When Ildar Abdrazakov was a teenager and just starting to sing, he and his brother—also a singer—watched a life-changing recording of Verdi’s Attila with Samuel Ramey and Riccardo Muti.
Cut to 2010 when the Russian bass, now 35, made his breakthrough performance at the Met as the same titular Hun under Met debutant Muti’s baton (Ramey sang the Pope). Since then, the Ufa native’s booming Slavic voice has been an increasingly welcome presence, taking on the diverse roles this season of Henry VIII in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena (opposite compatriot Anna Netrebko) and the elderly Dosifei in Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, making a rare appearance onstage with his wife, mezzo Olga Borodina (the Russian epic opens Monday night).
Learn more about this comparatively low-key singer’s routine, encompassing everything from talking heads to red meat to Angry Birds.
News Has a Kind of Mystery
I need to sleep well. I hate to wake up early. If I have a performance at 7:00 or 8:00, I need to wake up by midday, and then I do so slowly, watching TV—some news. I don’t like movies on the day of a performance because if I’m watching a movie then I’m thinking about this movie, not about the opera. So I prefer to see news or some documentary. Small things.
I shave, of course. For this role I have a huge beard. I need to put glue on for it. I hate glue, I hate mustaches, but what can I do? When I did Enrico VIII, it was my hair. I had to manicure it myself at home in the morning. I use Gillette. Very regular [Laughs].
Better Red than Bread
No breakfast. I go to lunch immediately at 3:00. I prefer to eat meat. One steak, medium-rare. I don’t cook. I prefer to go outside also during the day, because to stay at home is not good, especially for me and for my eyes. I need to move, I need to go outside. Like a battery, I need to recharge with people, with the weather, with car horns. The life. That’s what I love about New York. You go outside and—boom!—energy. I go to Landmarc.
Far Away, So Close
I go by myself. If my wife wants to go, sometimes she’ll come with me. We are ten years together, and if she wakes up earlier than me, she’ll go in another room. And if I wake up early, of course I do the same. We try to be quiet and don’t disturb each other. Tranquillo or uspokoitʹ. It’s hard [to perform together]. She no longer sings Carmen, I have nothing to do in Aida, or Samson et Dalila. There’s nothing for me. I do Mozart, she’ll never sing Mozart. Now I start to sing Verdi also. But in Attila, there’s nothing for her too. I start to sing Filippo II in Don Carlo, but she doesn’t want to sing Eboli anymore. Her voice is going down, it’s more contralto. What are you going to do? Khovanshchina, yeah, okay.
She comes [to the theater] earlier than me, because she needs more time to warm up the voice. For Mozart, I don’t need to warm up for a long time. Mozart is brilliant music. It’s fresh. For Khovanshchina, I need more time. The tessitura is high and low, and it’s an old man. Thank God we have rehearsal because in this time I have time to change into the characters. These things help us a lot for the character and for what you want to tell the public.
Business in the Front, Party in the Back
When I go onstage, I play the personage. When I’m offstage, it’s me—I hope! But onstage, it’s like transferred to the character. We rehearse a lot here at the Met, so I’m already there so I’m just thinking about my voice and how it’s feeling. The character comes onstage. One step, you know. [Assumes a character’s pose.] If I have a lot of time and need to wait and have nothing to do, I play Angry Birds. I play only for three stars. I want to think and I want to do it myself. I’d play it on my iPad too, but if I start to play here I can’t move to play it then on the iPad because it’s not connected. So I use my iPad to watch TV. I [also] check the language. It’s difficult to sing in Russian for Khovanschina. It’s old words. Now we don’t use these words. The text changes. Instead of, for example, “I want to go home,” we sing “Home, wake me when I come.” This kind of text makes me crazy.
At intermission, if I’m feeling well and I did many times the opera, I can go also outside to talk with make-up or other singers. If for example someone feels not good, of course I go to that person after the first act in intermission to pick them up, to say, “Come on! It’s good!” We’re in the same opera. We’re a team. I played soccer for one year on a team when I was 12 years old. I have one diploma, trophy. In one game I did 27 goals. It was finals and we finished, it was 8-8, so it was penalty. It was a lot of energy. In penalty I did 21. [I felt the same] after Attila here with Muti.
Energy to Burn
If my friends want to go to drink something or to eat, we go to the Russian Vodka Room. It’s nice. We have a lot of energy and also it’s the adrenaline; a lot of adrenaline after the performance. To calm down, I need to take some vodka or whiskey. It depends. In Russia I drink vodka. Here, whiskey, wine. Whiskey after the Metropolitan. After La Scala it’s wine—red wine, for sure.