Opera Lively InterviewScroll
We met the excellent bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni on the occasion of his March 22, 2018 recital of Italian and American art songs with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, at the Kimmel Center. A review of this show and the program can be found by clicking [here]. We talked about his choice of songs and he gave us a brief update on how his career is progressing, after his first interview with us six years ago.
Given that the initial interview contains all the information about the singer and can be found by clicking [here], and his website with his upcoming schedule and more information can be found [here], without further ado we will go directly to Luca’s answers.
Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – Buongiorno, Luca. It’s a pleasure, speaking with you again. Let’s talk about your recital in Philadelphia, at the Kimmel Center, on March 22, 2018. For this recital, you picked art songs rather than opera arias. For the Italian half, you selected four songs from Bellini’s Romanze da camera, four from Tosti’s Romanze per canto e pianoforte(lots to pick from, there), and four from Rossini’s Chamber Songs. Please justify your selections.
Luca Pisaroni – I always like to do recitals, and I’m constantly interested in exploring the song repertoire. I find that recitals ideally should not be an evening of operatic arias. We, Italians, are traditionally more focused on arias, but we do have a repertoire of songs that is beautiful and deserves to be heard.
When was the last time you heard Bellini’s art songs sung by a bass-baritone? It does not happen very often. So, I came up with a collection of Italian composers who have all written songs. I chose two opera composers, Bellini and Rossini, and added Tosti who only wrote what we call aria da camera [chamber music art songs]. This was a way to offer a little insight into the Italian landscape of songs.
I wanted to pair them with the American songs, to give this idea of an easy feeling of conversational pieces. It is an evening for people to meet and just enjoy some music together; that’s the idea behind the repertoire that I chose.
OL – Yes, I found that it was interesting that in one of the Bellini songs, Vaga luna, che inargenti, there are the words giorno e sera [day and evening] which pair well with Cole Porter’s Night and Day.
LP – Night and Day, exactly! Yes, I think people tend to be narrow-minded about the repertoire, and tend to do either Schubert or Schumann. But there are so many more lieder that deserve to be heard. We can be a bit adventurous, because there are some fabulous songs out there. I did another program that included European composers (Schubert, Beethoven, Liszt, and Reichardt) who wrote songs in Italian. It was very interesting and the audience appreciated it.
I love to do songs because they represent who we are, and what we feel about life, feelings, and emotions as human beings. An evening of songs for me is somehow deeper and more fulfilling than an evening of arias.
OL – For the American half of the program, I know you’ve sung before Night and Day by Porter, and Embraceable You by Gershwin (which you once sang for your wife in your anniversary, right?
LP – Correct.
OL – So you did include these. Then, in Rodgers and Hammerstein, there is as a lot to pick from for bass-baritones in their musicals. You picked one from The King and I and two from South Pacific. What do you find notable in this music?
LP – It’s something I learned to appreciate when I was very young. I am a huge fan of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. I’ve always loved the way they approached the songs with such ease and a jazzy, improvisational spirit. I completely fell in love with them when more than twenty years ago I heard Samuel Ramey in recital at La Scala. He did an evening of Cole Porter, Gershwin, and Copland, and as an Italian I was completely unaware of this repertoire. I discovered it and learned to appreciate it. I love how there is an easiness to it, with a way to use the words that goes in and out of the melody and of the rhythm that gives the interpreter a lot of freedom. It is something that fits pretty well with the Italian approach to song.
OL – You probably learned a bit from your father-in-law [Thomas Hampson] as well. He is a big specialist in American Art Songs.
LP – Absolutely. He is without question a person who has had a huge influence on my career as a recitalist. As you know, he has done this all his life. Obviously, him being an American, his knowledge of the American repertoire and his devotion to it are impressive. I think that it would be fun to do an evening of song with him. I’d sing Italian repertoire and he would sing American repertoire. It doesn’t matter where you are from. The objective of the composer is to use a text and set it to music. To express with that music what the words cannot say, and vice-versa. Every singer should explore this repertoire. A singer should not ignore this great part of the art form. We should all approach lieder and art songs with an open mind.
OL – How did the idea of doing an Italian-American program come about? I saw a promotion of your recital when I consulted the Italian Consulate’s page. Were they involved in producing this show?
LP – No, I don’t think the Consulate was involved. I’ve done this program a couple of times before. The response of the audience has always been positive, very supportive. When the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society asked me for a recital and I told them about this program, they were welcoming to the idea. But in a way it is a kind of gift to the Italian community in Philadelphia; they can identify with both the Italian and the American songs on the program.
OL – In what ways is a recital of art songs different from a recital of opera arias? For one thing, I would assume, the public is more familiar with the latter. Do you see a difference in how the public responds to a recital or art songs as opposed to one with well-known operatic arias?
LP – This I don’t know. I’m an Italian living in Austria, in Vienna, so going to a recital is a totally normal part of my life there. I have to be honest, I tend to enjoy an evening of songs more than an evening of arias. I think that arias work better in a concert setting, with an orchestra for a gala, but to spend an evening of music together, songs are much more appropriate and offer an intimate, personal experience.
OL – Yes, you can pick songs that make a sort of arc.
LP – Correct, yes.
OL – So you can develop your own story on stage, as opposed to fragments of different operas with different story lines.
LP – Yes, you are correct. Maybe it’s because of my heritage. When you go from one highlight to the next in the operatic repertoire, it’s like a circus act. It can work but paying attention to how you construct a program of songs with different composers and different styles, still with them all addressing human emotions or situations through poetry and music, for me is a much more interesting approach!
OL – Yes, I liked your selection a lot. You are right about it. Please tell me about your collaboration with the excellent pianist Craig Terry, with whom you’ve performed before.
LP – Craig and I have worked together several times in programs of Italian and German songs. He is a very talented pianist. There is such an ease in how he plays! He is a sensitive musician. He knows how to support me with the music, and how to help me at the same time. Finding a good pianist is a little bit like being in a relationship, like a marriage. A pianist needs to know what you need even before you tell them. It is not always easy. I’m lucky that I get to work with him because he is supportive and responsive. He has my back, and our musical sensibilities are similar. It is always a pleasure to be on stage with Craig.
OL – Opera Lively interviewed you in July of 2012, so almost six years ago.
LP – Wow. Already?
OL – Yes. A lot must have happened in six years. So, give us an update. Ever since, how do you describe some of your most interesting artistic accomplishments?
LP – Oh yes, so much has happened. We last spoke when I was in Santa Fe for Maometto II.
OL – Yes.
LP – Things are going really well, I have to say. I’m happy because I’ve been able to do what I want to do. Since 2012 I’ve added a lot of new roles to my repertoire. Maometto II was the first time I did something so dramatic, so different than the Mozart repertoire. After that, I added Anna Bolena in Vienna and Japan with Edita Gruberová. I debuted several new roles. La Sonnambula, I Puritani, L’Italiana in Algeri, my first Pélleas et Mélisande; it’s been an incredible journey that keeps evolving. I have lots of debuts this season as well, with Fidelio, my first Hoffmann, and I’ll be singing my first Don Giovanni at the Met. I’m happy that the theaters have given me the chance to move past exclusively singing the Mozart repertoire and to move more in the direction of the basso cantante and also into the French repertoire. I’m happy that I get to do all of these wonderful new roles and to be part of such amazing projects.
Six years in the life of an opera singer feels unbelievably short, because I can’t believe it’s been six years of it. On the other hand when I think about Maometto II in Santa Fe it feels like twenty-five years ago, because so much has happened in-between! It’s the contradiction of my profession. Two months in the life of an opera singer are so intense and taxing, with so many musical experiences and new things, they feel like 5 years of a quote-unquote normal life. There is so much going on, and I’m happy with all of it!
OL – Nice, good for you! In the more distant future, where do you want to go with your voice?
LP – I don’t know. The thing I’ve always found to be fascinating about being an opera singer is that you can make all the plans that you want, but at the end of the day you are confronted with your own voice. You can say, “I want to do this and that” but your voice says, “Actually, it won’t happen because I won’t do that.” As much as I try to plan and think ahead, physically it is something you can’t plan for. You have to just sit there, wait, and accept. I have ideas of what I’d like to sing, for example La Damnation de Faust, and I’d like to keep adding new things to my repertoire, but ultimately my voice will decide for me. I try to do the best I can, but the voice is the one that decides what I can or cannot sing. In a way, it is frustrating, because you’d like to plan ahead, but you can’t know what you can do until you sing the role for the first time.
There is some excitement in it. It happened to me when for example I sang my first Faust by Gounod. I looked at it and thought, “Wow, this is a heavy role” but then when I started working on it, it turned out to be easier than I expected. This is something that happens all the time in your career. Something you expect to be easy turns out to be much more difficult, and something that at first seems challenging, turns out to fit your voice much better. It’s tough for me because Í’m a Gemini and I like to control things, but I need to get on board and enjoy the ride because you never know where the train is going to take you! [laughs].
OL – Interesting! I see from pictures that your dogs Lenny 2.0 and Tristan are going strong, although now they are older than when you first told me about them …
LP – Lenny and Tristan, yes. I don’t like to use the word older for my dogs. I like to say they have matured…
OL – [Laughs]
LP – Lenny is seven, unbelievably, and Tristan is almost eight and a half. It is amazing how your relationship with your dogs changes when they get older. There are more things you realize about them, that you didn’t know at the beginning… there are such different and particular personality traits… It’s fascinating for me to see how they behave and what they do. It’s funny and it’s amazing. They are invaluable to me on this journey. I’m very happy that they are with me. They are the best companions for this kind of life where we are not at home and are traveling all the time.
OL – Very nice. On another note, you live in Vienna. I will be visiting the city for just three days in the summer of 2018 (or not even because in half of one of those days I’ll go on a day trip to Bratislava) to cover some operas by the Wiener Staatsoper. When I do operatic travel journalism like this, I usually include blurbs on restaurants so that readers who want to repeat the trip have some tips about good places to go. I will have opportunities for two pre-opera dinners and one or two lunches. What restaurants would you recommend?
LP – In Vienna? Wonderful! Vienna is an amazing city. I’ve been living there for almost fifteen years. It is a city that is so vibrant and exciting! There is so much going on in terms of culture and music. They take such pride in what they do, in their heritage, and in the music history that they have. For a singer like me, it’s Heaven. Every day there is something to see, another concert to go to; for a musician or for somebody who loves music, it’s a dream come true.
Vienna has changed a lot in the past fifteen years in terms of food. When asked if I miss being in Italy for Italian food I have to say not always, because Vienna offers a great variety of phenomenal restaurants. When you come to Vienna, one thing that is a must in terms of culinary experience is Naschmarkt. It is an open market that functions every day. It starts close to city center [Editor’s note – between Karlsplatz and Kettenbrückengasse] and it sprawls all the way toward the outside of the city [Editor’s note – it is 1.5 kilometers long]. You can not only buy fresh produce and any kind of exotic foods, but there are dozens and dozens of small restaurants with any cuisine you can imagine. You just have to walk through this market and be inspired. Seriously, it’s the most amazing thing to walk through it, because there is so much going on that your senses will be overwhelmed by it. I recommend that you do that.
OL – Oh yeah! I will! Very good idea!
LP – Yes, don’t miss the Naschmarkt. But there are many other great restaurants including Northern Italian ones. There is a phenomenal restaurant in Stadtpark called Steirereck. It has two Michelin stars. When we go, it’s an evening in itself, because they are so amazingly innovative! It’s an experience you cannot combine with anything else because your senses are so excited about everything that goes on, that you can’t do anything else. You should go for lunch and then the only thing you can do is take a nap. [laughs] You need to recover from it. In terms of food, you are going to be blown away by what Vienna has to offer.
OL – Very nice. I wish I had more time to stay in Vienna. I will go to five different cities and will have 16 operas in row, every night.
LP – Oh wow! It’s going to be a Marathon!
OL – I’ll go to Vienna, Bratislava, Munich, Nuremberg, Zurich, and Berlin.
LP – Fantastic! Oh, you could do much worse in life. These are all great cities with great music. Good for you! Bravo!
OL – Thank you. OK, Luca, thank you for your time; I know you are busy, I don’t want to keep you for long.
LP – No, no, it was a pleasure. I’m sorry we couldn’t speak sooner. The life of a singer is busy. I wish I could just study and sing but there is also the private life that comes in-between all of that. Sometimes the day ends and you realize you were supposed to do ten things and you did only one. It can be frustrating. But I’m happy that we managed to talk with each other.
OL – Me too.
LP – Thank you so much, have a nice weekend. Ciao.
OL – Ciao.
Those who want to get better acquainted with Luca’s dogs can watch this video clip:
We couldn’t find a video clip of Luca singing this repertory, but we did find one of him with Craig Terry singing Schubert. The sound in this clip is very soft and it is best heard if your system has amplification (for some reason this video is not inserting here, so click on the link to watch it on YouTube TM):