Backstory: Dolora Zajick
DOLORA ZAJICK FIRST MADE the cover of opera news in 1988, the year of her Met debut, as Azucena. The magazine has maintained a keen interest in the American mezzo, and in 2005 she was one of the first opera news Award honorees. Over the years, the magazine has given its readers a number of glances into the world of this strong-willed artist, but the profile that best captures Zajick is Brian Kellow’s February 2005 cover story, “The Great Big World of Dolora Zajick.” “He wasn’t looking for an angle,” Zajick says now. “He didn’t present me as a perfect person—he captured who I was.”
The woman you meet in those pages shows no trace of diva flamboyance or coquetry. Kellow relates how her conversation jumps from evolution to politics to the technique of the Tuvan Mongolian throat singers, and concludes, “She is a person who lives largely inside her own head.” When I point out to Zajick that it is not the kind of statement you’d ordinarily see in a diva profile, she says, point-blank, “But it’s the truth.” Was she glad to see that truth revealed? “I wasn’t glad or un-glad. I just thought, ‘He was right about that.’ And that’s okay. I’m a human being. I’m entitled to my foibles.”
For a self-confessed “introvert,” Zajick is remarkably unguarded. Her speech is subdued, but she punctuates her words with full-throated, disarming laughter—a sound that contains intimations of her powerhouse singing voice and forms an instant human connection. “It’s not like I’m disconnected from reality,” she says. “But given my druthers, I’d rather spend my time alone.” At the time of our chat, she had recently taken what she regards as a perfect vacation—a stay in a Carmelite monastery outside of Baltimore. “The privacy is built-in there,” she says.
Zajick had just returned to the Met for Trovatore. I remark that it must have been a culture shock to go straight from the monastery to the hurly-burly of the Met’s backstage. “Which is a madhouse!” she says, with her characteristic belly laugh. The revival offered not only Zajick’s Azucena, undiminished since her Met debut, but Anna Netrebko’s first house Leonora and the emotional, triumphant return of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, sidelined the previous season by a brain tumor.
“When you get with great artists, where the competitive instinct is properly channeled, it’s like watching Navy Seals,” Zajick says. “Have you ever seen those BUDS training classes on YouTube? The whole idea is, no matter how much you’re suffering, the mission gets done, even if you die in the process. Great performers deliver even when their shoes are on fire.
“I’ve always been direct. There’s so much deception and pain and agony in the world, sometimes the truth can be healing,” says Zajick. “The great thing about honest interviews is that they’re infinitely more interesting than any myth that anybody creates. I’m very grateful that opera news saw me for what I was, rather than what they thought I should be.”