in Vienna in 2001, as part of Keith Warner’s production of Ernest Bloch’s “Macbeth”. Since then, the singer’s star has steadily risen, taking stage after stage, wowing audiences the world over. In the US, Cvilak debuted as Mimi from “La Boheme” in 2007, to be called “one of the best sopranos” to have graced the Washington National Opera.Since then she has returned regularly, as Michaela from Bizet’s “Carmen” and Liu in Puccini’s “Turandot”. Her most recent work in the UK is the much acclaimed 2013 performance of Britten’s “War Requiem” with the London Symphony Orchestra. Cvilak also performed at the 2012 iTunes festival with Andrea Bocelli and the British Philharmonic Orchestra, at Smith Square in 2011 with famed pianist Ian Burnside, and at the Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Orchestra.

Unlike most classical musicians, Cvilak did not stop there. She has performed extensively in Asia, for the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Singapore, “I Pagliacci” with the Symphony Orchestra of India in 2012, and now adds Sri Lanka to her long list of world stages, with her performance beside the De Lanerolle Brothers and Rohan de Silva on Tuesday (July 1) at the Kingsbury Hotel.

“Sri Lanka, for us, is the example of exotic paradise,” Cvilak enthuses. “People usually save all their lives to come and see this country, and it was my luck to sing here with these great guys and see a little bit of the country as well!”

This is not the first time Colombo will hear opera or a globetrotting soprano, but this is the first time Colombo will hear opera (plus lots of Broadway) from a globetrotting soprano of Cvilak’s stature. Cvilak is eager to give everything she can to her audience at the Kingsbury.

“I expect at our concert there will be a few classical lovers who have experienced it abroad, and a few newcomers maybe, who are just beginning to appreciate music,” she says, matter-of-fact. Cvilak is not blinded to the popular image of classical music. “It is so stereotyped, sometimes,” she says. “The word ‘opera’ itself is ‘oh, so boring!’ But any kind of music, if you present it with the right attitude, the audience will really love it.” So, golden hair pulled back in a tight ponytail to highlight her sharp features, armed with quick wit and generous laughter, Cvilak is on a mission. “If we can make ANYBODY enthusiastic, a child, a young person or even an older person, that’s what the music is for, and our job is done. We just move hearts a little bit, that’s why we do this, this is our purpose.”

After Sri Lanka, Cvilak will return to Europe for more gala performances, including Vittelia in “La Clemeneza di Tito” and Blanche in Poulanc’s “Opera Les Dialogues Des Carmelites”.

Despite a brilliant career of 15 years, Cvilak feels there is so much more left for her to learn and do. “In opera there are so many roles I would love to sing but just not be able to because it’s impossible,” she says, almost regretfully, but not quite. “Our time as singers is of course, limited. Maybe conductors and poets have later expiry dates,” she smiles, “but ours is quite short. So I try to take the best I can while I can, so I will not wish for more when it is over.”

The bite in her quick speech is softened a bit, and her flitting eyes more questioning as she sees herself thinking these thoughts. “Maybe it’s still too early for me to talk about these things!” she laughs, almost shyly. There is more to her than just the story of her celebrity. Behind the glittering persona, beneath the stunning features and impressive carriage of a star, nestled inside the theatre of a prima donna, dwells a deeply thoughtful woman, at home, literally, in her riding boots.

‘It’s easy to get lost in heaven, in this occupation,” Cvilak says, “this is why I need my horses. Cleaning them, rubbing them down, it helps me come back down to earth so I stay in reality somehow. With them, my soul is peaceful.” They are her passion, she says, smiling.

Music and horses. “You cannot make me chose one. This is like my ying and yang.”

Balance and contentment are the stereotype-defying dreams of this prima donna. “I don’t want it to be only music, because then when it ends, I will lose all my life.”

The decades of sparkling stage-experience combined with the depth and sincerity of Cvilak’s greater spiritual concerns, make her, as she herself recognizes, someone possessing a wealth that is worth sharing.

“I see myself giving my knowledge away to the younger generation after I’m finished singing,” she says.

In fact, Cvilak already has a small number of pupils at a Slovenian music academy. “I don’t have many students because I’m still working a lot,” she explains, adding enthusiastically that “this is something that makes me happy.”

“I think when I was younger I had the ambition to be famous, to achieve everything, to make a mark. But now,” she continues with an earnestness that is surprising and almost startling, “I think I need my own peace, and to be happy with what I’m doing with myself… I think I’ve grown up in some way.”

Sabina Cvilak, together with Rohan de Silva (piano) and the De Lanerolle brothers, will take the stage for a rare treat of classical opera and broadway on Tuesday (July 1) at the
Kingsbury tonight.

A chance to hear world renowned Rohan de Silva 

Rohan de Silva is probably Sri Lanka’s most accomplished and most internationally appreciated musician.
De Silva, faculty member at the Julliard School and Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, not only performs regularly with violin maestro Itzhak Perlman, but has also shared the stage with the likes of Joshua Bell at prestigious venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center. His audience has included no less than Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Perez.
De Silva lives in the US and visits Sri Lanka often between tours across the globe, but to hear him at the piano is a rare delight for a Colombo audience.
Rohan and Ishan De Lanerolle have pulled out all the stops to make this a memorable show.

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