Luca Pisaroni is frustrated. We are standing on a busy pavement in Covent Garden, on a bright autumn morning, discussing conservatism in opera audiences, most particularly those audiences that want new productions identical to the ones they have replaced: different but still the same, with the laughs appearing right on cue. The 38-year-old bassbaritone’s slightly Americanized English—in which men are ‘guys’, good things are ‘awesome’, and bad things are ‘uncool’—momentarily deserts him, and an Italian epithet volleys through the air. I ask him to translate. ‘You cannot have a drunken wife and a fridge full of wine!’ he exclaims. Suddenly the adage about having one’s cake and eating it seems awfully pedestrian. The Italian kitchen is clearly a more exciting place.
Pisaroni, who has made his home in Vienna and believes himself to be mitteleuropäisch by nature, is midway through the run of the latest revival of David McVicar’s Royal Opera House production of Le nozze di Figaro when we meet at the stage door and stroll to a nearby restaurant. He is a tall man—Terfel-tall—and built like a grand-slam tennis-player, yet he affects a slightly geeky persona, like a young college lecturer on sabbatical. After reading a succession of interviews in which female journalists have gurgled over his ‘seductive Italian eyes’, I am determined not to do the same. He has probably read these too, since they are featured on his website, and seems equally keen to avoid a reprise. Thus this morning’s conversation is not about the two dogs that travel with Pisaroni and have their own Facebook page, not about meeting and falling in love with his wife, Cate, and not about the cultivation of a fan-base through social media. This morning’s conversation is about the stubborn search for a healthy vocal technique; finding kernels of vulnerability in Mozart’s bad boys and shards of vanity in his heroes; expressing emotion on stage when your face is hidden by paint or your body is encased in plastic action-figure muscles; choosing repertoire wisely; knowing when to take advice; and developing a work-ethic and aesthetic that has put him at odds with his own country.