Anthony Barrese’s conducting career includes many engagements on both sides of the Atlantic but he is perhaps best known to many Americans for his work with the Florida Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Opera North, and Boston Lyric Opera. A winner of the Georg Solti Foundation award, he is both a conductor and a musicologist. Of particular interest to Rossini lovers is his work with Opera Southwest where he is artistic director and responsible for presenting a broader Rossini repertory than is common in the United States.
He will be conducting Semiramide at Opera Delaware next month and in that connection we are pleased to bring you this interview.
We are delighted that Anthony Barrese agreed to take time from his busy schedule to answer some questions for RossiniAmerica. Maestro Barrese, in addition to being the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Opera Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a Rossini connoisseur and continues to present Rossini’s works at OSW In addition, he will be at Delaware Opera which will be presenting a Festival later next month featuring Rossini’s Cenerentola,Semiramide,and Petite Messe Solennelle.
Q.Presenting so many Rossini operas, particularly the less-often performed ones at a regional opera company is quite an ambitious project. What inspired you to do so?
A.The dimensions of our theater in Albuquerque NM are very similar to those in Pesaro. Our house seats almost 700 people. So smaller scale works function best. Our pit can comfortably hold your average Rossini opera (Tell will be pushing the limits, but it’s still possible). So I always tell people that the audiences that first heard these works, heard them in a setting not unlike ours in NM. Intimacy is key. Rossini was not originally intended to be heard in a 4,000 + house. We first started with Cenerentola, which lead us to do l’Italiana in Algeri. The response to L’italiana was incredible. That season, it outsold La traviata. So we decided to go forward and plan Il barbiere di Siviglia (something safe) and Otello with the premiere of the lieto finale in addition to the standard tragic finale. The Otello was really an event that helped put us on the map. On opening night we performed both endings, and then every subsequent performance the audience voted on which ending they wanted to see. This turned out to be quite a thrilling theatrical experience, because people did not know what was going to happen until they saw it onstage. One is used to going to a Shakespeare tragedy and, more or less, knowing the outcome. But we though, what if the outcome were more uncertain? What if it were not only uncertain, but you could personally have a say in the fate of these characters? If that were the case, then you would be much more emotionally invested in the drama. So this was an enormous success for us and we ended up selling out all the performances. After that we took a little break in Albuquerque from Rossini, but just recently brought it back with Il turco in Italia, Tancredi, and coming this October Guillaume Tell.
As for Opera Delaware, they are exploring themed seasons, and last year we did operas with libretti by Boito, and because of my connection with Rossini, we decided to do La cenerentola and Semiramide this year. The dimensions of the opera house in Wilmington Delaware are also extremely conducive to producing this kind of theater.
Q.Singing Rossini is quite a challenge for many singers because as someone recently said “There is no place to hide”. How do you find singers willing and able to sing these roles?
A.I find that because of our intimacy, and the fact that our orchestra pit is so deep, that we rarely run into the problem of the orchestra overpowering the singers. Which means that we can afford to hire younger singers, that have the agility to maneuver the coloratura, but whose voices maybe aren’t big enough to be in some of the larger houses. That’s the real trick with Rossini. Your voice has to be able to move. And most voices that move really, aren’t necessarily the loudest voices, and the loudest voices, sometimes have trouble moving. So again, it comes down to the fact that the “limitations” of our theater are actually beneficial to producing this kind of music.
Q.Do your musicians need to make an adjustment? After all Pagliacci is very different from Semiramide in its orchestral textures.
A.Somewhat with the later works. The earlier works are very lightly scored, but as Rossini’s music became more and more dramatic, he used more of the louder instruments. From the very beginning, Semiramide was criticized by contemporaries as being “too thick” in the orchestration. There are parts that seem very heavy to our ears, and he’s writing music f or even ff and when you have 4 horns plus 2 trumpets plus 3 trombones it can get a little overwhelming. Guillaume Tell is in many ways more lightly scored, even though it’s his “grand” opera. So there are going to be a lot of dynamic adjustments made in Semiramide to insure that the singers are always heard. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that in Rossini’s time a trombone wasn’t anywhere near as loud as it is today.
Q.What has been the audience reaction to these Rossini operas? Do they embrace these works with enthusiasm, or does one hear “ Too bad it wasn’t Barbiere” as has been reported at some larger houses in this country?
A.Especially with his real masterworks like Otello and Tancredi, the reaction has overwhelmingly been “why are these works not done all the time?” As great of an opera as it is, I do think audiences tire of Il barbiere di Siviglia. When they hear other works they hear everything they love about Rossini, but in new and fresh musical and dramatic situations. I do believe that we’re living in the middle of a Rossini Renaissance in America. His serious works have never completely fallen out of the repertoire in Europe, but more and more companies in the states are exploring the opere serie. In addition to our survey at Opera Southwest, the Santa Fe opera has done La donna del lago, and Maometto II, and the Met now does Le comte Ory and Guillaume Tell.
Q.Why do you think that Rossini is not as popular as Verdi and Puccini in the US?
A.I think a lot of this goes back to the over-success of Il barbiere di Siviglia. Barber is so popular that it has completely overshadowed his other works. I also believe that our sensibilities when it comes to “tragic” or “serious” opera are very different now than during Rossini’s time. Puccini and late Verdi seem somehow more “natural” and less “formulaic” both musically and dramatically, than Rossini’s serious works. I’m not saying those works are more natural, I’m just saying that they appear that way to modern sensibilities.
Rossini lived at the very end of the Classical era and into the Romantic era, much like Beethoven who was, more or less, his contemporary. While his later works like Tell have a decidedly more Romantic flair to them, he was clearly a child of the Classical era, and probably was more aesthetically in line with the likes of Mozart. And to be fair, Mozart’s “serious” works are only now getting their due. There were decades in America where nobody did La clemenza di Tito and Idomeneo, but now with a lot of early music being resurrected, it’s not so odd for an opera audience to see this kind of more stylized element added to serious opera. We also tend to unfortunately equate “serious” with “tragic,” and, with the exception of Otello, (and the tragic ending of Tancredi), most of Rossini’s “serious” operas are far from the bloodbaths of Verdi and Puccini. They tend to have more noble endings, oftentimes with a moral, and very firmly in line with enlightenment ideas of dramaturgy. Otello was the piece to really break that mold, and unfortunately Rossini’s Otello has been overshadowed by Verdi’s, even though it is a masterwork on its own, worthy of much more attention.
Q. What has been your musical inspiration? For example, what inspired you to become a musician, and who are the artists that have influenced over the years.
A.This one could go on and on. Let me think about it. I have so many different avenues of musical interest, that to condense it down for something like this might be a task that would bore your readers to tears!
Thank you, Maestro Barrese for sharing your thoughts!
Be sure to check out Delaware Opera’s 2017 Festival at www.operade.org.
Inspired by a tribute from Ilaria Nari of the Fondazione Rossini in Pesaro, we will assemble tributes ( with translation) to post at a later date.
In the meantime,it is worth considering her observation:
” It can certainly be said without exaggeration that Alberto Zedda was the greatest Rossini opera ambassador from the ’70’s to the present… he revealed the face of a composer whose work was largely disappearing”
Our loss is profound.
Already for ROF 2017, this Italian national treasure, the RAI orchestra, will appear in two of the principal works, as well as the closing Stabat Mater.
This collaboration will extend through the following two seasons. Reason to celebrate. See you there!
The recorded stream is available here: https://livestream.com/thenewschool/LoftOpera-Otello
Learn more, at: http://loftopera.com/otello.html
Otello // Bernard Holcomb
Desdemona // Cecilia Lopez
Rodrigo // Thor Arbjornsson
Iago // Blake Friedman
Elmiro // Isaiah Musik-Ayala
Emilia // Toby Newman
Lucio, Gondolier // John Ramseyer
Doge // Lucas Levy
Music Director and Conductor // Sean Kelly
Stage Director // John de los Santos
Set Designer // Michael Zaragoza
Lighting Designer // Joel Fitzpatrick
Assistant Director // Jillian A. Goldstein
Production Manager // Kasey Burgess
Media Relations // Katlyn Morahan
LoftOpera | http://loftopera.com
As long as there are Rossini lovers in the world, Alberto Zedda will be with us. Those who knew him, worked with him, studied with him, know how much he has meant to all of us; those who were not fortunate enough to know him will continue to benefit from his passionate advocacy,scholarship,and teaching through the legacy he has left us. There will be more tributes to come. Thanks to the Rossini Opera Festival for sharing their picture.
Thanks to Dana Pentia for this first-hand account!
We live in times of abundance. These days you don’t have to travel far (though a trip to Pesaro during the ROF festival is still unequaled) to experience highest quality Rossini opera. Abundance of riches came over the past two weeks to Philadelphia where Opera Philadelphia presented a staged production of Tancredi in its Ferrara ending (more about the ending(s) later). The production of stage director Emilio Sagi, set designer Daniel Bianco, and costume designer Pepa Ojahguren was seen previously at Opera de Lausanne and Teatro Municipal de Santiago. I attended the last performance of the run, in the afternoon of Sunday, February 19th 2017.
Tancredi was the first commissioned opera seria composed by Rossini when he was only 21 years old. Up to that point he composed 9 other operas. These were some of the most fertile years of Rossini’s creative life, in some years composing up to 5 operas per year. Teatro la Fenice requested specifically an opera seria for the carnival celebrations of 1813. Rules of opera seria had to be followed: unity of time and place, arias and duets interspaced by secco recitatives that move the action forward, each aria expresses one emotion, and liberal use of ornamentations in arias and duets. The librettist Gaetano Rossi chose a happy ending to Voltaire’s tragic play Tancrède for the Venice premiere. After the success of the opera in Venice, the opera with its original cast traveled to Ferrara. The aristocracy of Ferrara however could not accept a happy ending to the tragic story previously told by Voltaire, and a new tragic finale had to be written. The eminent Rossini scholar Philip Gossett recounts in his book Divas and Scholars how he found the Ferrara ending in the family library of the descendants of the poet that re-wrote the final scene of the libretto for Ferrara.
While still a very young composer, Rossini’s distinctive ingenious style, which will make him so highly acclaimed later, is evident. Sprinkled within the score are musical motives that will find their way later in operas like L’Italiana in Algeri, Cenerentola, or Armida. Even his last opera Guillaume Tell reverberates with some echoes from Tancredi. The interplay of strings and winds, the intricate leads of the flutes, the very elaborate role of the timpani, all show the genius of the young composer which captivates us to these days. It is a well-known fact that Rossini resorted frequently to borrowing from his own previous compositions, thinking that many were never to be heard again. Such is the case with Tancredi. The overture is entirely taken from the previous opera La Pietra del Paragone. While the arias and duets and recitatives and choruses are all on par with other Rossini best compositions, the Ferrara finale has a completely different structure from all the other opera finales, and from the conventions of the time. It is actually so unusual that it proved to be too revolutionary for the time and it was poorly received. Rossini was very much ahead of his time in composing this ending which is more or less a declamatory cavatina of the dying Tancredi accompanied only by strings. There is no grandiose full force full orchestra ending, the music just dies with the title character.
The opera describes a political situation in Syracuse, Sicily in the year 1005. Internal conflicts between rivaling families of Argirio and Orbazzano had to be resolved in order to confront the external threat of invading army of Solamir, the Saracens from the east. In order to seal the peace, Argirio offers his daughter Amenaide as bride to Orbazzano. However Amenaide is in love with the exiled Syracusan soldier Tancredi. A slew of misunderstanding, malevolence, and missed opportunities lead to Amenaide being mistrusted by pretty much everybody. Villain Orbazzano intercepted a love letter of Amenaide to Tancredi. Smart woman as she was, she left out his name to protect him. Orbazzano believes that the letter is addressed to Saracen Solamir, practically inviting him to conquer the city of Syracuse. Tancredi, who returned incognito to Syracuse, buys into the intrigue that Amenaide has been unfaithful to him and fell in love with Solamir. Her father, Argirio, in a move of extreme weakness, also believes her treacherous and poor Amenaide is condemned by the senate to execution. Tancredi however, still feeling love to Amenaide, challenges Orbazzano to a duel to save Amenaide’s life. He triumphs over Orbazzano and Amenaide’s life is saved, but he still believes she betrayed him. Being the new hero in town, Tancredi next leads Syracusan army in battle with Saracens. He defeats the invaders but emerges mortally wounded. As he is dying, he learns that Amenaide has been faithful and the letter was actually addressed to him. Tancredi’s dying wish is for Argirio to marry him to Amenaide, which he dutifully does, and he dies in her arms as her husband.
Photo credit: Opera Philadelphia
This staging of Emilio Sagi is minimal but very elegant; minimal activity happens, true to the opera seria rules. The sets and directions beautifully enhance this opera presentation. The timing is moved from 1005 AD to the time of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. The set consists of marble and granite walls, floors, and columns, with occasional mirror walls appearing. The set looks indeed like an approximate replica of the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles where the Treaty was signed. The walls slide forth creating closer spaces, and also revealing a stained glass back wall is painted in a characteristic art nouveau style. The costumes are also elegant beginning of 20th century style: men wear colorful military uniforms, while women have beautiful belle epoch gowns.
I believe the lighting design was conceived to highlight the action, and would’ve enhanced the beautiful sets. What I can only assume to be bad maneuvering of the lights left some action and main characters in the shade. Also direction of the singers was minimal, limited to basic blocking. It felt that the singers were left to their own devices to develop their respective characters. Some did it more successful than others. But these are small quibbles in an otherwise gorgeous production.
Stephanie Blythe is a veteran professional and her years of stage experience are evident. We should be grateful that she wanted to do this role, as it is not easy to find a mezzo/contralto capable of singing the long and difficult music Rossini wrote. She knows how to own the stage and the music. She delivers the type of performance where you know that everything will go right and you don’t have to worry about anything. She possesses a sizable instrument with impressive low notes. Tancredi is written for a contralto with high extensions. It felt that the role was a bit too high for Stephanie Blythe. The tone turned too bright and glassy in the upper middle and high registers. Her type of voice, at this stage of her career doesn’t seem to be the perfect match for bel canto, while she was following the dynamics of the music, the voice simply wasn’t coloring the phrases in the right way. She did warm up more in the second act, however her tone was still too harsh and shrill to make a truly moving performance. While in the first duet her voice and Brenda Rae’s soprano blended decently, in the duet at the end of the second act, the blending was severely lacking, Blythe harshly covering Rae, and simply displaying a voice of a different nature. At the end of the opera it seemed that Brenda Rae was also getting tired, and her voice lost a bit of the aplomb that characterized her singing up to that point. Blythe’s stage presence was also quite mechanical. She just gave the impression of going through the motions without really engaging with the music, or the text, or the drama. For example: the provocation to duel of Orbazzano, one of the climaxes of the story, should not elicit laughs from the audience, which it did on Sunday afternoon due to the insincerity of it. Even the last scene, the heart-wrenching expiration of Tancredi was lacking the necessary underlying meaning and emotions.
Soprano Brenda Rae was a complete revelation. Her voice is powerful with beautiful coloration, easy and brilliant top and good coloratura. She threw herself at Rossini’s difficult music with assurance, and one could tell she was enjoying singing this music. Soon her voice will probably move in the direction of a full lyric soprano, as the shades of fuller, darker registers are present. Her stage presence was regal and imposing. The way she portrayed Amenaide was not as a powerless victim, but as a woman that knew her worth, that would not submit to the whims of powerful men or to political plays without a fight.
Photo credit: Opera Philadelphia
Michele Angelini was probably the most Rossinian of the singers in this production. Rightfully so, as he is an alumni of the Accademia Rossiniana of Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and the base of his repertory consists of Rossini tenor roles sang throughout the world. The understanding of the style was immediately obvious, the coloratura was spectacular, and he tossed high Cs and high D with ease. The voice is on a smaller size, but he remains true to his voice and the style, doesn’t push, and delivers the music with great beauty and elegance.
Daniel Mobbs’ voice is anything but small. His baritone was at ease in the role of Orbazzano, and he seemed to enjoy playing the villain. He even seemed delighted to get a handful of boos at the curtain call, the obligatory show of engagement of the audience nowadays for the malevolent characters. The audience though loved him, and cheers erupted wholeheartedly.
Allegra De Vita acquitted herself honorable in the role of Amenaida’s confidant Isolda. Her voice is sizable and dark, and it is not hard to imagine her as Tancredi in a few years. Anastasiia Sidorova delivered a lovely and tender Roggiero – Tancredi’s squire. She sang her aria beautifully. It was unfortunate that her costume and make-up made her look more like an awkward teenager, more like a Cherubino without the hormonal angst in hand me down military uniform, than a squire to a brave soldier.
In any Rossini opera, orchestra plays an important part. The music director of Opera Philadelphia Corrado Rovaris led expertly the orchestra. What was a delight to the ears was also a delight to the eyes, as I was watching the musicians of the orchestra play and respond to conducting. Several of them were bouncing and dancing in their chairs, clearly enjoying the music they were playing. This is a sign of a great conductor, one that can not only deliver truthful and beautiful music, but one that can also infuse joy in the process of executing this music. The chorus also sang exquisitely the music that Rossini wrote for them.
Overall it was a very pleasant afternoon at the opera, showing that great opera can happen in less prestigious places very successfully.
In our interview with Sean Kelly last spring ( in anticipation of LoftOpera’s “Le Comte Ory”) Sean said “Ory will certainly not be the last rarity I conduct with LoftOpera, I promise!”
And,keeping his promise, Kelly is back with Rossini’s even rarer “Otello”, playing in March at Lightspace Studios in Brooklyn.
In spite of the intense preparation for these performances, Sean was kind enough to answer some more questions for us.
Q. Musically, what appeals to you ( as a Rossini lover) about this score? Some have said it has a particular “tint” which makes it different from other Rossini operas. Any thoughts?
A. There is so much in this score that I love. Many times with Rossini’s serious dramas, the scope is really big, (think Semiramide, Ermione) huge choruses, large casts etc. Otello is such an intimate opera, much of it really feels like a chamber work.
Q. You are of course credited with being the conductor, but some people may not know the additional responsibilities of a music director. Is this an extra challenge with an “unknown” opera?
A. One of the challenges with this opera is finding 3 distinct tenors that don’t sound like each other. Otello has this virile, martial vocality that is unique and very exciting to hear, compared with high-flying Rodrigo’s romantic, languid music. Of course Iago is the archetypal bad guy, smooth, elegant, and manipulative. As with all of Rossini’s operas, attention to detail in articulation and phrasing is of the utmost importance, and this opera is no different. The beautifully introspective slow movements of Otello are especially tricky. Among the many responsibilities as music director, I cast the shows and prepare the chorus as well.
Q. Some say that had Rossini entitled this opera Desdemona, then it would not have been overshadowed by Verdi’s Otello. The stories are quite different, but do you feel that Desdemona is more central to
this opera than Verdi’s ?
A. Rossini did such a beautiful job telling Desdemona’s story. We really get to see this woman’s journey, unlike in the Verdi where she is far more one-dimensional. The act 2 finale is such a riveting moment when we see her absolute breakdown, and all of act 3 is so poignant and heartbreaking. Rossini has already met Colbran, and was probably already in love with her, so it’s no surprise that he gave her so much beautiful music. Cecilia Violeta Lopez, our Desdemona, is a wonderful and committed artist both vocally and dramatically, so I have no doubt she’ll walk away with everyone’s heart.
Q Aside from the vocal challenges, does this score present any particular orchestral challenges??
A.Otello is the first opera Rossini composed ‘from scratch’ for Naples. He found himself surrounded by some of the best musicians on the peninsula, and you can really hear that in his writing. Complete virtuosity is required from all the winds, with many moments rich with sublime filigree.
Q. Are you as excited about these upcoming performances as we are?
A. New York hasn’t seen a staged production of Otello in decades, and I’m really very excited to be a part of it. I’ve been working individually with several of the principals for months, and I can not wait to start the rehearsal process. This one is going to be really special. Tickets are going fast, so don’t wait too long!
Thank you Sean Kelly and thanks for bringing Otello to us!
Excerpts from earlier interview below:
One of the fundamental challenges of keeping the Rossini revival alive is continuing to present his “less popular ” operas; this is a particular problem in the US where we are not blessed with the density of opera houses found in Europe. We can hardly expect the Metropolitan Opera to carry the “burden” since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for Rossini among the “powers that be”.
In the old days we had the New York City opera to help out; those days are gone.
So what does it take? A music director with a passion for Rossini certainly helps. New Yorkers are so lucky that LoftOpera will soon be staging “Le Comte Ory ” under the guidance of Sean Kelly whose Rossini credentials ( playing ‘non più mesta’ on the horn, and accompanying Paolo Bordogna at the drop of a hat, are among them) auger well
Frontspiece of “Le Comte Ory”
Kelly was kind enough to answer a few questions for Rossini America .
Q. Since we are “Rossini oriented” please tell us how you came to be a Rossini enthusiast!!!
Rossini has always been close to my heart! Many years ago I played the horn, and I actually began music school as a horn major. I would use ‘non più mesta’ as an exercise, (and my teacher would roll his eyes and laugh) and for my final jury before switching to piano, I played his ‘Prelude Theme and Variations’.
Q. You were a fantastic accompanist for the recital that Paolo Bordogna gave at the Casa Italiana in conjunction with the presentation from the Rossini Opera Festival! In fact it seemed like Rossini was second nature. Is it?
Thank you very much! I guess I’ve always understood his ‘language’, and the technical challenges of playing his music have always been a joy for me to try to conquer. His music seems so naturally fluid, and collaborating with an artist like Paolo was an absolute dream. I look forward to the next time!
Q. “Selling” Rossini in the US is not easy. The preference is for Puccini and after that Verdi. Any thoughts on why that is?
I wish I had an answer to that. It seems American audiences are lazy these days, and Puccini is much more of a ‘quick fix’ that doesn’t require much concentration from the audience. It breaks my heart that companies these days completely ignore the majority of operas of the early 1800’s in favor of the same 10 titles over and over that they believe ‘sell’. As artists and music makers, we’re obliged to challenge audiences to think a bit harder, and try to see or hear something they didn’t previously. Why they think Rossini won’t do that, but some third-rate modern piece will, is beyond me.
Q. Much as we all love Barbiere ( as Beethoven did) there is so much more to Rossini. You are leading LoftOpera’s venture with L’Comte Ory, which isn’t exactly standard fare. What prompted that choice ( or perhaps it was not yours)
Le Comte Ory is a true masterpiece! It has rich orchestrations, gorgeous choral writing, a myriad of brilliant roles, and it’s truly funny! I’ve been dying to do it, and when the stars align and the right singers, director and venue are all available, you can’t miss the opportunity. It will certainly be the most ambitious production we’ve done this far at LoftOpera. Last year I had the pleasure of conducting Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia with LoftOpera, another gem that’s unfortunately under-appreciated and woefully under-performed in the US. The audiences absolutely adored it!! Ory will certainly not be the last rarity I conduct with LoftOpera, I promise.
Q. OK, we should not be asking this, but…. do you have a favorite Rossini opera. And, after that, are there specific passages in Rossini that you feel illustrate his magic?
Oh that’s hard to answer! I adore so many of them.. L’italiana always makes me laugh, the Colbran operas are all divine. Viaggio and Ory are both such brilliant ensemble operas. Guillaume Tell is one of the proofs of the existence of God. How could I possibly choose?
We hope lots of Rossini fans will come to enjoy LoftOpera’s performances ( check out LoftOpera.com for details) Thanks to Sean for being the driving force behind this! Not sure that Tell would fit in the Loft, though!
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?
To learn more about Luca Pisaroni, be sure to visit
www.lucapisaroni.com and follow him on FB and Twitter @lucapisaroni
We are pleased to bring you a review of a CD which explores some non-standard Rossini repertory.
The music on this CD will be presented in several concerts in January with Anna Tonna, Miguel Borallo,and others. In NYC the dates are January 8, at Nola Studios ( 224 W. 54th Street, 11th Floor; January 9 at Casa Italiana ( 24 w. 12th Street ).In Miami the concert will be on January 22nd.For more information about the Miami concert, visit orchestramiami.org.
CD review by Dana Pentia, RossiniAmerica editorial staff.
A new CD titled “España alla Rossini” containing some of Rossini’s lesser known songs with Spanish undertones was created by mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna. In the program notes the Rossini expert Reto Müller informs us about connections that Rossini had with Spain. In 1831 he was appointed “Maestro Honorario” of the Madrid conservatory. Through his marriage to legendary soprano Isabela Colbran, who was also the virtuosic protagonist of his Neapolitan opera serie, he became acquainted with Spain’s “natural disposition for art and song”. Rossini visited Madrid in 1831; during the visit he expanded his contacts with Spain, picked up tunes and rhythms of the country, and also some Spanish (by some accounts became fluent in Castilian). The music for his Stabat Mater also took roots during this visit.
The selection of songs on this CD spans from as early as 1821, when Rossini was at the peak of his Neapolitan opera glory, all the way to 1868, at the end of his life, decades after he stopped composing operas.
The CD starts auspiciously with “A Granada”, a Spanish arietta, a late composition from 1861 on a Castilian text by Ventura de la Vega after Emilien Pacini. Immediately, the mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna transports us to the sunny Andalusian city with clarity and directness of her warm mezzo sound, and an impeccable vernacular enunciation of the text. Anna Tonna has made herself known as a fine interpreter of bel canto and verismo repertoire, as well as of Spanish music. She was a Fulbright scholar in Spain in 2007-2008. Critics praise her as “mezzo who knows how to sing Rossini” with “warm and secure” voice and “bright, brilliant coloratura”.
Two love songs from 1831 and 1835 “Amori scendete” and “Nizza, je puis sans peine” enchant with lyricism and Spanish ardor, the second one being a passionate flamenco accompanied by castanets. These are the years that followed his last opera Guillaume Tell, at a time when Rossini probably was still thinking of composing more operas. The arioso style of “Amori scendete” reveals the great operatic stream that was still flowing from Rossini’s pen. Accounts of those times mention that he was working on an opera based on the story of Ivanhoe. This project however never materialized as a new opera, but a pastiche from his earlier works took the stage some years later. The well-known “Canzonetta Spagnuola”, composed for Isabela Colbran, with its bewitched accelerando in flamenco style brings to mind the famous delightful Rossini crescendos. It was composed in 1821, at a time when his connections to Spain were mostly through the singers he has been working with for his new operas, his wife Isabela Colbran being fundamental in capturing his interest for Spanish melodies and rhythms. Countless singers have sung this song, and every time we hear it, it reminds us of fervors of Iberia. Rossini was able to capture the passionate Spanish spirit probably better than many other Italian composers of the time. Rossini knew how to set the simple yet sweet text of “La passeggiata” in a Anacreonic style to witty and charming music. The next group of three songs: “Aragonese”, “Sorzico”, “Tirana Alla Spagnola” are composed all from 1857-1868, at a time when Rossini settled in Paris for good after leaving his beloved Bologna. These were composed as salon pieces to be performed in intimate living room settings. “Sorzico” is a premiere on this album, its music obtained by permission by Anna Tonna from Rossini eminent scholar Philip Gossett. All three are on the verses of the well know little ditty “Mi lagnero tacendo” of the celebrated poet Pietro Metastasio. This short poem provided a rich source for clever, elegant, charming, and often delicately ironic melodies for the immensely talented Rossini. Some experts claim that he set this song to music more than 100 times, on tunes ranging from happy to sad, from lengthy full blown ariettas to brief sketches of just few measures, each in a different style, never repeating. So much for Rossini’s reputation of self-plagiarizing, this little song alone is proof of his immense creativity. This Metastasio verse appear on this CD no less than five times, in “Aragonese”, “Sorzico”, “Tirana alla spagnola”, and twice more in two very stylistically different Boleros, one from 1832, and one from 1850. While the 1832 one has been known and performed before, albeit rarely, the 1850 one is probably heard for the first time on this CD since performed in Rossini’s salon. Both of these boleros, while very different, have unquestionable Rossini trademark. The program notes informs us that the 1850 score was also obtained from Philip Gossett, making it another novelty of perpetually surprising Rossini. What is not immediately clear, from musical selections or the program notes, is the order in which the songs are presented on this CD. They are not grouped chronologically, or linguistically (languages of the song texts are Spanish, Italian, French, and Latin), or stylistically. Though all selections have some association with Spain, not all are in Spanish style, or spirit, or language. For example L’Invito, part of the “Soirées Musicales” composed between 1831 and 1835 is a very Italianate Bolero, on an Italian text by Count Carlo Pepoli. Pietro Metastasio also provided the lyrics for another morsel from his famous “Soirées Musicales”, “La Promessa”, this having even more obscure Spanish connection, also being one of the better known Rossini songs. One wishes the program notes would make the Spanish ties more clear.
Stabat Mater however has the obvious Spanish connection being initiated during a trip to Spain, as well as being premiered (first version) in Madrid in 1833. It is superfluous to discussion here the profundity of this composition, many scholars have commented on this abundantly.
A good part of this CD is allocated to ensemble pieces. Such collaboration is more than welcomed, presenting the diverse aspect of Rossini’s chamber compositions. The love duet “Les amants de Seville” highlights the vocalism and musicality of the tenor Miguel Borrallo. His clear squillo tenor fits perfectly Rossini’s song, and it is easy to imagine that the tenor for whom it was written had similar qualities. The very last selection is reserved to a quartet interpreted by the” Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina” comprised of soprano Mercedes Lario, mezzo-soprano Marta Knörr, tenor Felipe Nieto and baritone José Antonio Carril accompanied on piano by Aurelio Viribay. They masterfully interpret “O giorno sereno” written in 1827, at a time when Rossini was composing his best operas. This quartet could have very well been part of one of his operas. A more than episodic appearance on the CD is the virtuosic castanets player (dancer?) Cristina Gomez Tornamira who can be heard in “Nizza, je puis sans peine” and “Canzonetta spagnuola”. While the castanets will always spice up any Spanish song, one wishes the balance during recording was adjusted better, as they tend to overwhelm the aural perception of the songs.
It is impossible to ignore the expert stylistic accompaniment of the pianist Emilio Gonzáles Sanz. Rossini’s chamber music is never just accompanied vocal line, but truly duets for voice and piano, many times the piano has the more important, main musical line. His masterful playing highlights the depth, sophistication, and charm of Rossini’s musical creativity.
This CD is a welcomed addition for any Rossini lover who wishes to explore the rich diversity of his lesser known, some never heard before chamber vocal music. A thematic presentation of these pieces, as it is in this case “alla Spagnola” is probably the best way to capture interest in today’s era of fast and short attention span.
The Palm Springs Opera Guild of the Desert recently awarded the second annual Rossini prize to soprano Liv Redpath. Among the jury members again this year was the legendary Rockwell Blake. We are delighted to bring this interview with her.
First of all, congratulations on winning the Rossini Award given by the PSOG. Everyone associated with the award is really delighted to have such a wonderful winner!
Thank you so much–it was an absolute pleasure to learn a new side of the repertoire.
A few of our members in the Boston area recall hearing you sing when you were a student at Harvard. You majored in English, so was singing something you discovered while you were at Harvard, or was it something you had always done?
I get asked this question often–I certainly took a non-traditional route to singing, from the outside. Funnily enough, it is because I love singing so wholeheartedly that I chose to study English at Harvard. I was so firm in my commitment to music that I felt studying another subject and attending an academic institution would only deepen and enrich my ability to bring life to characters on stage. I also researched what my time at Harvard could look like extracurricularly and found that, if persistent, I could potentially sing three or four operas a year, sing six mornings a week at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, and take voice lessons with a world class teacher across the river at Boston University (which is exactly what I did!)
In the master class with Renée Fleming (available on YouTube) you just seem so calm and collected! Were you feeling differently?
Of course I was nervous for what Ms. Fleming would think of my work, but when I get nervous it is because I earnestly want to achieve something, and through that, I find a strange calm.
I woke up for that morning master class at 6 AM in order to warm up and put myself together, was at the space over an hour early, and told myself if I was my best, most musical self, I couldn’t ask for more. Over the years, I’ve recognized this trait in my practice; when I have a goal in a performance or audition I value, I buckle down and center in on what I want and what I can control in the performance–everything else is just noise. I often think to myself how upset I would be were I not to give it my all–that usually pushes me to my best self. It also helps immensely that Ms. Fleming is so kind and compassionate–she came to our sitzprobe for Cendrillon the evening prior, so I had gotten a chance to meet her, and she to hear me, before those special 20 minutes on stage. She is so special, and I look forward to all that she has yet to give the musical community, both as a performer and also as a teacher and artistic leader.
Have you grown up in a musical family? As a follow up, were there some early inspirations that led you to consider this as a career?
My mom loves to sing and has sung for her entire life. My dad didn’t grow up with music, but has been supportive of all of my aspirations from a young age. I was lucky to have parents who valued an arts education so highly–they put me in Yamaha piano lessons from age 4 and I continued through the end of high school, adding trumpet in 5th grade–and of course I sang. Throughout my childhood I had amazing mentors who encouraged me in everything I did musically. Without these teachers and my parents, I would not have achieved and grown in all the varied musical experiences I have been lucky enough to have. I’m also a realist, so although I knew my own dream, I always checked in with various authorities to get their opinion on my growth and if the continuance of my training was valid–thank goodness it has been fruitful!
What was it like to be a student at Juilliard? And what would you say was the most valuable part of your experience there?
Juilliard was a swift introduction to all the nuts and bolts of how the industry of opera (and classical music) works. It truly is a mecca for great and varied artistic training, and I was lucky to be at the heart of much of that in my graduate studies. There is a decent amount of stress involved with being in the center of it all and somehow trying to avoid comparison not only to your fellow students, but to the singing that happens across the street at the Met. However, once you get through that, you come out stronger than ever, making deliberate choices about who you want to be and how you want to interact with and inspire others.
The most valuable thing Juilliard gave me is a gift that will continue to give long after leaving the building: their staff. I have met some mentors who I will look up to, and cite, and remember, for my entire life–the generosity and insight of the artists on their staff is what makes everything work there.
Juilliard, of course, has the advantage of being across the street from the Metropolitan Opera. Were you able to attend many performances while you studied there?
I did attend performances–not as many as I would have liked. My favorites were Le nozze di Figaro, and Lulu with Marlis Petersen. Stunning. I stood through all 4 hours, and it was worth it. I’ve already bought my Lulu score to start working on for years down the road.
Now you are participating in LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist program. Tell us a little about what that is like.
Being a Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist at LA Opera is perfection at this stage of my development. I am truly lucky. I get to work with a staff who are fabulous musicians, know how to have fun, be supportive, and work as a team. I love them, and am improving and learning in my craft because of their strength. I’m also fortunate to be with an immensely talented and, again, fun group of young artists, which makes moving across the country a much easier task!
You have sung and covered quite a diverse number of roles, but not much Rossini. Is this because the opportunities have not come your way, yet? Are there particular Rossini roles you would like to add to your repertory in the near future?
It is precisely that–the opportunities just haven’t come my way yet! I am someone who is immensely curious about the entire operatic canon, so I might take a little longer to cook than a singer who specializes in only Baroque or Bel canto repertoire. My main draw to opera really is for the purpose of musical storytelling–for this reason I can’t just pick one style and be content–I want to make real the worlds of Rossini and Berg and Handel. I read about this competition online and thought, “Well, this is a perfect excuse to learn something new!”. I saw the Met broadcast years ago of Le comte Ory with Damrau, Flórez and DiDonato and knew I wanted to learn Adèle, the countess.
And finally, now what is almost the “obligatory dog question”! Many of the best Rossini singers have dogs that they love and travel with. We understand you have one too?
I do have a dog! Her name is Mimi and she lives in Minneapolis with my parents. She is a yorkie-poodle who is full of life and quirks and brightens everyone’s day. I joke that she is my spirit animal, and an admirable replacement for me at home (my family got her after I went away to college). I’m still waiting for the day they let me take Mimi on a little LA vacation!