Cynthia Makris

Artist of the Year

Savonlinna Opera Festival


Makris & Sirkia in Tannhauser
Cynthia Makris as Venus and Raimo Sirkiä as Tannhäuser.

Cynthia will sing both Venus and Elizabeth in the Tannhäuser production of the Savolinna Opera Festival in Finland in July 2006.

Cynthia has been associated with Savonlinna Opera Festival since 1993.
Cynthia Makris

The text which follows is from the Savonlinna Opera Festival Book 2006 and was written by Jaana Rasanen-Pentti.

The photographs are from the Cynthia Makris website.

The girl from the golden West who also dazzled the East

In the early 1970s a university choir from mid-west Colorado USA went on a tour that took in distant Finland. One of its young sopranos, Cynthia Makris, was no more aware than the audience who came along to listen that one of the brightest future stars on the operatic firmament and one of its most dramatic sopranos was among its ranks. Nor would she ever have dreamt that Finland would one day come to mean so much to her. Today, Cynthia Makris is not only Artist of the Year of the Savonlinna Opera Festival but one of the most celebrated dramatic heroines on the opera stages of Europe and the world.

Cynthia could equally well have become a concert pianist, had not the force of destiny intervened when she first heard her choir's magnificent soloist give voice. "It caused the first and most decisive musical burst of emotion and brought tears to my eyes." Cynthia just knew without being told her future fate and destiny. It was etched on her soul from within. The vision was transformed into determined, unrelenting practice, the piano gave way to singing, one success to another and another soloist in the choir.

TurandotUp on stage, Cynthia Makris is an imposing, stunning combination of presence, intensity and breath-taking vocal mastery that makes even a thundering orchestra pale. Her expressive range is simply beyond compare. In full command of her voice, she is not afraid to bend it to her will, to caw in ugly tones if so required, to rage and roar like a demon and the next moment resort to delicate, sensitive shades. Her voice and her whole being convince the audience equally well as the blood-curdling Lady Macbeth lusting for revenge and power, or the proud and distant Turandot, or Salome, oozing sensuality. Of the dozens of soprano roles in which she has reaped world fame, maybe these three are the ones for which she is best known internationally. She already has no fewer than a dozen portrayals of the title role in Richard Strauss's Salome to her name, her seductive veil having fluttered on almost every continent, from Australia to Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Philadelphia, Germany and Helsinki.

The critic reviewing her Salome in London's Sunday Times had difficulty deciding which was better: the utterly intoxicating and alluring fawning on Jokanaan by Cynthia's Salome or the musical splendour and superabundant power of her voice. A difficult choice, indeed. Faced with perfection on two scores, the critic finally came down in favour of her singing. "I wish I had had more than one lesson in stage performance," she herself laments. Would the result have been all that much better? Not all can give a credible performance of the dance of the seven veils however well they learn the notes and the steps. Cynthia's strength lies in her all-round ability to enter into the role – the quality that distinguishes the good opera singer from the star who becomes the darling of the audience.

Historic Lady Macbeth – historic role

MacbethCynthia herself looks upon her part as Lady Macbeth in the opera of the same name by her favourite composer, Verdi, as one of the focal points in her career. "Naturally my debut as Tosca on home ground, before an audience of some two thousand at Denver Opera Repertory Company in Colorado was an unforgettable moment. But the Savonlinna Macbeth has moulded my career more than any almost any other role to date." The Olavinlinna setting, perfect for a classic production of a classic opera, enhances the credibility of the story acted out by the legendary leads, Cynthia Makris and Jorma Hynninen. The recording of the opera has circulated worldwide, providing publicity for the Festival and making Cynthia in even greater demand as a dramatic soprano. Since Savonlinna, she has made her debut as Lady Macbeth at La Scala, Milan and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

"It was thanks to Jorma Hynninen that I was given a part in the Savonlinna production and was able to work with a really great team of artists – Jorma Hynninen, Leif Segerstam and Ralf Långbacka. These men, Savonlinna and the whole Opera Festival are totally honest, both with their art and with their audience. Psychologically this has since become one of my home bases. It embodies some of my most important professional memories; I meet old friends here; I got married here. Surely there's nothing more important than love?"

Finnish opera audiences have been spoilt with performances by Cynthia Makris ever since 1993, when she first appeared at Savonlinna. Whereas the world would have welcomed her with open arms, she has chosen Finland and Savonlinna. "People sometimes ask me whether I've spent too much of my career in Finland. Finland's a fine country for music, full of musicians recognised the world over. Which is why I'm very touched that a company of artists I greatly respect should have granted me this honour. I've made most of my career and achieved most of my merits elsewhere, and I've had numerous offers of work all over the world. I'm fortunate in that I've been able to say yes to some and no to others. But I don't intend to just sit back, because I reckon the trump cards have still not been dealt as far as I'm concerned." Cynthia wants to make her mark, and this she has done already.

Enjoyment for audience and critics alike

Aida"Once again Cynthia Makris gave a brilliant interpretation of her challenging role…" "Her strong soprano is rich in nuance, from radiant top notes to light and cynical shades…" Cynthia Makris has won the favour of audiences and critics alike. Her performances exude flow – she just immerses herself in the role and lets it carry her along. The finest flow experience is said to be when the demands of the role and the ability to meet them fully coincide. "There are all sorts of theories, but it's true. The only way to achieve flow is by determined, disciplined practice: discipline and practice, practice, practice…" It sounds simpler on paper. "But I'm a bit impatient, like Salome. I want it all to come true quickly. And I don't always agree with the views, but isn't that right in an artist? As a rule, the artist's team skills improve over the years, and I reckon that's true in my case, too. It's the way to get on. I expect the stage director to have a definite vision and views, but I also expect him to leave some leeway."

Cynthia Makris is splendid woman. Is that just another natural asset? In theory, she says, she gets up in good time to open up her voice properly. Her favourite pastimes are meditation and yoga, to make sure she remains supple and able to move about on stage, and she keeps to a healthy and varied diet. "But the world is not perfect, and sometimes good friends, good food, beautiful scenery and other things, and enjoying them, are just as important." Her colleagues nevertheless know that rather than taking life easy, she has a professional attitude to everything she does, makes sure she is thoroughly prepared and has allotted the part the study and intellectual analysis that give her interpretation its depth.

When asked to name the biggest influences in her life, Cynthia does not hesitate. "That soprano in the choir I so admired. I wanted to be her. My piano teacher taught me what discipline means, and the importance of confidence – the artist's impact ultimately springs from within. I had two very important voice teachers. The first had faith in me and brought me to Europe, where I sang for years in one of the great seats of discipline, Germany. Coming to Europe changed my whole life. The other one, Anita Salta, has been my voice teacher for nearly twenty years now. I can still visualise the steps towards which we progressed together. The great Maria Callas, mother of all Norms, gave me, too, the norms of respect for my work and commitment. I have endless admiration for her ability to identify with her characters and make them so different from one another. And my parents, my son and my husband Raimo [Sirkiä], with whom I can share the important things in life."

West and East

La Fanciulla del WestThe part of Minnie in La Fanciulla del West at the Finnish National Opera is one of Cynthia's most recent and dearest for a number of reasons. "In a way, opera's like life in a museum. It often takes in history, plots, action and danger." The unusual story and the setting for Puccini's Girl of the Golden West, prospecting for gold in the Sierra Nevada mountains, is near where Cynthia was born. "For some reason I blossomed as an artist in Minnie and got closer to my roots, as a person, too. Travelling overseas is not always that easy," says an artist who was to leave her homeland for years. The Minnie of the production, which elicited rave reviews, is at times bold and strong, at others juvenile and uncertain. As is Cynthia. The short journey is often the longest one.

Off-stage, Cynthia is an impressive character. Not because she is in any way haughty and distant like some of her characters, but precisely because she is not. Her combination of talent with spontaneity, without any suggestion of the diva, explains her popularity. The unaffected Cynthia – the girl from out west – pauses to reminisce on the days back in Denver when she kept herself and her little boy and paid for her singing lessons by working in a restaurant called Mario's where the waiters and waitresses would entertain the diners with song. That was decades ago, and since then, there have been years of hard work and dazzling success on opera stages the world over. The waiters and waitresses are also singing in Savonlinna today. Maybe one of them will, decades from now, be saying like Cynthia, "I loved my work, singing and serving people even then. When I do something, I do it properly." Cynthia Makris was undoubtedly a marvellous waitress.

Cynthia Makris

• Born in: Sterling, Colorado
• Bachelor of Arts in History and Music Performance, Adams State College, Alamosa, Colorado
• Further studies at the University of Colorado
• As a student, winner of the regional auditions for the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera in successive years

• Debut: Puccini's Tosca, title role, Denver Opera Repertory Company, 1979
• First European contract: Verdi's La Traviata, Violetta, Graz Opera House, Austria, 1979
• Covent Garden debut as Abigaille in Verdi's Nabucco
• Debut as Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Macbeth at La Scala and the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires
• Parts in productions directed by Harry Kupfer, August Everding, Giancarlo del Monaco, Jean-Claude Auvray and others

• Repertoire includes dramatic coloratura soprano roles in operas by Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart and Verdi, and lyric dramatic soprano roles in operas by Puccini, Strauss and Wagner, such as Norma: title role (Bellini), Anna Bolena: title role (Donizetti), La forza del destino: Leonora (Verdi), Il Trovatore: Leonora (Verdi), Un ballo in maschera: Amelia (Verdi), Macbeth: Lady Macbeth (Verdi), Nabucco: Abigaille (Verdi), Der fliegende Holländer: Senta (Wagner), Salome: title role (Strauss), Arabella: title role (Strauss), Tosca: title role (Puccini), Madama Butterfly: Cio-Cio-San (Puccini), Turandot: title role (Puccini), La Fanciulla del West: Minnie (Puccini), Wozzeck: Marie (Berg), Die tote Stadt: Marietta (Korngold)

• Guest appearances at, among others, La Scala, the Teatro Vincenzo Bellini in Catania, Covent Garden, the Bavarian and Berlin State Operas, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Essen, Bonn, Wiesbaden, Dresden, Hanover, Stuttgart, Lisbon, Strasbourg, Normandy, the Teatro Real Madrid, the Paris Opéra Comique, the Royal Opera Stockholm, Utah Opera, Philadelphia, Teatro Argentino, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile, Sao Paolo, Tokyo, Australia, Scotland

• Regular guest at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires since 1998, at the Savonlinna Opera Festival since 1993 and the Finnish National Opera since 1994

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