“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 as one of the world’s leading basses. Among his more than forty performed roles are King Philip Don Carlo, Fiesco Simon Boccanegra, Zaccaria Nabucco, Banquo 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 since sung 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 Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, Teatro alla Scala, Wiener Staatsoper, Arena di Verona and Semperoper Dresden. In 2003, he stepped in at ten days’ notice at the Opéra Bastille 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 Wiener Staatsoper, Don Alfonso Lucrezia Borgia for San Francisco Opera, Padre Guardiano La Forza del Destino for Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona, Zaccaria at Bayerische Staastoper, Teatro Alla Scala, Arena di Verona and Royal Opera House, Ramfis at Arena di Verona and Royal Opera House, Banquo at Washington National Opera and Fiesco in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He also sang the role of King Philip Don Carlo at the New National Theatre of Tokyo, Frère Laurent Roméo 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 2012 he was King Rene in the European tour of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta with Anna Netrebko, which was presented in Slovenia, Germany, Netherlands, France and Austria and was invited by Placido Domingo to perform in two gala concerts at Arena di Verona.
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.
Last season Vitalij Kowaljow starred as Zaccaria in a new production at Deutsche Oper Berlin as well as at the Wiener Staatsoper. He returned to Munich as Padre Guardiano and Marchese di Caltrava in a new production of La Forza del Destino alongside Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros and reprised his acclaimed interpretation of Fiesco in the revival of Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production of Simon Boccanegra, a role which he also perfomed to critical acclaim in Valencia. He performed Verdi’s Requiem with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Wotan Das Rheingold in Biel and stepped in at very short notice to make his debut at the Mariinsky Theatre St Petersburg as Wotan Die Walküre under the baton of Valery Gergiev.
In 2014/15 Kowaljow continues his exploration of the Wagnerian repertoire by taking on the title role of The Flying Dutchman with Opera Australia in Melbourne and touring as Wotan Die Walküre with the Mariinsky and Valery Gergiev in Astana and Birmingham. He makes anticipated house debuts with Grand Théâtre de Genève in a new production of Eugene Onegin, with Oper Zurich as Walter Luisa Miller and with Dutch National Opera in a new production of Macbeth. In Munich he returns as Zaccaria and Marchese di Caltrava/Padre Guardiano and he sings Gremin in Sao Paolo. Later on he can be heard as King Rene in another European tour of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta alongside Anna Netrebko.
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.
September 2014 / 752 words. Not to be altered without permission. Please contact us if this biography is out of date.
Kotchubey Mazeppa / Concertgebouw
“Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow was a noble and imposing Kotchubey, most heart-rending in the dungeon scene.”
Nicolas Nguyen, Bachtrack, September 2014
Fiesco Simon Boccanegra / Valencia
Cond. Evelino Pido Dir. Lluís Pasqual
“Vitalij Kowaljow once again proved himself as one of the finest basses out there with a Fiesco of warmth and generosity.”
operatraveller, March 2014
Wotan Die Walküre / DVD: Arthaus Musik
Cond. Daniel Barenboim Dir. Guy Cassier
“[Vitalij Kowaljow] occupies the stage as a magnificent singing actor. We experience one of the greatest interpretations of this role; something which the bass expressively reinforces in the third act. Here he unveils his dark timbre with beautiful legato singing. Without forcing it, he naturally shows a remarkable vocal expressiveness, as well as perfect diction. He sings intelligently, penetrating the meaning of the sung words. It is rare to experience such an artist….The great Vitalij Kowaljow…made every look and every gesture believable.”
“Mit ihm steht ein grandioser Sängerdarsteller auf der Bühne. Man erlebt einen der ganz großen Interpreten dieser Partie, was der Bass dann im dritten Akt beeindruckend bestätigt. Hier nun verströmt seine dunkel timbrierte Stimme schönsten Legato-Gesang. Ohne zu forcieren zeigt er aufs Natürlichste eine beachtliche stimmliche Ausdruckskraft sowie perfekte sprachliche Gestaltung. Er agiert wie ein wissender Sänger, der den Inhalt des gesungenen Worts durchdringt. Solche Künstler sind nicht oft zu erleben…Ausnahme auch hier der großartige Vitalij Kowaljow, bei dem jeder Blick und jede Geste glaubhaft wirken.”
Midou Grossmann, Klassik.com, February 2014
“Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan offers a smooth line, good top and a sense of stillness.”
Francis Muzzu, Opera Now
, February 2014
Il Marchese di Calatrava und Padre Guardiano La Forza del Destino / Bayerische Staatsoper
Cond. Asher Fisch Dir. Martin Kušej
“Vitalij Kowaljow as Marchese and Guardiano accomplished the difficult bass part with flying colours”
“Vitalij Kowaljow als Marchese und Guardiano…stemmt aber den schwierigen Bass-Part mit Bravour.”
Andreas M. Bräu, Opernnetz, January 2014
“The director’s idea - to allow Leonora’s dead father to live on in the form of the Padre Guardiano - has above all the advantage that the outstanding bass Vitalij Kowaljow is allowed to sing a few more bars.”
“Der Regie-Einfall, den zu Beginn getöteten Vater Leonoras in Gestalt des Padre Guardiano weiter leben zu lassen, hatte vor allem den Vorzug, dass der ausgezeichnete Bass Vitalij Kowaljow ein paar Takte mehr singen durfte.”
Volker Boser, Abendzeitung, December 2013
“The Bayerische Staatsoper has brought together a cast of rare quality: with the warm-toned, sonorous voice of Vitalij Kowaljow as the cold-feeling father, who quickly dies. He then rises again as the suddenly warm-hearted Pater Guardiano.”
“Die Bayerische Staatsoper eine selten gute Besetzung aufgeboten hat: mit dem sonor warmstimmigen Vitalij Kowaljow als schnell totem, schon vorher gefühlskaltem Vater. Der dann als plötzlich warmherziger Pater Guardiano wieder aufersteht.”
Manuel Brug, Die Welt, December 2013
“…Both the part of the father, and also the Padre Guardiano [were sung] by Vitalij Kowaljow – with a deep and sonorous bass.”
“Dazu lässt er [Martin Kušej] sowohl die Partie des Vaters als auch des Padre Guardiano von Vitalij Kowaljow singen - mit einem tiefen und wohltönendem Bass.”
Prof. Dr. Michael Bordt, Klassik.com, December 2013
Duke Alfonso Lucrezia Borgia / San Francisco Opera [DVD: Euroarts]
Cond. Riccardo Frizza, Dir. Don Pascoe
“Vitalij Kowaljow impresses as the villainous Don Alfonso. His sonorous bass is smooth and agile and "Vieni la mia vendetta ... qualunque sia l'evento" is one of the absolute highlights of the opera.”
Basia Jaworski, Place de l’Opera, April 2014
“Vitalij Kowaljow, however, has a sumptuous timbre, rich in harmonics, which has all the darkness required to play the jealous and vindictive husband of Lucretia. Frequently accustomed to the great roles of Verdi and Wagner directories, the Ukrainian bass manages to vocalize with relative ease and displays quite a convincing authority in the great scene that opposes his wife at the beginning of act two.”
Peter Christian, Forum Opera
, April 2014
“The commanding Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow [was]… immensely powerful as Lucrezia’s jealous husband Alfonso d’Este.”
Max Loppert, BBC Music Magazine, March 2014
“Vitalij Kowaljow’s wicked Don Alfonso is exciting in a snarling, under-composed role. “
Robert Levine, Classics Today, January 2014
“Vitalij Kowaljow’s Duke Alfonso is...rock steady in ‘Vieni: la mia vendetta’ where his firm-voiced, rich bass copes really well in the cabaletta...Both he and Fleming are magnificent in their long Act I duet, while the ensuing trio ‘Guai se ti sfugge un moto’ – a trio of poison and blackmail – comes off especially well.”
Mark Pullinger, Opera Britannia, December 2013
“Vitalij Kowaljow... makes Don Alfonso, Lucrezia’s fourth husband, as she pointedly reminds him in a veiled threat as they argue over what should be Gennaro’s fate, the implacable figure that composer and librettist no doubt intended. His steady bass and its black hue fit the bill.”
John T. Hughes, International Record Review, December 2013
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
Fiesco / Simon Boccanegra / Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich
Cond. Bertrand de Billy Dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov
“Vitalij Kowaljow sang a stunning Fiesco, his dark timbre enhanced by admirable strength.”
Opera News, September 2013
“Vitalij Kowaljow made a remarkable interpretation of Fiesco, with a very well suited voice for the role, perfectly sonorous without excess, and with an elegant line of singing.”
Seen and Heard International, July 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 FreischützKing 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