Japan… Rome… Winston-Salem…
journey to America
When you meet Nadia Bakhireva for the first time, she seems
soft-spoken, even shy. She smiles easily and speaks quiet
English with a rich and lilting Russian accent. Few would
guess that Salem is only the latest stop of an adventurous
life that has taken her from St.Petersburg to Japan to Rome,
and now to the practice rooms of the Salem Fine Arts Center.
grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, a world mecca for
the performing arts, and attended a theatre academy
where she says the emphasis "was more on acting
than music. It was a little of musical theatre, but
not much." After earning the equivalent of a master's
degree, Bakhireva started working with professional
musical theatres. A natural curiosity about the world
emerged, inspiring her to seek posi-tions all over the
was while working for a ballet company in Japan that Bakhireva
began seriously considering taking time off to get more
extensive vocal training, which she'd never really had.
As the ballet's only singer, Bakhireva performed in shows
every day, sometimes more than one, and also did concerts
in other cities. One time, Bakhireva was to give a concert
by herself in a distant city. She traveled to her destination
by bus, and was told that someone would meet her at the
station. "They told me the bus had a few stops in the
other city, and they told me the name of my stop."
When she heard the name of the stop, she got off the bus.
waited, and nobody came, nobody met me. It was my fi rst
time in a strange city in Japan somewhere. I didn't know
what to do. Fortunately at that time I spoke some Japanese,
and I asked some of the people around. They said, 'You know,
actually with this name there are three stops. Which do
you need?' I said, 'Oh my God, I have no idea!' I had no
money. I only came to sing. I had a performance that evening.
I had to be there somehow."
began picking her way through the city looking for the correct
station. Each person she talked to got her a block or two
farther along until fi nally she found the people who were
to meet her. "I was on time at least for the concert,"
more she worked, the more she regretted her lack of vocal
training. "I felt like I needed a music education,
the voice technique and everything," she says. The
ballet company's producer told her about maestro Joseph
Giardina, a renowned pianist and teacher working out of
Rome. Without question, Bakhireva (who says she spoke "about
fi ve words" of Italian) traveled to Rome to meet with
the legendary teacher.
noted Bakhireva's self-taught vocal technique immediately,
and referred her to an acquaintance with more experience
teaching singers: an American opera performer living in
Rome named Barbara Caprilli. Caprilli, now head of Salem's
voice department, remembers that "The people she'd
worked with had gotten her into some bad habits," mainly
Bakhireva's inclination to constrict her throat muscles.
"When I started working with her, she couldn't comfortably
sing an entire octave," Caprilli says. "It wasn't
that the voice wasn't right, it's always been a good voice.
She just didn't know how to do it. But she got it almost
immediately. Right away, she started to change, but it's
very hard to break old muscular habits."
worked with Caprilli for a few months, during which Caprilli
says her student made "tremendous progress," and
then returned to Russia to sing for the Moscow Circus. "In
Japan I sang mostly Russian folk songs, and some French,
and in the circus I sang classical pieces - much harder."
years ago, she emailed Caprilli, asking if she could return
to Rome to resume her voice lessons. There was only one
problem: Caprilli no longer lived in Rome. By this time,
she had taken the teaching position at Salem College. Rather
than giving up on her tentative plans, or perhaps fi nding
another voice teacher ("impossible," Bakhireva
says), she uprooted herself again, this time destined for
move to America was diffi cult. Like most of Salem's international
students, it took several months for Bakhireva to obtain
the proper visas. Figuring out the equivalencies between
the American and foreign educational systems is always a
lengthy process. Eventually Salem granted Bakhireva a semester's
worth of credits toward her chosen bachelor's degree in
says, "I was a bit concerned because I didn't know
how good her English was. We'd always spoken Italian together."
She was pleasantly surprised to fi nd that Bakhireva had
been working on her own to improve her English, in addition
to continuing to practice sing-ing. Interestingly, Bakhireva's
focus has shifted from musical theatre to opera.
she completes school, Bakhireva says, "My dream is
to live in Italy, just because I love that country very
much." However, she is open to staying in this area,
should she fi nd work. She says that her main concern is
fi nding a job doing what she loves. "It's a second
question for me, the where," she says. The veteran
traveler of some of the world's great cities says that Winston-Salem
is a pleasant place to live. "I like this place,"
she says. "I heard before that it has beautiful nature,
the mountains and the ocean and everything, but it's really
beautiful. People here are very nice, very kind. I would
say it's the most help which I've received in my life! People
just passing by - 'Oh, you don't have a dollar? I have,
I can give you' - I've never had it before."
students are often surprised to learn how Bakhi- reva came
to Salem. Even in a community of driven, adventurous learners,
she stands out for her nonchalant willingness to follow
her passions, wherever they might take her. Caprilli says
that's just who Bakhireva is. "She wants to explore
something that is interesting to her, and so she's going
to do it. She is a wonderful performer, but she knows that
the more she learns, the better performer she will be. She
wants to learn as much as she can about everything she can."
learned long ago not to be intimidated by unfamiliar people
and places, or even of situations like her blind journey
through that unknown Japa- nese city. "There are so
many scary things in life," she says. "I was so
frightened that I already wasn't frightened anymore. So
many emotions, so many impressions, people…It pushes me
to express myself and to fi nd something new in myself."