Opera Today

Luca Pisaroni is one of one the more exciting young bass-baritones of his generation. In July 2011, he sings Argante in the first ever Handel Rinaldo at the Glyndebourne Festival.

“I really look forward to embodying Argante at Glyndebourne”, he says, “because the music that Handel wrote for Argante is incredibly challenging.” His first aria “Sibillar gl’angui d’Aletto” is not only one of the best-known arias for bass-baritone but also one of the most difficult arias in the entire baroque repertoire.

Argante is a powerful but complex character. Why is Pisaroni drawn to such dark personalities? “When I first performed Tiridate in Handel’s Radamisto at Santa Fe Opera I discovered how exciting it is to portray a ‘bad guy’ on stage. Tiridate is an abusive and violent person and in order to follow David Alden’s vision I really had to push myself. It was really rewarding to explore such a dark personality and to get a great response from the audience. In life you never get away with being the bad guy! On an opera stage you do and everyone loves it.”

After Glyndebourne, Pisaroni will be singing Argante again at the Chicago Lyric Opera. He’s singing Caliban in The Enchanted Island ,a baroque pastiche specially created by William Christie and Jeremy Sams. “I have five great arias in it”, says Pisaroni, “It will be fun to be the monster in this fantasy”. In 2012 in Santa Fe, he’s singing Maometto in Rossini’s Maometto Secondo. “It’ll be the world premiere of the new critical edition by Philip Gossett. There aren’t many operas where the bass is the title role, so I can’t wait to sing it”.

Mozart is one of the cornerstones of Pisaroni’s career. In 2010, he sang Leporello in theacclaimed new production at Glyndebourne ofDon Giovanni. “ Portraying Leporello there was incredibly rewarding for me. I love to play Don Giovanni’s servant and I believe the audience can identify with him because he is an ordinary guy who witnesses something truly extraordinary”. He’s also created Leporello at Teatro Real Madrid, Opéra Bastille, and Tanglewood. He’s singing it at Baden-Baden under Yannick Nézet-Séguin. That performance will be recorded by Deutsche Grammophon.

“I adore Mozart”, says Pisaroni. “From a musical and dramatic point of view, he is simply fantastic. For a singer Mozart’s music is the best way to grow as a musician and as an actor without damaging your instrument. I especially love the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas. I love the characters they created and the different emotions they explore. The real challenge in these pieces is to sing them as naturally as possible. I believe Da Ponte and Mozart operas are all about humanity and truth”. Figaro is one of Pisaroni’s signature roles, which performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Opéra National de Paris, in San Francisco, with Franz Welser-Möst at the Wiener Staatsoper, and memorably at the Salzburg Festival.

“My ‘real’ initiation in Mozart was when I sang Masetto at the Salzburg Festival in 2002. I thought I knew the role well and, being Italian, I felt pretty confident about the way I sang the recitatives. And then, I worked with Nikolaus Harnoncourt who made me realize very quickly how little I knew about this composer and making music in general. His incredible sense of drama and his musical choices stunned me. What he did was beyond anything I had heard before or could even imagine. I vividly remember my surprise and excitement when we worked on the finale of Act I. I had never heard anything like it. Harnoncourt definitely changed my perception of the opera forever”.

Pisaroni was born in Ciudad Bolivar (Venezuela) on June 8th 1975. “I am Italian. My parents are both Italian. I was born in Venezuela because my parents lived there for almost 10 years. We moved back to Italy when I was 4 years old and I spent my childhood and adolescence in Busseto (Parma), Giuseppe Verdi’s hometown”.

“The first experiences with opera I can recall are tied to memories I have of my grandfather. He always listened to opera and the earliest musical memory I have is listening to Boris Christoff singing ‘Ella giammai m’amò’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo. It was love at first sight. I started listening to a collection of tapes of Verdi arias that my grandfather owned. I played them so many times that I ultimately wore them out. Later on my father bought me my first Luciano Pavarotti record and took me to a live performance (Aida at the Arena di Verona), which ignited my passion for opera”.

“Two tenors influenced my path, but in very different ways: Luciano Pavarotti and Carlo Bergonzi. It is because of Pavarotti that I decided to become an opera singer. When I was 11, I watched a commercial of the 1986 World Soccer Championship featuring Luciano Pavarotti singing ‘Nessun Dorma’. I recall watching the commercial in complete ecstasy and telling my mother that I could only imagine myself doing exactly the same thing.… At the beginning my mother was unsure whether I referred to a career as a football player or a singer. Later on it was evident to everybody that I had decided to become an opera singer since I was not very good at football”.

“When I was 13 or 14 years old I preferred spending my afternoons listening to master classes given by Carlo Bergonzi for the ‘Accademia Verdiana’ in my hometown Busseto. Even though I wasn’t singing but only listening to other singers I learned a lot about phrasing, clear diction and how to use words to convey musical ideas. Watching other singers work with him made me realize that the only thing I wanted to do in my life was to be a singer”.

Living in Busseto, with so much Verdi around him, Pisaroni could easily have slipped into a niche. “I love Verdi!, he says. “I could probably sing most of his tenor roles by heart. I love his music and the dramatic journey of the characters he created. I just believe you should sing his operas only when you feel ready — especially for my voice type. Verdi bass-baritone roles like Attila, Filippo II, Procida and Fiesco require, in my opinion, not only a technical maturity but also a ‘personal’ maturity that only age can give you”. Since Pisaroni is still well under 40, there’s much to look forward to.

Pisaroni’s range is wide, nonetheless, ranging from Bach to Handel and Haydn, Mozart and Rossini and includes Schumann and Stravinsky. He’s also a good recitalist, singing at the Wigmore Hall, London and in Amsterdam earlier this year. “I love all classical music – opera, baroque, symphonic, sacred or Lieder. I believe that knowing the tradition and past interpretations helps you to go forward and to push yourself to the limit. It’s not about copying or stealing someone else’s ideas: for me it’s about ultimately finding your inner voice”. He adds “I think every song is like a painting that you need to bring to life through your voice — like Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an exhibition’. Hence the care with which he assembles programmes, “to create a wide spectrum of emotions”.

Perhaps it is Pisaroni’s very genuine enthusiasm for music that drives his performances. “I am always excited by roles and repertoire that I can explore dramatically. First and foremost these roles need to be suited for my voice. Then I need to be sure that I can give my very personal interpretation. There is nothing more interesting to me than being able to show the journey that a character makes throughout the opera to the audience”.

For more information, please see the Glyndebourne Festival site, and Mr. Pisaroni’s website at www.lucapisaroni.com.

Anne Ozorio