Opera fans the world over are hailing the success of Albanian-born opera singer Ermonela Jaho on Sunday in the International Opera Awards at Savoy Theatre in London.
Jaho, who shot to operatic stardom when she sang the title role in Puccini’s “Suor Angelica” at London’s Royal Opera in 2011, and is currently performing there, came first in the online poll in the Readers Award category.
The awards were established in 2012 to raise the profile of opera and to recognize the success of those involved in the art form. The awards also raise money for The Opera Awards Foundation.
Jaho’s backstory has aroused much interest in the US and Western Europe, where few associate Albania, or Albanians, with Classical music. On Monday, she was the subject of a two-page article in the London Times.
Born in Albania in 1974, Jaho moved to Italy in 1993 and remained there for ten years. “I didn’t want to go back,” she said in a recent interview. “In Albania, under communism, everything was sung in Albanian — you could go to prison for speaking another language.”
However, being an Albanian in Italy also had its problems, she recalled. “You were made to feel like a third-class citizen,” she said in the same interview.
In 2003, she moved to New York and has remained in the US ever since, although she visits her Albanian homeland several times a year to work with charitable foundations.
She has performed for a range of top companies including Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Paris Opéra, Berlin State Opera, Teatro Real, Madrid, Opéra de Lyon and Opéra de Marseille.
Although few people abroad link impoverished and mainly Muslim Albania with opera, the country has, in fact, produced several heavyweights in this field lately. Apart from Jaho, other internationally known Albanian-born singers are Inva Mula and Saimir Pirgu.