Ilona Domnich

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This January, soprano Ilona Domnich is performing in Death: Southbank Centre’s Festival for the Living. But, she explains, there’s no reason to be sad

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Russian soprano Ilona Domnich is singing the Libera Me from Verdi’s Requiem in the BBC Concert Orchestra’s ‘Music to Die for’ concert, as part of a programme which also includes Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre, parts of Fauré’s Requiem and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. But, Domnich explains, this concert will be far from depressing.

Ilona DomnichWhy do you think Verdi’s Requiem has remained so popular today? And what are the challenges of performing the work?
I think it’s all about the mysterious aspect of death – the journey which is unknown and the freedom behind it. But it’s also about people commemorating. I never think of things in terms of difficulty, the most terrifying thing is possibly just the weight of all the great performers that have performed this before me. But there’s such tremendous drive in the music which expresses the depths of passion: it’s impossible that it wouldn’t touch anyone because it’s just so beautiful and dark.

Have you sung the work many times?
I haven’t actually, but I find it’s one of those pieces which is incredibly moving in all kinds of circumstances. If you heard it suddenly as background music you would probably stop and listen. It’s part of a very beautiful programme in this concert as well. I was talking to my friend who is not a musician but is a lover of music and she looked at the programme and said ‘it is very unusual that so many beautiful pieces should be all in one evening’.

Don’t you think such an emphasis on death will make for a very sad concert?
I don’t think it’s going to be sad at all. It’s a celebration of the subject – of course there’ll be tears, but without tears we’re not growing, we’re not changing, we’re not liberating ourselves, so that’s the point. I think people will be exhilarated by the whole experience – and not necessarily thinking about death as a bad thing. It’s like arriving in a place and having many doors to open: and one of them, of course, is going to be something bad, but most of them will have fascinating things behind them. The music can definitely transform us, that’s what I really love about performance because we can come out of the performance and suddenly look at life differently.

Verdi's Libera Me is the final piece in the programme – do you think it’s a good way to close the concert?
Absolutely! It’s enormous, it’s got everything you need – the orchestra, the chorus, the soloists. I think it’s a great finishing piece, to be honest. Once you’ve listened to that piece there’s not much you can add. It leaves you breathless, and then there’s a moment of silence after that, which is a joy – this is the end but it’s the beginning.

Ilona Domnich will be appearing at the Southbank Centre to perform with the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Keith Lockhart, on Friday 27 January, 7.30pm