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An Interview with the Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni

Monday, 13 January 2014 , ora 8.04
'Versatile and charismatic, Luca Pisaroni has a highly captivating personality.' (GBTimes, 6th November, 2013)

The Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni is considered to be one of the most interesting and flexible artists of his generation. He made his debut at age 26, at the Salzburg Festival, accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. He was invited on the greatest stages of the world, in interesting opera productions, but also to give recitals and concerts.

During the 2013/2014 season, he made his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London, in the production The Marriage of Figaro; then, he was the guest of the Vienna State Opera, with two performances. In the spring of 2014 he will return to the Metropolitan Opera in New York with two productions: The Enchanted Island and La Cenerentola. After that, there will be concerts and recitals in Europe and the United States of America. His repertoire is quite varied, ranging from the Baroque to the contemporary.

Mr. Luca Pisaroni, it's the first time you are a guest of our radio station, but your connections to Romania go back a long way.

It's true I have connections to Romania: I made my debut with Don Giovanni in Braila, within the competition supported and organized by Mariana Nicolesco. I have some memories, of course. I was still a student when I participated in the competition and then, Mariana Nicolesco invited me to sing in Don Giovanni. I had a nice time in Braila.

There is an impressive link between Braila and today's Luca Pisaroni. You have accomplished many things and you have an amazing international career. These days you share your time between Bratislava and Prague, the centres of your two concerts No Allowed Tenors, together with Thomas Hampson. How was the first concert?

The first concert, in Bratislava, was a good one. The audience loved it. Thomas and I were happy that this concert became reality. We really enjoy singing together. The audience was very receptive, which is encouraging. I'm looking forward to the concert in Prague, because I have never sung there, and Thomas Hampson told me that the hall is beautiful and that the audience in Prague is enthusiastic. I have never had the chance to visit Prague before and I heard that the city is amazingly beautiful and it has an incredibly rich history. Walking the streets, sometimes a little darker, you practically walk on pages of history. It is a wonderful city, indeed.

After the concerts, perhaps you will make an album together, including the arias interpreted in the programme.

We will try, yes; probably a DVD first. I hope that it will be a good concert and that we'll be able to edit it later.

Seeing your agenda, Mr. Luca Pisaroni, I realize that you alternate recitals and opera performances. Is this your wish or the manager's request?

It is entirely my wish. Given my Italian origins, I might have been tempted to sing opera exclusively, but I have always wanted to reach a balance in my career between opera, vocal-symphony concerts and recitals. It's not easy, because many managers believe that when you interpret opera you can't sing lieder; this is an entirely mistaken belief. I have learned a lot interpreting lieder and I have used this knowledge when singing opera. I'm certain that I also used in lieder what I learned from opera. It's what I have always wanted. I'm very happy that I have an agent who understands my needs and wishes to maintain this balance. The repertoire of vocal-symphony works and lieder is so vast and interesting that it would be a pity for an artist not to look into it. Thus, I tell all young artists that they shouldn't confine themselves to the opera repertoire, but they should also approach lieder, as lieder help one sing better.

In a lied recital, you are alone. You need to act as if in a play, to be able to transmit the expressivity of the lyrics. Is this a challenge?

Yes, because there's just you and the piano. There are no lights, costumes and stage settings; you are alone in front of the audience. One the one hand, it's quite difficult, because there is nothing to support you. On the other hand, it's incredibly refreshing. The connection with the audience, which is unique, is much more intense as there's just you and the music and you can better express what the composer and the poet meant. It's really a great responsibility to interpret lieder, but the reward is incredible. You create this magic bond with the audience. You feel quite fascinated.

At the end of 2013 you'll have a few recitals and opera performances, but how will 2014 begin?

In January 2014 I'll have a few performances with The Marriage of Figaro at the Vienna State Opera. Then, there will be some recitals in America and Europe and after that, I'll return to the Metropolitan Opera to interpret The Enchanted Island and La Cenerentola. The latter will be broadcast in high-definition in cinemas all over the world and this is both very stressful and very stimulating. Thus, we'll reach an impressive audience, at a level simply impossible for an opera house. I believe that the total audience will reach more than a quarter of a million people. After La Cenerentola, I'll give a few concerts together with Thomas Hampson and then in Vienna, at Musikverein, with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The concert in Vienna represents a special honour for me: an Italian singing alongside a German ensemble and under the baton of such an incredible conductor as Nikolaus Harnoncourt. It's truly fantastic. I think it's an extraordinary opportunity to encounter along your career great personalities, who can reveal important secrets. I met Nikolaus Harnoncourt in 2002 and we worked together in Salzburg, for Don Giovanni. I interpreted Masetto, and he certainly shaped my conception, my vision on musical drama. It was an amazing chance to work with such a great conductor. Without a doubt, he and Thomas Hampson are my artistic mentors. I am very grateful to him. This doesn't happen too often and, unfortunately, the young generation, the young artists don't have the occasion to meet such a personality, with an impressive level of knowledge.

Mr. Luca Pisaroni, you receive invitations all over the world. You meet different types of audiences. Which one do you feel closer to, beside the Italian audience, of course?

I can't tell you too much about the Italian audience, because I don't sing in Italy very often. Ten years ago, I was invited for a production of Così fan tutte in Torino and then I gave a few concerts. If I were to choose an audience, I would definitely pick the Austrian one, which is very generous and supportive. My career was focused on Salzburg and Vienna, but I am also a guest in the United States of America: at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, in San Francisco and Chicago. If I could choose two types, then the American and the Austrian audiences would win. There is no such thing as a favourite audience, but the two mentioned above have been very generous to me.

What is the kind of dialogue, of relationship that you establish with the audience during an opera performance or a recital?

When I am on stage, I always try to include the audience in my performance. I think it's really special for an artist to show the audience affection. I love singing, just as much as I love acting. For me, it's very important that the audience constantly pay attention to the 'journey' proposed by the character I interpret. It's sad when I have only the cameras in front of me, and not an audience, because the energy you receive from the latter is incredible and makes you want to give your best version. I like negative roles, but I also like the comical ones, and there's nothing more satisfying than be able to delight the audience, make little jokes and hear 2,000 people laugh at the same time. It is an unbelievable feeling and only those on stage, doing this, can realize the fantastic energy you receive as part of this dialogue.

I think that each recital or performance is unique, because emotions can't be repeated. Mr. Pisaroni, you have an interesting community by your side.

With a job like mine, one has to travel a lot. I find travelling on your own very tiring and I am quite lucky that my wife Katherine and our two dogs, Lenny 2.0 and Tristan, come with me (almost always, I would say). For me it's fantastic, because this creates stability when I work and it doesn't matter where I am. Returning to an empty apartment after a rehearsal or a performance would be very sad, but as long as my wife and dogs are with me, I feel at home everywhere. I am truly lucky and grateful, because this stability allows me to do my job to the best of my abilities.

Mr. Pisaroni, which is the most important thing in your life?

We could talk about this for hours on end, but, for me, two things are extremely important. I have always wanted my life to be connected to music and I've been lucky enough to be able to do this; it's a privileged life. Becoming an opera singer is very difficult. Every time I go to work and sing in front of an audience I feel I must be the best, even if sometimes I'm not in the best-possible shape, physically speaking. But this doesn't matter, because the moment I step on stage there is an energy I receive from the hall, from my colleagues and from the audience that allows me to reach the top. The fact that I spend my life making music is important to me and, moreover, the fact that my family supports me and is able to share this life with me is essential to my existence.

To conclude our interview…Mr. Luca Pisaroni, could you tell us a few words, especially for the Romanian audience?

I can honestly say that the first steps of my career were made in Romania. I remember landing in Bucharest and then driving to Braila for three hours. I met there a lot of nice people and great colleagues and I would like to tell everybody that there is no such thing as too bold a dream. Young people who want to become opera singers have to know that no dream is too big. They need to dream. I believe that if you put passion, dedication and energy into your dream, it's impossible not to succeed. I'm glad that people are interested in my career and I hope they can agree that I have met all the objectives I had set for myself.

Irina Hasnaș
Translated by Mihaela Olinescu and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest