We are really happy to interview the tenor Rame Lahaj today. Rame not only has been collecting many international successes, but he is also the symbol of the Rebirth and Culture of a country which has suffered a lot: Kosovo. From bombs to big theaters, Rame has taken an important and not easy path to realize his dreams, but he made it. Today he is a successful tenor and Ambassador of Culture in his country.
- Let’s look back at your career: when did you start loving the Opera? How and when did you start singing? Tell us about your debut: feelings, emotions, fears, …
Music started as exploring something new, but then I fell in love with it during my second year at Albania’s music academy.
The fact that I was born and raised in a nation that had been controlled by a regime for many years had a significant impact on my early life. Because the major focus was on surviving the regime and subsequently the war, it was difficult for my generation to focus on themselves and discover their potential. I was interested in learning more about technology as a youngster in the postwar era, so I chose to study IT in high school. With that being said, music wasn’t part of my life until very late. However, music was an inner desire to explore new things, so I decided to meet the first-ever music coach who told me that I have a very unique voice. I was told that it is very late for me to begin an opera career as I had never previously studied music nor came from a family with a music background.
My first debut was La Traviata in Eutin Festspiele 2010. It was very challenging indeed as it was my very first experience on stage. At the same time, it taught me that I belong in the world of opera and it is something that fulfills me.
2. How do you feel when you get on stage? And how is your life outside the theater?
The stage offers me tremendous joy because, first and foremost, I love music, and through it, I can travel and see the world while hopefully making so many people happy, if only for the hours they sit on the chair to watch my shows. As a musician, you probably spend around 80% of your time studying, practicing, and preparing for new roles. As a result, we have a very limited amount of time to ourselves. That one I try to devote to my most close circle. I try to live what I miss out on by devoting those 80 percent of my time to music.
3. How do you approach a new role?
For years, I struggled to find a coach who could help me develop the technique I was always striving for while also taking into account the nature of my voice. It is a process in which I study the libretto and the history of the character I will be playing. Then it moves on to working musically with my pianist. And lastly, I’m combining work with my pianist and vocal coach.
4. One of your “workhorses” is the role of Alfredo, are there any sides of this character that reflect you?
It’s funny because my first love was Alfredo from La Traviata. He had been following me for years, with multiple productions each season all across the world. It took me to the most prestigious and renowned theaters. I recognize myself in many aspects of Alfredo. He, too, is from the countryside. His feelings and commitment to love are genuine and one-of-a-kind, and the effort he puts into a romantic relation is fairly similar. His character and charisma are also particularly noteworthy.
5. What is your favorite character to play?
I enjoy playing all of the characters in my repertoire. But if I had to pick one, it would be Mario Cavaradossi from Tosca.
6. You have recently played Cavaradossi in the Tosca staged at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari. We know that this Tosca is very important to you, do you want to talk about it?
For many years, the role of Cavaradossi was a dream. But I never imagined that my very first show would be so traditional and charming, precisely as I wanted and that I would have such wonderful colleagues for my role debut, such as Giampaolo Bisanti as a conductor, Ailyn Pérez as Tosca, Franco Vassallo as Scarpia, and Mario Pontiggia as a stage director.
7. Cavaradossi is a very strong character, very authentic and with a great passion. How do you feel about this role?
It was, without a doubt, the most unique experience of the first decade of my career. I can genuinely say that the role of Cavaradossi made me feel like a completed artist, given the fact that it came after 10 years of stage experience. The testitura of the role, the character, the manifestation of love and passion exactly meets my expectations.
8. It is very important to have people who support us. Who is your biggest fan?
Throughout my life journey, I was lucky to have the support of my family, friends, art lovers, and of course my agents. During my short career, I was also fortunate to meet and collaborate with some of the world’s most talented musicians and artists. But the most memorable experience was working with maestro Placido Domingo, who awarded me with the Operalia in 2016, and placed me under his umbrella for three years in a row on stages all over the world. And I would like to mention one person in particular; Jean Bernard Thomas, my vocal coach, who was extremely careful in building my technique for the last few years.
9. You are very close to your family. Do you think you owe to them for the man you are today?
I truly believe that our mothers are the first impact we encounter. In this sense, it was my mother who shaped me and my personality. So I would like to use the opportunity to express my gratitude to all the mothers out there for their tireless efforts and incredible commitment to the most difficult task: being a mother.
10. Who is the living artist you respect the most and why? Which myth of the past do you feel more inspired from?
It is hard for me to choose one, as there are several extraordinary artists that we are lucky to have and learn from them. From the past, it definitely is Franco Correli. He is one of the voices that makes you love life when you hear him singing.
11. How would you define your voice?
My type of voice is typical of those lyric ones. On the other hand, the color of my voice has dramatic nuances.
12. And what does it mean to you to be an artist?
Being an opera singer involves a lot of sacrifices, like living a very limited lifestyle in terms of not exposing yourself to loud ambients, respecting a regimen, not talking much and especially before performances as you have to rest vocally, being careful with the clima because of constant traveling. And of course devoting most of your life to the stage, and having very little time for yourself. However, it is an honor that only a few of us get the opportunity to live.
13. Tell us about your experience at Operalia.
It is that competition which as a student is your main aim, which helps new artists to promote the talent and connect you with the opera world. It was quite stressful for me as I was on my 5th season of my career and the jury who was listening to me were already the ones who signed me the important roles like Alfredo, Duca, Rodolfo, and Edgardo, which created much more responsibility for me as I couldn’t really disappoint them. But all in all, it was a fantastic experience and I am grateful for it.
14. You are very closed to your land, Kosovo, this great country that was reborn after 2008, at which time it declared its independence. Today you are the Ambassador of Culture of your country, what does this mean to you? What are your ideas about your country? What can you do to bring the youth of your country to the Opera?
As an ambassador of culture, I feel obligated to represent my nation in the best light possible. Of course, I am glad that we survived the war and achieved freedom, and that it is now time to showcase our culture and highly outstanding artists. To that end, I am appreciative to have been entrusted with launching a brand-new opera festival in my honor, as I am the very first international opera artist from Kosovo. In the very first edition we featured artists like Antonello Allemandi, Simone Piazzola, Lana Kos, and Jesicca Nuccio, in a very close collaboration with the Kosovo Philharmonic.
Moreover, the Rame Lahaj International Opera Festival originated out of the need of creating a bridge between the Kosovar and international scene. Knowing that Kosovo and the region have amazing talents, such an initiative was a necessity, resulting from close cooperation between the Municipality of Pristina, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swiss Embassy, and the Kosovo Philharmonic. It’s worth noting that we also held workshops for the new generation and a concert with the new generation, giving them a chance to perform during one of the most important evenings, the New Generation concert. This summer we are planning to follow up with the second edition, and we welcome submissions from anybody who is interested in participating. For more information you can visit the webpage www.rliof.com
15. “From a soldier of war to a soldier of peace” .. You lived the war, the pain, the difficulties; you saw Kosovo in its darkest moments, what does it mean to you to be on stage today? What do you get from your story when you step on it? Is it a redemption, a payback?
Being able to perform at the most important opera houses around the world is the victory of everything that I have been through.
16. Your story is an example for all the young people who want to pursue this career despite the difficulties like the distance from families, economic problems or not seeing a future. What do you advise them to do when they face difficulties? What has always pushed you to go on?
Regardless of the difficulties you may face, your will to succeed is your most powerful weapon for moving your ambition forward and realizing yourself. At the same time, you must be courageous enough to believe in yourself. That motivated me to overcome all obstacles and achieve my goal of being a professional performer. I know that it is easier said than done, but I can assure you that with enthusiasm, hard work, believing in the process and never giving up on your ambition, you will get to where you want to be.
17. You are a very modern artist, wearing ripped jeans and t-shirt, and attentive to social media. Do you think the Opera is changing in this aspect? Do you think that using social media can help young people to get closer to this beautiful art?
On my social media, two things are separated from one another: personal and professional life. On the personal side, you can tell that I enjoy dressing up and taking care of myself since it makes me feel good and boosts my positive energy. On the other hand, it is my professional life in which I try to keep people up to date on the development of my career, thus keeping them informed about the art of opera. And I of course agree that social media has aided artists in promoting the world of opera, bringing it closer to everyone generally, regardless of age.
18. Your technique and your interpretation are very strong. What advice can you give to young people who want to start this career?
My main advice when it comes to the technique of singing, it is extremely important to find a coach, not who is “the best” but the one who knows and understands the type of your voice and your imagination when it comes to singing. This combination has the potential to bring out the best in you.
19. What are the most important things for you as a person? What are you still aiming for your work and personal life?
Family, friends and supporters, who believed in me since the day one. And I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for their contribution in my path. In my professional life I am aiming for new roles, obviously. And, in terms of my personal life, I must say that the pandemic was difficult for everyone, even us artists. But one thing that taught all of us a lesson was that we should never stop loving and supporting one another. Even in today’s fast-paced world.
20. Upcoming commitments?
My voice appears to be ready to broaden my repertoire to a heavier one, as I demonstrated with my recent Tosca. Furthermore, my goal is to help the next generation of Kosovar artists accomplish their dreams and connect them with the world stage of opera through the Rame Lahaj Festival and the newly established Rame Lahaj Foundation, where we plan to provide them with scholarships.
We can say that life is often the greatest teacher, but in this story life has taught Rame not to give up and that the end of our story depends on us. From bombs to large theaters.
We sincerely thank Rame Lahaj for opening his heart to OperaLife readers. Toi toi toi!