3 February 2017
Most American Rossini lovers will remember Luca Pisaroni as the unforgettable Alidoro in the Metropolitain Opera’s “La Cenerentola” a few season’s back. Fortunately it was transmitted in HD, so people all over the US had the chance to experience this exceptional artist. Pisaroni is back at the Met this month for “I Puritani”, and those lucky enough to be in New York during this period, should make sure to attend one of these performances.
Pisaroni kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Rossini America, taking a break from his hectic schedule to share some of his perspectives with us. We thank him, and we hope you enjoy our “interview”!
Q. First of all, even though most people are familiar with you, could you say a few words about what made you love opera and decide to pursue it as a profession?
A I have loved opera for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Busseto, Giuseppe Verdi’s hometown. I was constantly surrounded by his music and by his spirit and that made it very easy for me to fall in love with classical music. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of me listening to a collection of Verdi arias from the music cassette player of my grand-father. I was mesmerized by the amazing sounds that those wonderful artists were able to produce.
Q. Were there particular individuals or institutions that shaped your carrier?
A. There are three people who have been instrumental in helping me become the singer I am today. The first one is Carlo Bergonzi: I listened to his masterclasses when I was a boy and just from being there I have learned so much about diction, phrasing and how to “present” your voice – as we say in Italian “porgere la voce”.
The second one is Nikolaus Harnoncourt: a Maestro who changed the way I think and look at music. I was extremely lucky to make my debut as Masetto with him in Salzburg in 2002. It was an earth-shattering experience for me that transformed my approach to music completely.
Last but not least Thomas Hampson: a wonderful colleague (and also family) who has taught me to always be curious, to never be satisfied, to never give up and to use your voice not just as an instrument that produces sounds but as a tool to express your thoughts and emotions.
Audiences and performance practices
Q. Do you sense a difference between American (that would include Canada) and European audiences?
A. I don’t really see any difference. I think we tend to underestimate the power of music. When we did Maometto II in Santa Fe everybody was a bit afraid of how the audience would react to this relatively unknown opera. It turned out to be the most successful production of the summer. If the creative team and the singers strongly believe in an opera and in its dramatic power, the audience will feel it and they will follow you on the journey.
Q. Do you “scale” your performance (vocal projection and physical movement) according to the size of the house?
A. I don’t change my technique but I pay attention to the size of the house. If you are in a 1,000 seat theater in Europe, you can do things that you are not able to do in a 4,000 seat theater in America. Bigger houses require more sound and more legato, while small houses allow you to have a more conversational approach to the recitatives. Sometimes, one can speak or whisper a few words in a smaller house that would not be audible in a larger house.
Q. How do you feel about concert or semi-staged performances. Not so much as a replacement for fully staged ones, but as a way of presenting a broader repertory?
A. I would love to do more concert or semi-staged performances. You could present some lesser known operas without the financial investment that an entire opera production requires. A dream of mine would be to present Maometto II in concert. I believe so strongly in its dramatic impact that I am sure it would work beautifully in a concert setting.
Q. You have sung quite a few Rossini roles. Rossini doesn’t enjoy the same popularity in the US (with the exception of Barbiere and Cenerentola) as Verdi and Puccini. Do you have any thoughts on why this might be? And as a follow up, do you see the possibility of a wider and deeper audience for Rossini in the US, and what could help that come about?
A. I am not sure why. Sometimes presenters are afraid to put on something unknown like “La Gazza Ladra” or “Mosè in Egitto” but I believe the music and the drama are so interesting that audiences would love these operas.
Q. So many people have commented on your Alidoro which they were able to see thanks to the Metropolitain Opera’s HD transmission of Cenerentola. Some of us see a little of Rossini himself in this character. What do you think?
A. I never thought of it, but I completely agree. He looks like Rossini making comments during the performance about what’s going on in the story. A little bit like Alfred Hitchcock appearing in front of the screen in some of his movies.
Q. You have sung both the “Italian” Maometto, and the “French” Mahomet. Although they are not exactly the same character. What role does the difference in language have on your interpretation, if any? As a native Italian do you feel “closer” to the Italian version?
A. I have only sung Maometto II in Italian. I have performed the aria of Mahomet from “Le Siege de Corinthe, which is quite different from the Italian version with less coloratura and fewer embellishments. I hope I get to perform the entire role in the future, it would be interesting to see the differences between the two versions.
Voice and future roles
Q. Non-singers sometimes have trouble understanding vocal categories and what determines role-choices. One of our members observed that many of the Rossini roles you sing were written for Filippo Galli, and was wondering if the roles he sang in other operas were a particularly good fit.
A. I don’t choose roles because they fit into a category. I like roles that have a dramatic development and that represent a vocal challenge for me. I was totally scared of singing Maometto II and while I was studying it I had a lot of doubts. But singing such a challenging role made me push my boundaries and made me realize things about my instrument and my stage craft that I wasn’t sure I had. As a singer, you don’t know if you can sing a role until you actually do.
Q. Any particular “dream roles” that you would like to add to your repertory. Do you see yourself moving “away” from Mozart towards Verdi and Puccini?
A. I have a very long list of “dream roles”. Some are actually becoming reality like Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust and others are in my calendar and I will debut them in the next years. I am a huge fan of the French repertoire and I would love to sing Mephisto in Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust and the Four villains in Hoffenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann.
I can’t wait to debut Mustafa’ in L’Italiana in Algeri. I remember seeing the amazing Ponnelle production, which made me fall in love with this opera right away.
I would love to add Verdi to my repertoire, but I believe I have to explore the Bel Canto repertoire before venturing into Verdi. Growing up in Busseto makes me a bit intimidated to approach his music too early.
Q. Opera dogs are getting to be quite the thing. Some of our favourite ROF singers have brought their dogs along so we have a standing joke that it is necessary to bring biscuits to the stage door as well as flowers. Paolo Bordogna’s Sulpice is regular. Will you be bringing Tristan and Lenny to Pesaro?
A. Without question. They follow me everywhere I go and I can’t wait to take them to Pesaro. They are going to have an amazing summer and I will try to take them to swim in the Adriatic as much as I can. There is nothing better than going to rehearsal after an energetic walk with the dogs on the beach.
Q. Should another dog ever join your family would you consider naming it after a character in a Rossini opera. Tristan, after all…
A. Absolutely. I would love to have another miniature dachshund and I would like to call him Assur.
Unfortunately, it won’t be possible because with the kind of life I have and the amount of travelling I do, it’s already a challenge to deal with my two amazing dogs. In an ideal life, I would love to have at least four dogs: two golden retrievers and two miniature dachshunds. It would be a complete madhouse, but can you imagine the fun?