Prishtina, 28 March 2019 - While soldiers held a gun to her head, seven-year-old Elbenita Kajtazi sang in her mind. Now, 20 years later, the Kosovan soprano’s voice has enchanted audiences at Glyndebourne, writes The Times, reports Koha Ditore.
As a child living in Mitrovica, a city that is still divided, she loved to sing. This weekend, on her first trip to England, Kajtazi, 27, won the audience prize at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup.
“Singing for me is like therapy. When we were able to return home after the war everyone was so happy to be alive, so no one would talk about what happened”, she told The Times. “For my generation, all the children that experienced so much trauma, this was not good. My family were tortured in our home, soldiers threatened my father to leave by holding an automatic to my head. Opera helps me process this — I can sing with all the emotion and tell the world I am here”.
While competition judges awarded first prize to Samantha Hankey, an American mezzo-soprano, it was Kajtazi’s “emotionally raw” deliverance of Konstanze’s aria from Mozart’s Il Seraglio that won a third of the audience vote.
She said: “As singers this is our point: it is not about just the judges valuing you and giving you points, it’s about the people and if they love you or not. We sing for them and we need to make them feel something. It is a very big achievement; winning the audience prize is a dream come true”.
Kajtazi, the oldest of seven children, did not grow up in a musical family. Her mother “had a beautiful voice” but was pulled out of school when young and did not pursue it.
“As a child I sang all the time but sometimes it was just in my head”, Kajtazi said. “Every time there would be a dangerous situation — the soldiers would come into our house or something like that — I would find a corner and sing to myself. Singing was my way to be able to feel safe”.
Kajtazi’s father, a teacher, encouraged her to perform after they returned to Kosovo from Albania. She eventually studied music at Pristina University.
“I had never heard opera, I did not know it existed”, she said. “I learnt by watching Maria Callas videos on YouTube. I realised that singing could be all about emotion, opera allows for that”.
Il Seraglio is the tale of a young Spanish noblewoman who is abducted by pirates, separated from her lover and sold into slavery. Kajtazi’s performance in East Sussex was “spellbinding”, according to members of the audience.
“I forget everything when I am on stage. It just fits. It is an escape. In that moment I was Konstanze, I was living her story — her pain at being abducted and apart from her lover. It was so raw. When I perform I forget that I am Elbenita and I am my most happy”.
Kajtazi, who lives in Germany with her husband, a composer, is resident at Berlin Opera and from next year will join the ensemble of the Hamburg State Opera. Kosovo does not have an opera house but she hopes to change that. Her dream is to sing Verdi’s La Traviata onstage in her home country.
More than 180 contestants from 44 countries competed in the Glyndebourne Opera Cup. In addition to the audience prize Ms Kajtazi was ranked third by judges, winning £7,500.