God & I: Chiara Isotton

September 04 2023 | by

HOW did your passion for singing, and in particular for opera, begin?

I was lucky to have been born into a family which has always practiced music. My parents have always sung in choirs, especially church choirs, and I myself started singing in a children’s choir at the age of 6; my contact with opera only came at a later stage.

In 1992 I saw Tosca on TV with Catherine Malfitano, Placido Domingo and Ruggero Raimondi under the baton of Zubin Mehta, and I was quite impressed. Later when I was about 13, I saw an opera work live for the first time. This was Les Contes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach; it was performed in Treviso, and I was overawed by what I saw.

As far as my own personal involvement with opera goes, it all began rather casually because, while singing in the church choir, it became apparent that my voice was becoming more powerful, and a friend of our family suggested that I take up the study of music more seriously. I therefore enrolled at the music school in Belluno, my home town. Then I continued my studies at the Conservatory in Venice.


Which people in your professional life as well as in your personal life have influenced you the most?

I am grateful to all the teachers I met in my life. They have influenced me both as an artist and also as a woman. In my private life the support from my family was fundamental. I am very grateful to my family for having supported me in this venture that does not offer young aspirants the guarantee of success. The life of an artist may seem full of glitz, glam and glory to those on the outside: the galas, the applause, the celebrity status… but in reality it brings with it many difficult aspects such as the possibility of failure. It also implies frequent separation from your loved ones.


In the course of your career you have performed in various prestigious theatres around the world. Do you find that the audience is different in the various nations you visit?

Outwardly the audiences are different according to the nation you’re performing in, but beyond this outer layer all audiences are the same everywhere. They’re different in the sense that various nations perceive the performances in different ways, however people everywhere are the same in terms of their love for music.

Throughout the world, the sense of live performances, of direct communication between the artist and the audience, is being lost. However I have found that the reception of opera and music by the Japanese is unique. The Japanese have a sort of veneration for opera, after performances they are always there asking for autographs. I have also always received a very great welcome in the United States and France. However, each nation expresses its enthusiasm in different ways.


In January this year you debuted at The Met (the Metropolitan Opera) of New York, the greatest opera theatre in the world, where you played Fedora in Giordano’s work of the same name. What can you tell us about this experience?

I hope I am not being trite by saying that it was a life-changing experience. It was an immense gift for me to be able to make such an important debut under the baton of Maestro Marco Armiliato and with the direction of David McVicar. I love the role of Fedora – connecting this debut to one of my favorite opera characters has left an unforgettable mark in my memory. The warmth of the New York audience, the support of the Theatre, of my colleagues and staff ensured that I could give my best. It was truly a night to remember.


Many people believe that opera music is mainly intended for an educated and mature audience, and that it is therefore distant from young people. What is your opinion on this?

I disagree. Opera may seem distant and elitist, but in reality it was conceived to speak to ordinary people. That is why the opera is immortal; it deals with those themes that will always be relevant for humanity, such as love, betrayal, loyalty, morality, etc.

For instance, I am doing Arrigo Boito’s Mephistopheles, where I play Gretchen. The theme of this opera deals with psychological dynamics that are still quite relevant to today’s humanity, even though that work was originally written in archaic, 18th century Italian. Despite the outdated language the opera’s message, the feelings and emotions it conveys, are as relevant today as they were then.

If opera is not appreciated by young people today, it is only because of shortcomings of educational systems. Music, especially in Italy, is not taught enough in schools. This is disappointing because if the Italian language is known in the world today, it is only thanks to music, which has incorporated Italian words such as adagio, lento, allegro, etc. In most other countries, music is part of life, but Italians seem to have lost contact with this part of their heritage. Today, for instance, it’s rare for people to meet and sing together, and not only in Italy.


Which roles are best suited to your voice, temperament and personality?

I feel very comfortable in the repertoire of Verdi and Puccini. It is there that my voice is able to offer its best potential. I like to see a bit of myself in all the characters I bring to the stage, but I feel closer to strong characters like Tosca, or Maddalena in Andrea Chénier. They are both women who are not afraid to dominate the situation; they are not passive women, and I like that very much.


I read in an interview that you have a particular fondness for the character of Suor Angelica in Puccini’s opera of the same name. Can you explain why?

It is one of my favorite characters, and I am happy to play it soon in Tokyo. This opera touches me a lot in my private life because it deals with the theme of motherhood, which is, of course, important for any woman. I really like the way Puccini develops her character as a mother, and I really like the relationship Puccini develops between Suor Angelica and the Virgin Mary, the dialogue between them is that of two mothers talking to each other.  


Is there a piece of music that makes you feel particularly close to God?

All music is an expression of God. I see God in all music because it is a gift, a blessing from God. However, some pieces of music are more spiritual than others; for instance Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere touches great heights; Giovanni Battista Pergolesi also reaches great heights, and I find great closeness to God in Giuseppe Verdi as well. His Requiem, for instance, is so moving that it is impossible to think, in my opinion, that Verdi was an atheist, as some claim. An atheist simply cannot compose such music; it is a very profound work. Another piece which is not religious in nature, but reaches great heights of beauty is Beim Schlafengehen by Richard Stauss, a piece that carries an enormous spirituality.


The Church has always used music in the liturgy. Do you believe that sacred music, in particular singing, can help elevate the faithful to God?

Absolutely, and sometimes music is my way of praying. There are times when I pray exclusively through music. The Church has had the greatest artists and musicians over the centuries; music is the most immediate way we have of communicating with God. Recently, when I was in New York, I realized something very beautiful, which is that in US churches there is the excellent custom of including the score in the music booklets, so that when you sing you can also read the notes, and thus sing better. I hope that this custom will also be adopted in Italy.


During your daily activities such as study, rehearsals and performances… do you find the time to meet God in prayer?

Not as much as I would like. My life is often very hectic, but I frequently find myself talking to God in various times of the day, not in the form of structured prayer, but in the form of short, but intense dialogues with God.


Who is God for you? How would you define Him?

For me God is love; he is the engine, the driving force of the whole universe, just as Dante writes in the Divine Comedy the “Love that drives the sun and other stars.”


Do you see your musical talent as a gift from God for the benefit of others?

Absolutely; I see my talent as a sort of vocation. It’s important to recognize what God has given us in terms of talents, because otherwise there is the risk of losing them. We must therefore cultivate and perfect our talents as much as possible and then offer them to others. I therefore feel a responsibility to accept and perfect this gift that God has given me for the sake of others, as a gift for humanity. Music is indeed a great gift for humanity.


Do you like rock operas like The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables? As an artist do you consider them close to opera music or far from it?

I personally appreciate them. I believe they are a natural continuation of opera. In this regard I would like to point out how the author of The Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber, copied directly from some passages of Puccini’s The Girl of the West: they are practically identical. These episodes clearly show that these rock operas are not so far removed from classical opera, even though they are of a different genre. Technically they are musicals, but they are beautiful to watch and listen. Anything that is beautiful and speaks to the human heart is praiseworthy. 


What do you like to do when you are far from the stage?

I have very little free time. Belluno, the town where I was born, is in the middle of the Italian Alps, and so whenever I have time I like to go trekking in the mountains. Walking in the woods gives me the opportunity to spend some time with myself and to reflect. Unfortunately I can’t do that very often, so if I can’t trek in the Alps I go walking in the cities where I perform.


Where and what will you be performing in the coming months?

I am currently making my debut in Arrigo Boito’s Mephistopheles in Toulouse, France. This summer I am devoting myself to study because in September I will leave for Tokyo, where I will perform Suor Angelica. Immediately after that I will be at the La Scala Theatre in Milan with The Love of the Three Kings by Italo Montemezzi. Then, in January 2024, I will make my debut in The Girl of the West in Lyon, France. My performance at La Scala will be the last performance of the 2022-2023 Season.


I am a friar of the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua. Do you have any relationship with our Saint?

I have been on pilgrimage to the Basilica with my family on many occasions. Anthony is a saint who is often present in my daily life. My grandmother was a subscriber to your magazine, and I always read it when I visited her, so my heart is really tied to the Saint of Padua.


BORN IN Belluno, Italy, Chiara Isotton studied at A. Miari music school in her city. After graduating from the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Venice, Chiara continued her formation under the guidance of William Matteuzzi, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Paolo De Napoli, Raina Kabaivanska, Renato Bruson and Paolo De Napoli.

After winning important international competitions, Chiara entered the La Scala Academy in Milan, graduating in 2015.

Chiara made her debut at La Scala in 2015 as High Priestess in Aida, conducted by Zubin Mehta. Also at La Scala she performed Alisa in Lucia di Lammermoor (Ranzani/Zimmermann), Giovanna in Rigoletto (Luisotti/Deflo), Pisana in I due Foscari (Mariotti/Hermanis), Flora in La Traviata (Santi, Chung, Armiliato/Cavani), Cinthia in La cena delle beffe (Rizzi/Martone) and Gertud in Haensel und Gretel (Albrecht/Bechtolf).

In 2015 Chiara was Mimì in La Bohème in Spoleto, and later again on a tour in Japan. Chiara returned to Japan (in Nagoya) in 2018 as Tosca (Yoshida/Maestrini).

In 2019 Chiara made her debut at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice as Tosca (Rustioni/Senigallia). She then played Leonora in Il Trovatore at the Ente Concerti De Carolis in Sassari.

Recently, she was Tosca at the New National Theater in Tokyo (Callegari/Madau-Diaz), in concert form at the Teatro comunale di Treviso (Dir. Lanzillotta) and in Piacenza (Quatrini/Guerra), gaining great acclaim from the public and critics. On January 28, 2023, she made a fiery debut at the Metropolitan Opera (The Met) in New York in the role of Giordano’s Fedora.

Her next engagements will be at La Scala Theatre in Milan with Italo Montemezzi’s The Love of the Three Kings at the end of 2023. She will then make her debut in The Girl of the West in Lyon, France, in January 2024.



Updated on September 04 2023