Exclusive Interview With André Rieu Tenor Bela Mavrak
This English ©Translation was done at the request of Bela Mavrak through his friend Sigrun and may not be copied without written authorization of the translators John and Ineke

With his voice he not only impressed Lord Yehudi Menuhin once, but recently had the Star Magicians Siegfried & Roy follow him emotionally into his dressing room in order to get to know him on an even more personal basis.

His trademark, his passion and a hearty vibrato within a penetrating voice. We're talking about Star tenor Bela Mavrak. Since master violinist André Rieu discovered the Hungarian born Cologne resident and presented him to a global audience, his time at home has become rare and precious

A few rare moments in the adopted home of Bela Mavrak were dedicated to journalist *Michaela Boland. Whatever connects the star tenor to the successful Maastricht violinist with the bobbing hair, or when he pushes into West Papua to a cannibal tribe, or for whatever reason, he has a weakness for fancy footwear with eyes and what Gianni Versace's violent death did to him, he told Boland in this interview.

Portrait Of The Month, Bela Mavrak by Michaela Boland

Bela Mavrak is visibly proud of his brand new cappuccino machine, which fits perfectly into the overall picture of the bright red designer painted kitchen. The tenor of Hungarian origin is at home in his spacious completely renovated apartment that's near the Cologne Music Conservatory. Unusual Tibetan living room furniture, which is reminiscent of the simplest of comforts of East Asian tribes, can be found there. In the dining room, ornate black lacquer chairs from the time of Napoleon III with seats covered in designer fabrics, and in the living room many exotic busts. Deities from Cambodia, Indonesia, West Papua and New Guinea, can be found everywhere.

"I brought something from every country I have visited", tells the 43-year old opera singer. But the one Cambodian head I have, I bought precautionarily in Cologne, since it is 1000 years old and for which I probably would have been sent to prison for life had I brought him from Cambodia.

The home of the Cologne bachelor is meticulously clean, a homy fire burns in the modern glass fireplace and a pleasant, autumn scent lingers in all the rooms. Noticable: The many images of the Medusa (Greek Mythology figurine. Once a beautiful daughter of two sea gods, now transformed by the angry Pallas Athena as a winged monster with snake hair, armor, long canine teeth and glowing eyes which could turn everyone into stone as a protection against their enemies), which in Bela Mavrak's home seem to appear commonly. A Medusa adorns the entry hall above the front door and a giant replica of the Greek Gorgon has been artfully incorporated into the elaborate marble floor of his luxurious bathroom ... there are many other medusa's to be found on sofa cushions or murals throughout the apartment.

"What is the significance of this figurine to you," I wanted to know. "It's difficult to explain, just like Goethe, the Medusa also has a great fascination. Just like on July 15, 1997 in Miami Beach when fashion creator Gianni Versace was shot. It's just simply a mystical face" explains the opera star.

Interestingly ... the fact that Mavrak allowed himself once in his younger years to invest 160, DM for a tie by the famous Italian designer Versace, even though it was almost the student's entire monthly rent for his meager eight square meter room. Very uncanny, only half an hour later, while he was visiting his voice teacher, and as evidenced by the data indicated on the receipt, the purchase of the Gianni Versace tie was exactly the same minute that the world famous Fashion designer was killed by an assasin. Pattern of the garment in question ... a Medusa image.

Significance: in the world of the Italian designer the symbol of Medusa reflects throughout his designs, and they are decorated with ornaments of this typical Greek style . The choice, which sometimes has a fatal fascination, is very evident in that house of Fashion: A type of Beauty and simplicity that captivates and confuses. "It is almost as if someone surrendered the Versace held Medusa fascination to me the minute he died, because ever since I bought that tie, I too have been deeply impressed by this symbol," recalls Bela Mavrak.

When the opera star, who for the last four years now travels as a guest tenor with André Rieu and performs 110 concerts a year throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas, had won the the Gold Medal first prize at the International Singing Competition in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy, a man came to him backstage and congratulated him warmly, praising him for his good Italian pronunciation ... That man apparently did not know that Mavrak was Hungarian, although every one else knew that the budding star was not Italian. Mavrak had won the competition with an aria from Puccini's "La Boheme". The the man had disappeared. Later the festival director asked Mavrak if he had recognized the "mysterious" admirer.It was Gianni Versace, and Bela Mavrak, who at that time due to his income, had not yet entered the league of "I wear Versace outfits", was visibly embarrassed for not having recognized the world famous fashion designer.

It was the result of countless radio, television and CD recordings of Rossini's "Petite Messe Solennelle", "Vivaldi's Magnificat "and the world premiere of "In Exitu Israel" and "Dixit Dominus" by Marianna Martinez with the Cologne Philharmonic that Bela Mavrak could make himself be noticed.

In 1994 in Bonn he debuted with the Philharmonic Hungarcia in Verdis "Requiem".With his tenor part as experience, a year later he performed in the Teatro Colon, in Buenos Aires and the Teatro Municipal, in Sao Paolo before landing the lead role in "Damnation of Faust" (Hector Berlioz) in the Salzburg Festivities Hall.

From 1998 to 2000 Mavrak worked as a soloist in the German National Theater, in Weimar, where he sang in ten different opera roles. For instance, in 1999 during the Goethe year when Weimar had been designated as the Cultural Capital, he played a role in "Margarete" as well as in "Damnation" both by Faust.

Due to his exceptional tenor voice, Mavrak's voice has been described by the press as "lyrically supple, smoothly run and resonant." Today the Opera singer is happy about that, and really by chance, he can do exactly what he has always wanted to do.

At the beginning of his training, no one would have thought that on April 7, 1966 in Baden (near Vienna) Hungarian born son of two school teachers, was at the request of his father, once trained as a medical technical assistant."My strict father's wish was for me to become a doctor. In the small village called St. Michael, where within the Woywodinas (today's northern Yugoslavia) I was growing up, there was only one female doctor ... namely, the sister of my mother. "Since her only son, my cousin, was studying computer science, I should, in accordance with my Father's will, one day be her successor," remembers Mavrak. The requirement naturally, would have been for me to again enroll in another Medical School.

But, it all turned out quite differently. Bela's mother organized cultural folk dance groups in her spare time and was involved in Cultural Interest groups within the surrounding area. In one of these organizations, a well known music professor by the name of Bursac, who worked as a conductor in Belgrade, said that "After he had heard my voice, he stood firm by his decision, that I should be a Singer," which Bela Mavrak still remembers precisely. At first, the current world famous Star Tenor could not imagine this all.

During his military service Mavrak benefited from the fact that a military band was looking for a keyboard player. Since Bela had already had piano lessons during his elementary school days, (he was really glad to have left the annoying practice lessons behind) he now made use of his skills. "After several auditions, they selected me, since I had mastered a whole bunch of styles. Classics as well as rock and pop. This made my life during military service a lot easier since I was able to again spend time practicing and playing in hotels "explains the Cologne resident. While still in the Army, Bela Mavrak even began to practice with small self compositions. Since he was not too sure and not mature enough yet to put his melodies professionally on paper, he turned again after his military service to Professor Bursac to learn from him notations of compositions.

"Bursac placed one condition on the deal, and that was that I would sing in the choir directed by him," confirmed Mavrak, "and then, one time when I was sitting at the piano and had sung something, he suddenly stood up and without my knowledge called a Belgrade School of Music singing teacher and informed him that he had a new student for him. Then Bursac announced that I would be a singer and lamented about it for so long that he had me convinced.

Mavrak's father had emphatically warned his son of the uncertainties of a career as a singer. He had built a huge Mediterranean style estate, with the hope that his son would one day take up the desired medical career, take over his Aunt's Medical Practice in the village and move into that property and live there with the desired future grandchildren."But now, unfortunately, my parents live alone in that big house, since I have no siblings. This has now become a problem in winter when it is cold. Then they have to close everything up and live in only two rooms, since it is unreasonable to heat such a large house the entire winter.

Today, his 68 year old father is extremely proud of his world famous son. His mother (67) was from the very beginning more liberal about the entire idea.

Bela Mavrak has actually always been a rock fan who idolized Pink Floyd and when he started his singing career, he had never even seen a single opera. The man with jet-black hair and bright blue eyes thought that disco music songs like "Hands up, baby Hands up" or danceable pieces of ABBA or BONEY M. during the disco era were rather boring. He has, however, always been interested in the complicated arrangements of symphonic's or Psychedelic Rock. Groups like 'Genesis' or 'Yes' had earlier developed his taste in music and after having been there, he now recognizes a bridge to the Classics.

The ladies are always ahead of their peers when it comes to the more challenging music. That is why Mavrak has always surrounded himself with friends who on an average are four years older. "With young people a four year age difference is almost like an entire generation. The people in my age group only listen to trendy music," reports Mavrak.

After the conductor and choirmaster Bursac had accomendated Bela Mavrak at the Belgrade Academy of Music, the Hungarian studied there for two and a half years before one day in 1991 he paid his uncle, a musician, a visit. Uncle Joe Lukenich lived for almost 50 years in Dueren. During this period of time, the conflict between the Serbs and Croatians already existed in Yugoslavia. "Although at that time I could not fathom that a war would lie ahead, I felt that I was Hungarian, and that with the political conflict which occurred between the communities, I had actually had nothing to do with, simply nothing at all," remembers Mavrak as though it were like yesterday.

Uncle Lukenich, also a musician and co-founder of Duerener saxophone and clarinet division of the School of Music, strongly suggested to his nephew to simply change to the renowned Cologne Music College in Germany ... but unfortunatley the registration deadline closed six months previously, as Mavrak by chance and without knowing it, showed up on the very last day of the exam in the Cathedral City. Of course no one wanted to listen to him, but spoke briefly with him and advised him what he should study for the following year's exams.

Perseverance can often prove itself to be beneficial in an overly bureaucratic Germany, which the Magyar would learn first hand. The competent and Pro Rector Professor, Wilfried Jochims, who had been asked by the singer for so long to listen to him, finally lent Bela his ear, despite the fact that more timely notified examinees were waiting in the hall. "Then I sang something in a room to the professor out of" La Boheme and the unbelievable happened." The professor seemed so obviously thrilled that he decided to take Mavrak on immediately, shoved the Hungarian simply somewhere between two other candidates and smuggled him in before the examining board in the auditorium.

At this point, the professor first apologized before the entire Examining Board to present some one to the board at such short notice, some one who could not even speak German, since proficiency in that language was for Bela still a long way off. As security, the professor promised that the young man from the Balkans would be taught German as soon as possible. After that, Mavrak would once again sing before the entire Examining Board, and he was "in".

Since Mavrak now lives in Cologne he not only got to know the city, but also learned to love it. "I love the mentality of Cologne. Just like us Hungarians they
also are a spirited people. The Cologne citizens are not typically German, but are open and funny, especially when it comes to jokes about their beloved Carnival, which shows that they are enthusiastic about their crazy ways. I now have so many friends and acquaintances here, that this has become the center point of my life. The Cologne people have long accepted me as a Cologne Citizen, it's just wonderful. "

After Bela Mavrak received his Artistic Diploma from the Cologne Conservatory, he received private lessons from the world famous Milanese tenor Franco Corelli, as well as master courses from the Italian opera tenor Gianni Raimondi and the Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda. "I'm moreso an Italian lyric tenor, than just a sound effects man" explains the singer. "If you want to learn to sing properly the way Pavarotti did, you have to go to Italy, because you can not learn that here," he explains further. When asked which of the well known Tenors he admires, Mavrak replied, "For me, Pavarotti has been unbeatable, since the clear sound of his voice and his perfections blended wonderfully".

What is lacking now, is the right companion at his side, and a family of his own, of which he has always dreamed of. "Most women like to have a man at their side, to always be there at home when he is needed. First of all, I can of course not always be there and I need someone who can accept and understand that. Secondly, it is not easy to find someone who likes all the things I love. It is difficult, " analyzes the tenor, who in the meantime has become a German citizen. "My problem is that I am not willing to completely give up my freedom, because then I probably would not be who I am".

In any case, the future will probably be shared with his passion for adventurous travels. Bela Mavrak puts little faith in the Papal travels to the mass tourist areas, but likes to travel in the spirit of Indiana Jones, trips to places such as Borneo, Sumatra, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Congo and Tibet are undisputed. And here too, the likeable Star Tenor is not contemptuous of the somewhat dirty travel guides swinging through the area, but is only too happy at times to fight for days on foot through the jungle.

Only once did he make a trip to the same country twice, Papua New Guinea. The western half of Papua New Guinea is part of Indonesia, and has a special interest to the Singer, who as a child always wanted to be an archeologist and discover ruins, temples, hidden treasures or even cultures. Here he had the opportunity to study the cultures of the Kombai and Korowai .The Korowai go around naked, except for their genitals, through the wilderness, and build their homes 30 to 40 meters high in the tree tops, where Bela Mavrak spent the nights when he visited the tribe.

When the singer speaks about his travels, the enthusiasm and great passion for this hobby can be heard in his voice."The Kombai," he continues, "are one of the last Cannibal Tribes. And I want you to know, I felt very comfortable there. People assume that you just may die there. So, when an accident happens, they suspect that malicious spirits from another tribe are behind it. So the Shaman is sent out to search for the person responsible for this bad luck." He is killed and every tribe member eats his flesh. Only then can they consider that the "Bad" may indeed finally be dead."

In the hope that Bela Mavrak would not become guilty with the Kombai, I asked him about the discovery of his own tribe."Those were the Shem" he explained proudly. It was a difficult expedition, and for days Bela, five porters and a guide trotted through the rivers and dense jungle, when unexpectedly, they came upon a kind of extended family residing in an inaccessible area. "At a glance the people of West Papua resemble the Australian Aborigines. They live as gatherers, hunters, are like jungle nomads and only build temporary houses. Moving from place to place are therefore hard to find."

The conversation with the rather small men was carried out with a woman who had met the singer during a previous expedition and was from another tribe.
15 years ago she escaped from the Shem tribe but was still able to converse in their language. "How do you approach such people," I asked."With the help of this woman, I first sent gifts to the tribe," says Bela Mavrak. "It is best to give these people natural things, such as salt, tobacco and meat." Apparently, the mood in such situations seems to be quite good.

On previous trips, the Star Tenor had already met other tribes, Mountain Pygmee groups living at 3000 m (9000ft) altitude and on average are 1.4m (4ft, 7in) tall, as well as Dani, Yali and Lanis tribes. He has sung for them as well, "through singing you can form close friendships, even if you do not speak their language", says Mavrak. After the tenor had sung to them, these people were assured and assumed that Bela did not constitute a danger to them. A fervent "O Sole Mio" has already melted so many in our latitudes. Click Here to View Video
The many recordings and experiences, which he has gathered in the jungles, may perhaps someday be made public. In any case, he says he needs these trips as compensation for his high standards of living while on the road, so that he will not lose focus of himself nor his life.

When his next expedition into the unknown will occur, is not yet known. Firstly, he will be touring with two other tenors, Gary Bennett and Thomas Greuel, together with André Rieu through France. "We will first go to Marseille, then shows in Paris and Bordeaux".

Mavrak gets along extremely well with the star violinist André Rieu. "I travel with him from one place to another, we fly together, eat together, we are together on stage, and celebrate birthdays together. I am sure he likes me quite a lot, since I am a crazy and extravagant person and also fit in very well with his show. What is particularly fascinating is the fact that we as the three Platin Tenors have never in more than 400 concerts canceled or reneged. That is almost impossible for Tenors. "

"What do you see are the advantages of working with Andre Rieu," I ask. "The advantages are that you sing before 30,000 to 40,000 people. We have direct contact with the people. If you play a role in an opera, you are imprisoned by it and cannot look into the eyes of your audience. Due to the requirements of your role, there is a sort of barrier, and therefore you are not free. During performances with André Rieu, I sing for the audience and can be pro active with my eyes and am able to display expressions. Many fans say it's like mass hypnosis. The eyes speak to the people and they feel better connected as if they are part of the "show family". People go home happy and what more could you want?

The flamboyant Star Tenor likes to have as many unusual shoes as Carry Bradshaw, (Sex in The City) but being an Indiana Jones fan he has about 70 pairs of snakeskin and crocodile leather shoes.

The Christmas Holidays will be spent by the tenor with his parents, and New Year's will again mean, "Waltz Free" with André Rieu at the Lanxess Arena in Cologne.

The Motto of Tenor Bela Mavrak certainly seems more than appropriate, if one considers the number of his enthusiastic music fans:

"He Who Quite Understands Singing is King of All Hearts."

* This Interview was Written by Journalist Michaela Boland Shown Here With Bela