“Kowaljow’s voice is a rich, expressive basso cantante, a powerhouse, with seemingly endless reserves of focused sound throughout the range, whether at full fortissimo or sustained piano.”
Praised for the depth and richness of his voice, Swiss-Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow has established himself in the last couple of years as one of the world’s leading basses. Among his more than 40 performed roles are King Philip Don Carlo, Fiesco Simon Boccanegra, Zaccaria Nabucco, Banco Macbeth, Ramfis Aida, Barbarossa La Battaglia di Legnano, Procida Vespri Siciliani, Padre Guardiano La Forza del Destino, Walter Luisa Miller and the title-role of Attila. Further, he has appeared as Kaspar Der Freischütz, Wotan and Der Wanderer in the Ring Cycle, Mephistopheles Faust, Sarastro Die Zauberflöte, and Russian language roles such as Pimen and the title role in Boris Godunov and Prince Gremin Eugene Onegin.
Vitalij Kowaljow was introduced to the US by the Opera Orchestra of New York as Baldassare in La Favorita and has sung since at the Metropolitan, San Francisco, Washington National, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia opera companies. He has appeared at various European houses including the Royal Opera House, Bayerische Staatsoper, Teatro alla Scala, Vienna Staatsoper, Arena di Verona and Semperoper Dresden. In 2003, he made the news when he stepped in at ten days’ notice at the Bastille Opera in Paris to sing Procida in a new production of the original and seldom performed French version of Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes under the baton of James Conlon.
Recent highlights of Vitalij Kowaljow's career include his debuts as Giorgio I Puritani at the Vienna Staatsoper, Don Alfonso Lucrezia Borgia for San Francisco Opera, Zaccaria at Bayerische Staastoper, Ramfis at Arena di Verona and Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Banco at Washington National Opera and Fiesco in San Francisco. He also sang the role of King Philip Don Carlo at the New National Theatre of Tokyo, Frere Laurent Romeo et Juliette and Fiesco Simon Boccanegra for Los Angeles Opera, Walter Luisa Miller at La Scala, Pimen Boris Godunov at San Diego and San Francisco operas and Gremin Eugene Onegin at Chicago Lyric Opera. On the concert platform he performed Verdi’s Requiem with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, San Francisco and Chicago symphony orchestras and concerts of Shostakovich Song of the Forest with the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
In 2009 he debuted to great acclaim the roles of Wotan and Der Wanderer in the new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Los Angeles Opera, conducted by James Conlon and staged by Achim Freyer. The success of his performance led to an invitation from Daniel Barenboim to reprise the role in the season opening production of Die Walküre at La Scala in 2011.
Engagements last season include Padre Guardiano in a new production of La Forza del Destino for Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona, Zaccaria Nabucco at La Scala and Royal Opera House (also new productions), Fiesco Simon Boccanegra at Bayerische Staatsoper and performances of Verdi’s Requiem in Napoli and Linz, Austria. At Arena di Verona he sang Zaccaria and Ramfis. Other highlights were King Rene in the European tour of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta with Anna Netrebko, which was presented in Slovenia, Germany, Netherlands, France and Austria, and two gala concerts with Placido Domingo.
In 2013/14 Vitalij Kowlajow continues his appearances as Zaccaria in a new production at Deutsche Oper Berlin as well as at Staatsoper Vienna. He returns to Munich as Padre Guardiano and Marchese di Caltrava in a new La Forza del Destino alongside Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros and reprises his acclaimed interpretation of Fiesco in the revival of Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production of Simon Boccanegra. In Italy he can be heard in concert and recital at the Maggio Musicale Firenze.
Vitalij Kowaljow’s recordings include La bohème (Deutsche Grammphon, 2008), Leoncavallo`s I Medici (Deutsche Grammophon, 2010) and Don Giovanni (Deutsche Grammophon, 2012). He also stars as Colline in a feature film release of Puccini’s La bohème, directed by Oscar- and Emmy- nominated director Robert Dornhelm.
Vitalij Kowaljow is represented by Intermusica worldwide, excl. Italy and Spain.
November 2013 / 634 words. Not to be altered without permission. Please contact us if this biography is out of date.
Verdi Requiem / San Francisco Opera
Con. Nicola Luisotti
“Like Fabiano, a star on the new “Lucrezia” DVD, Vitalij Kowaljow continued his fruitful association with the San Francisco Opera, making a strong impression in the lowest role in the quartet of principals. Possessing a mellifluous legato, Kowaljow has proven an ideal exemplar of the Verdian basso.”
Opera Warhorses, October 2013
Zaccaria in Verdi Nabucco / Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
cond. Nicola Luisotti / dir. Daniele Abbado
“Zaccaria the high priest received a similarly commanding and charismatic performance from Vitalij Kowaljow, who was able to rally the Hebrews to the defence of their temple but also meditate with elegance and authority on the laws of the holy tablets in his aria from Act II.”
Jesse Simon, Mundo Clasico, September 2013
“The feeling is reinforced by the comparative youth and vocal weight of Vitalij Kowaljow’s noble Zaccaria, Nabucco’s nemesis.”
Neil Fisher, Times
, April 2013
“Vitalij Kowaljow sings a firm and assertive Zaccaria.”
Agustín Blanco Bazán, Mundo Clasico, April 2013
“… Vitalij Kowaljow, has dramatic presence and a rich bass as Zaccaria, High Priest of the Hebrews.”
Clare Colvin, Express, April 2013
“Vitalij Kowaljow as Zaccaria reveals a bass voice blessed with great depth, security and aesthetic refinement…”
Sam Smith, Music OMH
, April 2013
“Ukranian bass Vitalij Kowaljow presented a younger than usual Zaccaria, his voice still sounding noble... His prayer in Part II (‘Tu sul labbro’) was a model of nobility…”
Mark Pullinger, Opera Britannia, April 2013
“There is admirably lyrical singing also from Vitalij Kowaljow as the Hebrew high priest…”
Richard Morrison, Times, March 2013
“As Zaccaria, high priest of the Hebrews, Vitalij Kowaljow rallies the Jewish people with appropriate patriotic and religious zeal.”
George Hall, Guardian, April 2013
“The other powerhouse in the cast was fellow Ukranian Vitalij Kowaljow, who sang the high priest Zaccaria. It’s another imposing, authoritative role and Kowaljow certainly made his presence felt. The drama, eloquence and feel for Verdi’s flowing vocal lines were all there.”
David Karlin, Bach Track, April 2013
“Vitalij Kowljow brought a full rich tone to the bass role of the Hebrew high priest Zaccaria.”
Mark Ronan, markronanreviews.com, April 2013
“Vitalij Kowalijow sang Zaccaria with great intensity. His High Priest is a force to be reckoned with, inspired as he is by his profound faith.”
Anne Ozorio, Opera Today, March 2013
“Vitalij Kowaljow… acts as well as sings a finely focused Zaccaria…”
David Gutman, The Stage, April 2013
“ Vitalij Kowaljow powerfully characteris[ed] Zaccaria”
Michael Church, Independent, April 2013
“…Vitalij Kowaljow, an authoritative High Priest of the Hebrews.”
Mark Valencia, Classical Source, April 2013
Commendatore in Mozart Don Giovanni
Mahler Chamber Orchestra / cond. Yannick Nézet-Séguin
CD (Deutsche Grammophon 4779878)
“... a rock-steady Commendatore who departs with an impressive, uncanonical bottom D”.
Richard Lawrence, Gramophone, December 2012
Le Roi René in Tchaïkovsky Iolanta / Salle Pleyel
Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra & Chamber Choir / cond. Emmanuel Villaume
“... a cast of seasoned soloists who warmed up the audience like the stars in the first half of a variety show. Amongst them, special mention goes to Vitalij Kowaljow (le Roi René), a Ukranian bass to the tip of his vocal chords, who triggered the first wave of applause with his ‘Gaspot’ moj, jesli greshen ja’”.
« … une troupe de solistes aguerris qui, tels des vedettes en première partie d'un spectacle de variété, se chargent de chauffer la salle. Parmi eux, citons Vitalij Kowaljow (le Roi René), basse ukrainienne jusqu'au bout des cordes vocales qui avec ‘Gaspot’ moj, jesli greshen ja’ déclenche la première salve d'applaudissement … »
Christophe Rizoud, Forum Opera, November 2012
“Vitalij Kowljow was excellent, in all respects, as King René”
« Excellents à tous égards, le roi René de Vitalij Kowaljow »
Gérard Mannoni, altamusica.com, November 2012
Jacopo Fiesco in Verdi Simon Boccanegra / Los Angeles Opera
“Vitalij Kowaljow sang Jacopo Fiesco, Boccanegra’s implacable nemesis, with lustrous power and dignity"
Los Angeles Times, February 2012
“Fiesco, was given tremendous gravitas by bass Vitalij Kowaljow“
Seen and Heard International, February 2012
“...he brings a sympathetic gravity, along with wonderful and deep bass notes, to the role of Amelia's adopted father and Boccanegra's rival"
LA Downtown News, February 2012
“Kowaljow’s Fiesco, as expected, was the commanding presence in the opera’s prologue, with a sonorous and authoritative presentation of arguably the opera’s most famous aria Il lacerato spirito"
Opera Warhorses, Febrary 2012
Duke Alfonso in Donizetti Lucrezia Borgia / San Francisco Opera
"The real star of the evening was bass-baritone Vitalij Kowaljow, who gave a thrillingly robust and commanding account of the all-too-brief role of Duke Alfonso, Lucrezia's jealous husband. When Kowaljow made his first appearance at the beginning of Act 2, it was as if the entire performance moved into three dimensions."
Joshua Kosman, SF Chronicle, September 2011
"Kowaljow has appeared triumphantly at all three of California’s major opera companies, including singing Wotan in the performances of the 2010 Los Angeles Opera’s mounting of Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs). His sonorous Alfonso shows that he is as adept in the operas of Donizetti as he is in those of Verdi, Wagner and Mussorgsky."
Opera Warhorses, September 2012
"The most gratifying performance was that of Vitalij Kowaljow as Duke Alfonso. Having heard him as a powerful and gloomy Wotan from La Scala's Walküre, I didn't imagine him to be so at ease in a bel canto role. As soon as he started singing, it was clear that he was going to be the highlight of the evening."
Marina Romani, Musical Criticism, October 2011
Ramfis in Verdi Aida / Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
“Kowaljow`s Ramfis was imposing and extremely well sung”
Hugo Shirley, Musical Criticism, March 2011
“Vitalij Kowaljow was an impressive, black-voiced Ramfis”
Financial Times, March 2011
“The manipulative high priest Ramfis found Vitalij Kowaljow`s bass instantly recognizable for its evil malevolence“
Kevin Rogers, Classical Source, March 2011
Wotan in Wagner Die Walküre / Teatro alla Scala, Milan
“This was the third time I've heard Vitalij Kowaljow's Wotan this year, and it was unquestionably the finest. Barenboim's flexible tempi and emotional penetration and the simplicity of the production made it possible for him to achieve a truly great Wotan. His voice showed a bright, but softly textured top, which enabled him to bring out the lyrical aspect of his lines, as well as Wotan's tragic vulnerability and feeling. This was very much in the spirit of Hans Hotter's great Wotan... Kowaljow was able to delve exceptionally deeply into the feelings of his tragic character, as he loses those who are dearest to him”
Michael Miller, Berkeshirereview.net, January 2011
“The replacement of René Pape by Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan had already been announced at the beginning of the rehearsals. Those who may have been disappointed at this announcement realised that there was no need for worry as soon as the bass started singing. Perfectly at ease with the demanding score, Kowaljow can rely on great power of sound and perfect appoggio, which allowed him to reach the end of the performance with the same freshness as at the beginning”
Silvia Luraghi, The Opera Critic, December 2010
Wotan/Der Wanderer in Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen / Los Angeles Opera
“Kowaljow, a basso cantante, leaves little doubt that he is the first great Wotan of the post-Hotter Wagnerian world. His magnificent voice, which he employs with total ease, is rich in colors and shadings and capable of every nuance”
Wes Blomster, Opera Today, October 2009
“The bass Vitalij Kowaljow was a vocally formidable Wotan”
Anthony Tomassini, New York Times, October 2009
Piemen in Mussorgsky Boris Godunov / San Francisco Opera
“Bass Vitalij Kowaljow, fresh from his superlative turn as Fiesco in September's "Simon Boccanegra," gave a weighty, gorgeously precise performance as the monk Pimen”
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, October 2008
“However, those wishing to hear a youthful basso cantate singing Mussorgsky were treated to the Pimen of Vitalij Kowaljow. Kowaljow displayed a rich, sonorous bass as Pimen.In fact, in the second act scene in which Prince Shiusky (John Uhlenhopp) brings Pimen to Boris to relate the story of the monk Grigori’s mischievous decision to topple the Tsar, one had the sense of the passing of the torch from one of the most impressive operatic bassos of the past 35 years to a leading member of a new generation”
Opera Warhorses, November 2008
Fiesco in Verdi Simon Boccanegra / San Francisco Opera
"The guy who absolutely stole the show: Vitalij Kowaljow, the grand-dad of Amelia and enemy of Simon. His bass voice as the depth of an abyss, and he carried around his dignified distress convincingly. We could not help but focus on him in all the scenes where he shared the stage"
sfist.com, September 2008
"But the dominant presence of the Prologue is Fiesco, whose great basso aria Il lacerato spirito is the first important set piece of the opera. Before Vitalij Kowaljow, only six men had performed Fiesco for the San Francisco Opera - Ezio Pinza (1941), Boris Christoff (1956), Giorgio Tozzi (1960), Martti Talvela (1975), Cesare Siepi (1980) and Samuel Ramey (2001). Since these six are among the most important operatic bassos of the past seven decades, one might ask - whether or not the question is a polite one - whether Kowaljow could be considered as in the same league.
I believe that the answer is affirmative. Kowaljow is one of the rising basso cantate stars of this decade, with a beautiful bass voice, sonorous throughout the bass range, and particularly suited to Verdi’s music."
Opera Warhorses, September 2008
"The most arresting performances, though, came from the heavies, especially bass Vitalij Kowaljow as Jacopo Fiesco ... His solo in the Prologue, "Il lacerato spirito" - sung with a potent blend of vocal weight and emotional transparency - was a high point."
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, September 2008
Prince Gremin in Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin
“The bass Vitalij Kowaljow, a Ukrainian Samuel Ramey, brings the greatest Russian sensibility of the evening to Prince Gremin's sole aria, the Act Three paean to Tatyana, whom he has married during Onegin's wanderings.“
Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun Times, March 2008
Verdi La Forza del Destino
“Kowaljow’s voice is a rich, expressive basso cantante, a powerhouse, with seemingly endless reserves of focused sound throughout the range, whether at full fortissimo or sustained piano. In Forza, I didn’t just hear his voice, I felt it - a rare experience in an opera world increasingly populated with smaller and mid-weight voices. And Kowaljow brought much more. His superb musicianship and impeccable legato enabled him to spin out the Verdi line effortlessly, while his unaffected delivery of the text underscored the character’s humanity and humility”
Dan Rosenbaum, Opera News, September 2006
Procida in Verdi I Vespri Siciliani
“As Procida, Vitalij Kowaljow seemed to do everything right. This is a bass voice of uncommon elegance and belongs to a singer with a real future”
Bernard Holland, New York Times, September 2005
“The most impressive performance on opening night belonged to Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow as Procida. He is a real rival to such world-class singers as Sam Ramey and Alan Held. Unlike the American bass-baritones, however, Mr. Kowaljow is a true bass, one of the most difficult and thankless vocal roles in opera, frequently buried as it is in the fabric of the music, or overshadowed by the other soloists. Verdi provides Procida with some of the opera's most stirring arias, as Mr. Kowaljow proved right off the bat during his impressive hymn to Palermo, which opens the second act. Well supported and with a laser-like intensity, his clear voice negotiated Verdi's difficult demands, effortlessly providing the audience with one of the most deeply satisfying performances by a bass in recent memory”
T.L. Ponick, Washington Post, September 2005
Casper in Weber Der Freischütz
King Philip in Verdi Don Carlos
“Vitalij Kowaljow, who had made his U.S. debut under the same auspices three years ago, imbued Caspar with booming black tone, an easy semblance of evil intensity and a sure command of the German text. Even in a formal concert setting, the Ukrainian bass exuded theatrical menace”
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, June 2005
"Excellent" would be an understatement to describe Vitalij Kowaljow’s King Philip: the Ukrainian bass revealed a voice of outstanding beauty and power”
Bernard Jacobson, Seen and Heard International
, May 2004