• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Massimo Cavalletti

    Opera Lively interview #144 - Massimo talked to us from his apartment in New York City via Skype, during his run at the Metropolitan Opera's Carmen as Escamillo. This young Italian baritone who is completing ten years of career has been performing in many prestigious houses and already figures in the cast of five operatic DVDs and one recital DVD. This was the longest Opera Lively interview to date, clocking at 2 hours and 28 minutes. Enjoy!

    Artistic Biography


    Massimo as Marcello in Zürich in 2010, credit unknown, fair promotional use

    Singer: Massimo Cavalletti
    Fach: Baritone
    Born in: Lucca, Italy, on October 30, 1978
    Website: www.massimocavalletti.com
    Recently in: Carmen, Metropolitan Opera House, NYC (Escamillo)
    Next in: La Bohème, Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam (Marcello), December 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 30, 2014, with Opera Lively interviewee Joyce El-Khoury - for tickets, click [here]
    Schedule through September 2015: I Puritani (Riccardo) in Florence*, Ernani (Don Carlo) in Florence (in concert, acts III&IV + act III of Lucia)*, Falstaff (Ford) in Stockholm, Don Pasquale (Malatesta) in Oman**, Carmen (Escamillo) in Barcelona - Liceu, L'Elisir d'Amore (Belcore) in Zurich***, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Figaro) in Milan - La Scala****, and La Bohème (Marcello) in Milan - La Scala.

    *both with Opera Lively interviewee Jessica Pratt
    **with Ruggiero Raimondi
    ***with Opera Lively interviewee Diana Damrau
    ****with Leo Nucci
    *****with Vittorio Grigolo, Ramón Vargas, and Ailyn Pérez

    Initial vocal studies: In Lucca under Graziano Polidori, then at the Academy of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, under Luciana Serra, and masterclasses with Leyla Gencer and Leo Nucci.

    Debut: 2004, Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo, IT, La Parisina (Azzo d'Este), followed by Il Barbiere di Siviglia at La Scala (Figaro)

    Ever since, Massimo was featured (almost always in the most important baritone role) in numerous productions in the following houses (the number of productions there over the years is quoted):

    The world's leading opera houses and festivals

    Metropolitan Opera House: 3 (including one Met Live in HD)
    Royal Opera House Covent Garden: 1
    Teatro alla Scala: 10, with 2 more upcoming in 2015
    Berlin Staatsoper: 1
    Glyndebourne Festival: 1
    Vienna Staatsoper: 1
    Salzburg Festival: 2
    Opernhaus Zurich: 28, with 1 more upcoming in 2015
    Liceu: 1 (upcoming in 2015)

    Other opera houses in the following cities

    Berlin (Deutsche Oper): 1
    Dublin: 1
    Amsterdam: 1 at Concertgebouw, with 1 upcoming at DNO in 2015
    Tokyo: 1, with another Japanese performance upcoming in 2015 at the Festival of Matsumoto
    Dresden: 1
    Brussels: 1
    Hamburg: 2
    Leipzig: 1
    Beijing: 1
    Stockolm: 1, upcoming in 2015
    Tel Aviv: 1 (upcoming in 2015, in concert with the Philharmonic Orchestra)
    Performances in regional houses in Italy (Parma, Turin, Genoa, and Bologna): 5, with 2 more upcoming in Florence in 2015

    Roles performed to date

    Gaetano Donizetti - Lucia di Lammermoor: Enrico Ashton
    Giacomo Puccini - La Bohème: Marcello, Schaunard
    Gioachino Rossini - Il Barbiere Di Siviglia: Figaro
    Giuseppe Verdi - La Forza del Destino: Melitone
    Gaetano Donizetti - L’Elisir D’amore: Belcore
    Giacomo Puccini - La Fanciulla del West: Jake Wallace
    Gaetano Donizetti - La Parisina: Azzo d’Este
    Gaetano Donizetti - Don Pasquale: Malatesta
    Jacques Halevy - La Juive: Ruggiero
    Gaetano Donizetti - Anna Bolena: Lord Rochefort
    Jules Massenet - Le Cid: Le Roi
    Gaetano Donizetti - Le convenienze e le inconvenienze teatrali: Procolo
    Gioachino Rossini - L’occasione fa il ladro: Don Parmenione
    Giuseppe Verdi - Otello: Montano
    Georges Bizet - Carmen: Escamillo
    Benjamin Britten - L’Arca di Noè: Noè
    Giuseppe Verdi - Simon Boccanegra: Paolo Albiani
    Giacomo Puccini - Manon Lescaut: Lescaut
    Giuseppe Verdi - Don Carlos: Rodrigo, Marchese di Posa
    Gaetano Donizetti - Poliuto: Severo
    Giuseppe Verdi - Falstaff: Ford

    Discography:

    La Bohème (Marcello), DVD and Blu-ray released by DG, Wiener Philharmoniker under Daniele Gatti, Wiener Staatsoper production at Salzburg Festival with Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, and Nino Machaidze



    Falstaff (Ford), DVD released by Unitel Classica, Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House under Daniele Gatti, with Ambrogio Maestri and Barbara Frittoli



    Falstaff (Ford) blu-ray released by Unitel Classica, Wiener Philharmiker under Zubin Mehta, with Ambrogio Maestri and Fiorenza Cedolins (Salzburg Festival)



    Simon Boccanegra (Paolo Albiani), DVD and Blu-ray released by ArtHaus Musik, Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala under Daniel Barenboim, with Plácido Domingo, Anja Harteros, and Ferrucio Furlanetto



    La Bohème (Marcello), DVD and Blu-ray released by Unitel Classica, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana under Riccardo Chailly, with Gal James and Aquiles Machado



    Rosenblatt Recitals, DVD, Solo recital with Simon Lepper, pianist at St. John's, Smith Square, featuring songs ad arias by Rossini, Mozart, Tosti, Denza, Toselli, Bizet, Donizetti, Bellini, Cipriano, and Verdi



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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Massimo Cavalletti


    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit including the website's URL and the name of the journalist, and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization. Questions by Opera Lively journalist Luiz Gazzola. All known photo credits were given; we'll be happy to add the correct ones to those marked unknown, if we're told what they should be. Fair promotional use.


    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Good morning, Massimo. Thank you for doing this.


    Massimo Cavalletti - I’m the one who should be saying thanks.

    OL - Have you received the questions?

    MC - Yes, I’ve just read them; there are many, I must say, but I’ll do my best to answer them all.

    OL - We can make it shorter if you prefer.

    MC - No, that’s fine. We have enough time. It’s a rainy day here in New York City. It’s terrible, and cold.

    OL - Massimo, your English is excellent. I heard you when you were interviewed during the Met broadcast of La Bohème back in March, and six months later you’ve improved a lot; you learn fast!

    MC - Well, I was in Japan for two months and over there I had to use English all the time. When I’m talking about nothing, my English is perfect. [laughs] But when I get into more technical matters, it is difficult. Listen, Luiz, I’ll try to answer in English but if I have trouble, I will switch to Italian.

    OL - No problem, I understand Italian. Let’s start by talking about the current opera you are performing in: Carmen at the Met. It’s hard to say anything new about Carmen but let’s try anyway. Escamillo is not a very deep character. He seems to be just the typical cocky bullfighter. Is there anything about the psychology of this character that you use in order to better portray him?


    Massimo as Escamillo at the Met - Photo credit Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    MC – Before this production here at the Met I shared this same idea that Escamillo is just this sort of guy who goes around with bulls, doing shows like a Cristiano Ronaldo [laughs – Editor note: Portuguese footballer/soccer player for Real Madrid who has a reputation for being a bit of a flashy showman off the field]. Actually, here at the Met I was able to discover deeper feelings about Escamillo.

    He is a very elegant person. Bizet wrote very elegant lines for him, with high level notes and rhythm. Escamillo is a man who upholds rhythm even in his life. When he is fighting a bull he has a certain rhythm in his sequence; he moves in precise ways otherwise he’d be risking his life. This comes out in his singing, and is one of the reasons why Carmen is interested in him. He is not like all the other men around her, who are all passionate about her. He is very direct and has a great sense of words.

    In the recitative after his famous aria, when Carmen and Escamillo talk to each other for the first time. He asks for her name, because he would like to use her name in his next fight. He indicates that maybe someday they’ll be together, but if it doesn’t happen, it’s not a big problem; he said he’ll just wait. Life is like that: we meet people, and we like each other or we don’t. This is very interesting for Carmen, because all the other men around, like Zuniga and Don José, are crazy about her and always trying to bug her.

    Escamillo is on another level. When he goes to the mountain to meet her, his lines have researched words, in amazing French. For exemple, he says « Souffrez au moins qu'avant de vous dire au revoir je vous invite tous aux courses de Séville. Je compte pour ma part y briller de mon mieux... » It’s very high level wording. He is not some showy stupid guy ; he is a gentleman. Bizet didn’t develop too much the role of Escamillo. There are just some short moments, but when he delivers his short lines, you can immediately understand that he is very much above the other characters. That’s why in the fourth act when he comes back and introduces Carmen to everybody as his girlfriend, Carmen has stepped up in the societal ladder. Now she is the girlfriend of an important man coming from the high society of Spain. Seen like this, Escamillo acquires more interest as a role, otherwise he isn’t a very deep character.

    OL – Very nice answer! It is interesting to notice that such a well known aria like the Toreador Song, ‘Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre’ is not that well represented on YouTube. It seems like even when great singers try it, it comes out less than ideal. Is this aria more difficult to sing than it would seem? If yes, why? Who, among your predecessors, you think sing it really well?

    MC – Listen, first we have to realize that this is not just an aria. It’s a couplet. [Editor’s note: a couplet in music refers to the contrasting sections of a rondo occurring between statements of a refrain]. This couplet contains a story that he is going to tell everybody around him. It’s like a big recitative with orchestra. He is trying to explain what his job as a torero is, in the arena.

    Even for French native speakers, this aria is difficult because its words are not easy to sing. If you want to pronounce these words in very good French, they aren’t good for the vocal line. Also, very often the orchestra plays too loudly in this part, or maybe too fast, making it hard to understand the meaning of each word. In the middle of the piece, the choir and other singers come in, and it all becomes an ensemble moment. It’s not like when Carmen is singing a melodious aria with only a few instruments in the orchestra following her, and not like the tenor aria “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” when the tenor practically sings it a capella.

    The best way to approach this aria, is to think that Escamillo sings it in every bar or restaurant he goes in, one after the other, like a show. He arrives with his followers, and does this show, and then he leaves, like a star. But it is not easy.

    On YouTube you can find a few very good versions, for example the one with Ruggero Raimondi from Vienna, I think, an old one from 1970-something [Editor’s note – it could be this one, actually from Paris in 1980]:



    There is also a concert version with Ludovic Tézier with Marco Armiliato conducting. It’s a very good, short version, without the choir.



    There is a very good version with Samuel Ramey and Levine from the Met in the old Zeffirelli production in the 80’s [Editor’s note: 1987] .



    There is also another reason, I have to say. Baritones and basses do not feel too comfortable in this role. It is too short and not very interesting. Most of them sing this role at the beginning of their careers, just a few times, and then they leave it behind. Escamillo is not a great role for the singer; that’s why you can’t find too many versions on YouTube. It’s a very famous aria because Bizet put its melody in the overture and in the end of the opera as well, but it’s not so easy to sing it.

    OL - Tell us about your Carmen, Anita Rachvelishvili from Georgia. She has the physique du role, and does a very convincing Spanish gipsy. Does it make a difference, when your co-performer is believable as the character?


    Massimo with Anita Rachvelishvili as Carmen - photo credit Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    MC – I was very impressed with Anita. I had never sung with her before this Metropolitan production. I have to say, she is my idea of Carmen. She sang many performances of Carmen; more than two hundred, already. I love her Carmen, because this Carmen does not care about anybody. This is the real Carmen, because this character only cares for herself, and she is looking for people who will follow her ideas. When they don’t, she sees no problem with staying alone.

    On stage she is very attractive and interesting, and she is really there. I like to watch her performance when I’m not on stage, especially in the second act before and after the famous tenor aria. She is perfect; she is very much into the character. She is not just a good singer, but also she acts well, because she is wild, yet elegant enough for this role. Everything she does is very meaningful. I sang Carmen with many other good singers, and everyone gives something different, but Anita has something special that keeps my attention. She has magnetic eyes. She is very, very nice.

    OL - In March and April you were in the Met Live in HD broadcast of La Bohème, and you have a video recording of it in the 2012 Salzburg production. Let’s talk about Marcello. For a change, for a baritone, you get to play a nice guy. Tell me about the psychology of the character Marcello.


    Massimo as Marcello in La Bohème - credit Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization

    MC – Marcello for now is my favorite role. I did more than one hundred performances of this role in my career. He is the best friend one can have. He is a man who enjoys life. He is like me; I see him as definitely myself: a young guy who likes girls, who likes friendships, who enjoys life and is an artist. He is a good listener. He is a very good friend for both Rodolfo and Mimì. He listens to their problems and tries to find solutions. He is a very positive guy. Also he is mature enough to understand the real situations the characters are experiencing in La Bohème. He is a good lover. He has a good story with Musetta; they love each other because they live a free relationship. Freedom is a big word for them. I love this character because I don’t need to act; I just need to be myself when I do it. For me, he is perfect, and I’m going to sing Marcello many other times in the future. After I’m done here with the Met, I’m going to Amsterdam to sing in a new production of La Bohème.

    OL - You’ve sung both Marcello and Schaunard in La Bohème. I’d assume you like Marcello more; for one thing, he has more lines and you’ve explained how you feel about him – but what would you say about Schaunard?

    MC – Schaunard was my début in La Bohème. I started with him and he gave me a lot of success; I was very lucky with him. I débuted at the Met and at La Scala with Schaunard, both of them Zeffirelli productions. He is younger than Marcello, actually. He is not used to that life, yet. He suffers a lot when he understands that Mimì is going to die. He is full of energy throughout the show. He is volcanic with his energy, and he is also a volcano of ideas. He provides food and wine for all the guys. I love him.

    In the first act he has something like an aria that I like. I can sing both. Marcello of course is more interesting, not just for the length of the role, but for being like me. But Schaunard is a good start for all baritones, because this role teaches you a lot about being on stage. I remember when I first started at La Scala, I was working with Franco Zeffirelli in person, and he told me that without a good Schaunard the opera doesn’t work. The four friends are like the legs of a table. If a leg is not the same size of the others, the table is shaky. That’s a good thing to remember.

    OL - I watched your blu-ray disc of La Bohème from Salzburg. You did very well. The cast was truly excellent.


    La Bohème in Salzburg - photo credit Silvia Lelli - fair promotional use

    I liked the sets for the second act with the huge model of Paris, and found the final scene brilliant, with that hand, writing the name Mimi on the glass then erasing it. However, and in spite of the fact that I generally have no objection to the updating of an opera, I found the sets and props for the other acts, with all the trash, rather unattractive. What is your opinion of the production? [Editor’s note – see our review of that production by clicking [here].

    MC – Listen, that production in Salzburg tried to do something very different than usual. The idea is that we are four abusive guys. We live in a new building without any permission. We are squatters. That’s why in the final act Benoit and a policeman come to take our things and throw them in the streets. This big mountain of things at the end is our furniture taken from the apartment, and now we are homeless. The second act is amusing for me because those buildings are like a Google Maps visual. It’s nice. The third act is like zooming in and seeing the neighborhood with bigger resolution.

    Still, for me, in the first and fourth acts we needed a bit more furniture and props. Bohème is an opera where we need some real objects to use. It is difficult to do with a fully empty stage. Also, that Salzburg stage was very big for La Bohème. It is huge, with 40 meters, which is huge for just four guys on stage. The Großes Festspielhaus was built for large productions of Wagner’s and Verdi’s operas. Maybe it would have been preferable to produce La Bohème at the Mozarteum. But with such amazing cast, with these voices, with this orchestra, it was better to do it at the Großes Festspielhaus.

    Maybe the production staff should have found a better solution for the first and fourth acts. They had this idea of the big windows in the background; they open and we are outside, then they close and we are inside again. That was the imaginative idea in this production. I enjoyed this production. The sensations when we were rehearsing were very good. Anna, and Piotr, and Nino, Carlo and Alessio, we were like friends. We have worked together many times before and after; we are real friends and really know each other, and this is perfect for La Bohème because we have to be like that. I don’t know, it was a good production. People enjoyed it. Many people were crying at the end when that hand erased Mimì’s name. It was good in those circumstances, being 2012 the first season with Alexander Pereira there.


    Massimo and Anna Netrebko in Salzburg - Photo credit Silvia Lelli - Fair promotional use

    OL – What is your opinion of Regieoper and updating; do you prefer that to traditionalist productions?

    MC – I like to answer this question, because for me we can do Regieoper; it’s not a problem, but it is very important that the feelings between the characters and the ideas of the original opera stay there. We cannot change the connections between the characters and the meanings of the opera. We can perform La Bohème in the future on the surface of the Moon; it is not a problem because love and friendship are the same everywhere. I’m sure if one day we meet aliens from outer space, they will also uphold the ideals of love and friendship. That’s important because everybody understands love. When I performed La Bohème in Asia, they understood it because love comes from God and is everywhere.

    But if we change the connections between the characters and play something strange… I have to say, I’ve seen many strange things in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and now, even in Italy. I saw a production of Manon Lescaut at a famous European opera house, and I’ll tell you, it was difficult even for me to understand that it was Manon Lescaut. The storyline was completely missed and the connections between the roles were not clear. It was a great cast but the staging was definitely strange.

    I think we are going to lose the connections and people won’t understand anything. I think it’s OK even for operas by the great composers Wagner, Verdi, and Puccini, to change them to some degree because the world has changed. We have to bring new visuals to the new audiences but we shouldn’t change the core of the stories. I’ll give you this as an example: there are many films that were remade and restyled, such as Dracula or Frankenstein, with high definition and great special effects or even set in the future or in space but the base of the story is the same and so are the feelings and sentiments.

    OL – Yes, I completely agree with you. It makes me remember a production of Wagner’s Ring in which at the end Brünnhilde is pregnant and delivers a child, which changes the symbolic element that the gods’ lineage is over and humankind is left to its own fate – that child would have continued the line by being a descendent of gods. This is too much interference with the original symbolism and introduces a character – that baby – that is not in Wagner. I was angry when I saw that ending.

    MC – Yes, I’m sure! Directors now pretend to change the opera itself. If they don’t like a certain point that conflicts with their concept, they want to change it or cut it. I saw an opera where they completely cut all the dialogues. For me, it’s too much. If a director doesn’t like an opera or has no idea of what that opera is, maybe they should direct something else.

    OL – Yes, you are right. Performing with such extraordinary artists like Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, Nino Machaidze, not to forget your excellent fellow Italians Carlo Colombara and Alessio Arduini in the other roles, must have been thrilling. Is there anything interesting you can tell us about your interactions with your illustrious colleagues in Salzburg?


    The Salzburg Bohème cast, credit unknown, fair promotional use

    MC – Like I told you, we are friends and had many nice moments together. We went out every night for dinners, and had nice dinners in our personal apartments. Still now we meet frequently; with Anna singing Macbeth, she came to see my Carmen performance and I went to see her performance. We had a lot of fun. The weather in Salzburg in the summer of 2012 was very nice and we enjoyed the outdoors and had a very good time together. It was a family, including maestro Gatti.


    Massimo with his Salzburg colleagues Netrebko and Beczala; Ian Holender, Mr. Pereira - singer's personal photo


    OL - Now, let’s turn to you and your career. This year, you are completing ten years of professional singing. I’d like to address the past ten years, the present moment, and what the future holds. Let’s start by the past. How do you assess these past ten years? What were you able to accomplish? Are there any regrets or anything you would have done differently if you could go back?

    MC – Last October 1st was the anniversary of my first ten years as a professional singer. 2004 was my first time on stage with an orchestra and a new production. I did some roles before as a student by I count my debut from that night. I don’t have too many regrets, except that maybe I performed some roles and some arias too early. For opera students it is best to tackle some roles and arias when their voices are ready for them.

    If I could go back, I wouldn’t have performed a new opera without rehearsals like I did in Germany and Switzerland. I debuted in Manon Lescaut in Berlin without rehearsals; now I wouldn’t do such a thing anymore. It’s too stressful, not good for the voice, and later you have to study the role again because you had no time to get yourself into the character.

    But I’m very happy with my experiences in Zurich and La Scala. I think mostly I made all my steps in the right moment. Every step brought another one and these ten years were helpful for the future of my career. I think a career is made of thirty years. During your first ten years, you need to build up your figure, your background, and your technique. In the second ten years you need to develop your career and understand what your final goals should be. The last ten years are the amazing realizations of your career goals. Too often, it happens that people want to do everything at the beginning of their careers, and it is a mistake. It is important to leave new goals for the future and debut new roles at the right age.

    OL – Great. Are you satisfied with the status of your career right now, at the ten-year point? What are the challenges that present themselves to a singer at this point in your career, now getting to sing in the main opera houses in the world?

    MC – I’m very, very happy right now. I did not expect to be singing in the best opera houses in the word at this stage of my career. This year, 2014, I sang at the Metropolitan, La Scala, Salzburg, and Covent Garden all in one season. I feel good because I’m lucky to be singing with great opera singers and the best conductors and stage directors. When I work in such amazing houses every time I learn something new and improve.

    I am an opera singer, and this means that I’m a human being that brings emotions to the people. We are not just artists; we try to bring to the audience sentiments, feelings, and two hours of happiness, when they come to the opera. I’m very proud of myself but also I need to thank my manager Germinal Hilbert who helped me to make the right choices. Often I’m offered important roles but I say “no” when it is too early and too dangerous to take the role. If you make a mistake – for instance if you take a dramatic role too early – then you cannot step back. If I start now to sing Rigoletto, La Forza del Destino, or Un Ballo in Maschera, then no one will want from me La Boheme, L’Elisir d’Amore, Don Pasquale, and Lucia di Lammermoor. I have to keep my lyric repertory now so that I’m still fresh in my vocal cords when I get to the dramatic repertory.

    OL – Very nice. So what are your next goals and objectives for the next ten years and beyond? Where will your voice take you?

    MC – In the next three or four years I’ll stay with the same repertory that I’m doing now. For sure, I’ll be doing Riccardo in I Puritani and some other Donizetti roles. Then maybe I’ll get to some Verdi but not too heavy or too dramatic. When I hit the age of 40 I’d like to tackle La Traviata, Un Ballo in Maschera, and Il Trovatore. I think that my voice will be a perfect fit for Rigoletto. Leo Nucci is my mentor, or my teacher, we can say. He started very early with Rigoletto, I think around 34 years of age. I don’t think I could do it right now. Also, I look too young for the role; no opera houses would give it to me. I’m more appropriate for loving or comedic or young baritone characters like I’m doing right now.

    But if I need to get to the heavier repertory in ten years, I have to start changing in five years otherwise I won’t be ready. I’m studying Un Ballo in Maschera and will sing it in concert next year with Zubin Mehta conducting, in Tel Aviv. I’ll need to see how my body behaves with this opera, and with Ford and Rodrigo. Step by step I’ll go to Verdi. I think Verdi is good for me to sing.

    OL - Let’s again go back to your beginnings. Your first professional performance was in La Parisina, in Bergamo with the La Scala Academy. What are your memories of that performance? Where you very nervous?

    MC – I was a student at the La Scala Academy and it was my first important production on stage. Everything was fantastic. My parents were there in Bergamo and I remember that I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep the night before. It was important for me to show what I could do. I rehearsed a lot and felt that I was ready. I have to say, I’d like to do this opera again now, because it wasn’t a perfect role for a young singer; it is very difficult, with very strong characters. My character Duke Azzo is a terrible man. He is like Filippo Secondo or Enrico Octavo in Anna Bolena. He is a lover but at the same time with no regrets to kill his wife. Maybe it was too much for me, in my beginnings, but I did a good job. I remember that for my level of training I did a good job. I still have a recording of that performance and sometimes I like to listen to it.

    I remember everything. The sets were amazing. My parents and my friends were there with me. We enjoyed every second of the performance and of our stay in Bergamo. I was a different person, then. I arrived to the theater three hours ahead of the performance. Now, even here at the Met I arrive forty-five minutes before curtain time. I stay home, relaxed, and I just go to the opera house one hour before, maybe, in case I have heavy make-up. But there in Bergamo I arrived so early! Nobody was there. Ten years change people. I was 24 or 25 years old when I debuted in Bergamo. I was a baby. [laughs]

    OL - Another role in your past is Severo in Poliuto. I find it interesting because it is particularly delicate and melodious, unlike some of the macho baritone roles. Can you tell us a little about this character and this role from the vocal standpoint?

    MC – Well when maestro Nello Santi asked me to sing Severo, I was very, very happy and proud. This role was a dream role for me. When I was a young student I used to listen to Ettore Bastianini singing Severo. This role is a lover baritone. He is also a Roman general in the army and he is very strong, especially in the second and third acts. At the end, he decides to kill the tenor Poliuto with the hope that his wife Paolina will be free, but to his horror she decides to die with her husband. I enjoyed the fact that I was able to sing a love song in the first act, and in the duet with Paolina, I enjoyed showing her how I loved her. I was in the war dreaming of her every day and when I come back I find out she is in love with another man.


    Massimo in Poliuto in Zurich - credit unknown, fair promotional use


    It’s in incredible opera. Donizetti did an amazing job with these characters. [Switches to Italian] I’ll tell you, Luiz, I was very happy to sing this character because for the first time I was able to sing of my love for a woman. The love that endures and doesn’t turn away is still stronger. [Back to English] When you really desire something that you can’t have back, it’s an amazingly pungent feeling. There is a short part of my aria on YouTube.



    It was nice, because I dreamed of this role for so long, and it is not often put on stage, so it was a golden opportunity.

    OL – That’s unfortunate because it is one of the best Donizetti operas, isn’t it?

    MC – Right, it is. A problem with staging this opera is with the strange range of the roles. The soprano needs to be a lyrical soprano but with a deep voice. The tenor needs to be a strong tenor but with very high notes. The baritone also needs a very big range in the voice. It is not easy to find three singers for these characters. When I did it, Fiorenza Cedolins was singing Paolina, and she did a very good job.

    OL – Yes, she has what it takes; she is even able to sing Norma.


    MC – Yes, right. I enjoyed it, being with maestro Nello Santi. He always has good things to teach the singers, especially in this repertory of Donizetti; he is a genius. In Zurich the theater is not so big, then we are able to find the small details that are the key to singing Donizetti well. This is very important.

    OL – So you’ve performed in Tokyo and Beijing. What is it like, performing in Asian countries? Any striking differences regarding audiences or production style, or working style?

    MC – Tokyo and Beijing are two different worlds. They are like Earth and Mars. In Tokyo every person coming to see the performance knows all the words in the libretto. They can follow everything, exactly. They seem to know our biographies better than ourselves! They know exactly what happens on stage and in the orchestra. They are a great audience. They really love the opera, and love to be there.

    In China, maybe less than ten per cent of the audience knows the opera. They are trying to step into the operatic field, now. They built amazing opera houses and theaters and called the most important opera singers, directors, and conductors, in order to try to understand our culture, but still, the opera houses are never full. Maybe with the exception of a couple of performances, most have the house only half full. People are not cultured to the opera yet, but the government is granting a lot of money in this effort to incorporate this culture into the Chinese society.

    I performed L’elisir d’amore in Beijing in 2011. It was a good, traditional production. In China and Japan, they love traditional productions, as much as possible. If they buy Falstaff, they want him fat, not too far from the libretto. It’s because they are traditional in everything, even in their daily lives. They love culture because it teaches people to live better.

    Sometimes in Western countries we lose a bit this idea of culture. In Europe and even here in the United States some stagings are very strange, because directors think that if we bring to the opera house the same thing that people see every day in the movies and TV, they won’t bother to come to the opera house. In Japan and in China they want the real meanings of the opera. In Japan people wait hours by the backstage door to have pictures taken with us or to get autographs. They are very kind with us. I’d like to see the same thing in Europe and America but it doesn’t happen – sometimes there is nobody by the stage door after a performance. Maybe people are just used to having the stars around, while in Tokyo they have to wait one year to see someone, so when they have a star performing there, they go crazy.

    OL - Comedic versus tragic roles – what is your preference, and why?

    MC – They are two different worlds. People think that comedy Is easier but it is more difficult to laugh than to cry. It is very difficult to do comedy because the rules of comedy are more difficult than the rules of tragedy. In tragedy, the words and the music bring the audience into the core issues. In comedy, we are on our own. We have to find a way to make the audience laugh and to enjoy it. I sing more tragedy, but next season in 2015 I will sing in L’Elisir d’Amore, Don Pasquale, and Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and they are more difficult than singing Bohème, Carmen, and Don Carlo, because if we are not acting well and we are not enjoying what we are doing on stage, we can’t portray the situations and people do not understand and they don’t laugh.

    I remember Falstaff with Carsen at La Scala, a production he had done in London, but he changed some situations, because the staging was built for an English audience, and now he had to change it for an Italian audience, because certain things don’t work in Italy like they do in England.


    Massimo as Falstaff at La Scala - credit Rudy Amisano/Teatro alla Scala, fair promotional use


    We have to understand what the audience enjoys, what the audience knows, and we bring that into the comedy. For a tragedy, everywhere it is more or less the same. When Mimì dies at the end of the opera, it’s the same everywhere. When I perform in German-speaking countries, I try to find gags for the German mind. In Italy, the Italians understand the subtext of the words, then I can play with the words, but I can’t do the same in other countries because not everybody understands the subtext, especially in Da Ponte who always had second levels of meanings. The "Canzonetta Sull’Aria," there are many under-texts in it. People know them in Italy, but in other countries we need to work with the director to bring the message to the stage for the audience, and this is very difficult, and makes comedy harder than tragedy.

    OL – Which one do you like best?


    As Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, Feb 2014, credit Brescia/Amisano Teatro alla Scala

    MC – For me, tragedy, especially coming from Shakespeare, for example, very bitter tragedy that goes deep inside the person. I don’t like it when it is understandable from the beginning; I like it when it goes in and in and finally takes hold of the heads of the people.

    OL - You’ve worked, among others, with conductors Nello Santi, Daniele Gatti, Marco Armiliato, Lorin Maazel, Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly, and Fabio Luisi. Is there anything precious you learned from some of them? What do you want from a conductor?

    MC – All of them gave me something, especially because they are all of different age, and in every age of life people can teach something different from their experience. They are also from different countries and cultures so this also contributes for each of them bringing something unique. I can say that Nello Santi gave me a vision of the old Italian opera tradition and I could learn from him the original editions of the operas we did together.

    Daniele Gatti was very important for me because I debuted with him many important roles in very good productions. I can say we are friends. We discuss about the character and the music. Barenboim also gave me great feelings on stage, because definitely he is a genius. Every time I had a great and easy connection with him on stage.

    You forgot to mention Zubin Mehta who has a completely different style. He is strong-armed and is always connected with us. His eyes are so deep! When I was singing Don Carlo with him in Zurich we were following each other in all my lines, especially my big aria, and the music was coming from his eyes. It’s an amazing situation, I have to say. Fabio Luisi also transmits this great connection.

    You know why? It’s because all these names are great conductors. They are completely in the opera and have great control of the orchestra, which really follows them. It gets even more special when you work with great orchestras like the Metropolitan, La Scala, Vienna Philharmonic, London… These orchestras have a soul. If the conductor is not able to catch their soul, he is not able to drive them. It’s like a Ferrari. If you are not Schumacher or Alonso, you are not able to drive well a Ferrari. Everybody is able to drive a car like this in a parking lot, but on the race track it’s different. Some people may not even be able to switch on a car like this. It’s the same with an orchestra.

    This is easy to feel when you work with a very young conductor without experience. You immediately feel that the orchestra tries to rebel and sounds forced. They have their own ideas; they’ve played an opera so many times, and then the conductor runs into trouble. A conductor needs to be secure about himself, even in his mistakes. If a conductor makes a mistake, he needs to be sure that he wants to make that solution even if it is kind of wrong.

    If a conductor goes to the podium and starts conducting without ideas, it is terrible. Then I go and sing my role, I’m no longer singing together with the conductor. Every singer has a role inside, but it is much better when we work together. The figure of the conductor is what brings together the orchestra and the stage. In the past, the first violin conducted the opera by himself. Then composers started to conduct their own operas, and they were just guarding, protecting the opera. Now it is very technical.

    I want the conductor to be as technical as possible, otherwise it doesn’t work. In Italian we say that the conductor is the “direttore” of the orchestra which means conductor, but we also say “concertatore.” This word means that this man did the work before, with the orchestra and the cast, and he concerted, he put together the stage and the orchestra. If we didn’t do this work then maybe it’s best to just call him conductor. I never worked with Muti, but I hear that he does it like Chailly. When I work with Chailly, he spends days working on the lines with the singers, then he does the same with the orchestra and we can put things together.

    Sometimes I arrive the day of the performance to jump in because somebody was sick. Even without rehearsals, we can sing an opera because everybody knows what to do, but it is much different when we do the work of coming together; it’s much better.

    OL – I interviewed Marco Armiliato and he said that the Met orchestra rather than being like a Ferrari, is a Boeing airplane, with this huge resonant vrmmmm from a big jet engine, this big sound. He said it is the best opera orchestra in the world.

    MC – This is true, but in the matter of big sound, I’d add that the Met Orchestra always listens to the singers. During the arias you can see that the musicians who are sitting in a position from where they can see the stage, are always looking at the stage. They look up because they enjoy our sound and they love opera. They are able to play softly, piano, so that our sound can come through. This orchestra plays for the opera; they are not just a symphony orchestra.

    Very often in Europe the orchestras are bored to play opera, because opera is not that interesting for the orchestra player; since they need to follow and accompany us, but this orchestra here enjoys doing this job. I can see it in their faces and their eyes. It’s nice; when at the end of the opera we are doing the curtain bows, they take photos of us. [laughs] This is amazing. And it is also nice that they wait until the very end before leaving. The horns, the trumpets, they sit there during the entire opera even when they are not playing. In other orchestras when musicians have a long stretch that doesn’t use their instrument, they go away to take a break. The Met musicians don’t do this, which is unusual.

    OL - In your training, an important mentor was the great Leo Nucci. Please tell us a little about the personality of this great singer, and how it was like to learn from him.

    MC – I met Leo first time in Zurich in 2009. From the very beginning we had a connection to each other. He likes my voice and he decided by himself to teach me and give me advice. It was not like formal teaching, with the student and the teacher sitting at the piano. It was more talking to each other, talking about the character and important parts of a role and how to resolve some situations. We talked about the feelings in life and the feelings and sensations in the throat. When I have to make a decision about something important, I follow his advice and ask him for his ideas.

    He and his wife Adriana have always helped me in the most important points of my career in the last few years. We played together in Simon Boccanegra; he was the title role and I was Paolo Albiani. He gave me great ideas and advices, and I stepped up in my understanding of opera. He is not just a good opera singer, but he is a good man. He knows very well our lives. He can give us good ideas on how to be an opera singer also outside the theater. In our job, waiting for the performances is very difficult. Most of the time we spend hours and days waiting and waiting, and it important for us to know how to use this time.

    [Sounds more emotional, switches to Italian] For me, Leo has been so much, from the beginning! He has helped me in understanding the life of a singer. [Switches back to English] He also taught me how theater has changed, compared to forty years ago. Today, it is definitely different to be an opera singer. Every time I have a problem, I call him.


    Massimo with Leo Nucci - singer's personal photo


    I’m lucky because I found many people who helped me. I don’t know, people tend to like me and trust me. They give me good help. Even my colleagues who aren’t much older than me help me. When I met René Pape last time, he gave me good ideas for Escamillo. When this kind of opera singer comes and says something, that’s because they enjoyed something in me. They don’t go around giving help and advice to everybody.

    This is very important for me, to have a good and open relationship with other artists on stage. I like to be friends with everybody, and each one can teach me something. In the past, it was easier because teachers gave a lot to the new generations. Now the new generation is not learning as much from the old generation. We need to leave something to the new opera singers to go on, otherwise they don’t have clear ideas on what is the opera, what is the stage. Opera now has new fashions and new ideas, and we can transmit to the new generation what the new opera world is.

    OL – What would be your advice to student singers?


    MC – Don’t be an opera singer.

    OL – [laughs]


    MC – No, the problem is that to be an opera singer today is very difficult because our world has completely changed. We have to be very good with technique and with the voices, but also with the shape of the body – not like a model, but today it is important to look good. I’d like to tell them: do have dreams, but to be a good opera singer one needs time. Fast careers also bring fast disappearance. We have to wait. We don’t earn high fees and a lot of money anymore. To be an opera singer is not the same as being a pop star. It is difficult, but it is not impossible; however one needs a lot of energy and focus. The voice needs attention and care. Often an opera singer is enamored with his voice, and the voice wants everything from the singer. I’m lucky that in a few years I did a lot, but it came from my choices. I decided to go to Zurich, and it gave me a lot of experience in a short time.

    OL – In Zurich, was it exhausting, to do one role after the other?

    MC – My contract in Zurich was a very special one. I was fixed there but I had all the opportunities to go out without any problems. My schedule was set one year in advance and I knew exactly what I would sing and when, and the rest of the time I was free to go around, freelance. For sure, in a few years I debuted nine or ten roles, there. If I was freelance in Italy I’d need twenty years to do what I did in five. In Zurich I learned all the roles that now I perform around the world. I had time to study with good pianists and conductors, and had enough rehearsal time on stage to understand and digest those roles.

    For a new young singer now, especially in Italy, it is better to go to Germany and be fixed in a house for two to five years, to understand and learn to sing in three different languages, and then they’ll be able to go everywhere and will be strong enough for a good career. In Italy and even here – now I’m singing with very good young opera singers – often when you are freelance you stay home without work. When you haven’t worked for two months and you are young and inexperienced, you are going backwards, for to be an opera singer you have to be on stage as much as possible.

    When you are fixed in a Swiss, German, or Austrian opera house, you are on stage nine to ten months in a year; every night or every other night you are on stage. This is perfect, to become an opera singer. The greatest stars we have today were fixed somewhere in the beginning of their careers and they sang a lot. Take Piotr for example, or Jonas; like me, they were fixed in Zurich and did five or six new productions every year, like Anna in St. Petersburg. In Zurich we’d have international opera stars come for four weeks and they’d sing three different roles.


    Massimo with J, Kaufmann and C. Colombara, singer's personal photo

    OL – In America we don’t have this system of the German-speaking houses with their permanent staff, although we do have the Young Artist programs. Do you think it makes American singers be less well trained?

    MC – I’ll answer that by saying that I would like to introduce the same system in Italy. We are in a time of economic crisis in the opera houses, even in America, especially in the West coast, and even here at the Met there were problems, so it is hard for young singers to get an opportunity to sing every night. When you have this system of fixed staff, you can build up the new generation of singers and you can stage operas at a lower cost. Maybe you can have your title role with a famous international opera singer and the other roles will be sung by good voices from the house. When I arrived in Zurich, I was a very young guy; it was in 2007, and Pereira initially gave me small roles and then little by little he gave me the Fords and Marcellos and Rodrigos and everything. This is a good way to build up the new generation.

    OL – Let’s talk more about your personal story. How did opera come to your life? At what point, while growing up, you got the idea of becoming an opera singer, and why?

    MC – Very late; I never thought of being an opera singer until I was twenty-one. I was singing in the choir at church since I was six. I had a good nice voice and musicality and I played the organ. My dream was to be an engineer in telecommunication, and I studied for it. One day I was singing in church for a wedding and one of the guests was an opera singer. He came to me and said “you have a great voice for the opera; maybe you should try it.” I wasn’t interested at all, but he practically forced me to go see an opera teacher, Graziano Polidori who was a bass and lived no so far from my town. He told me “your voice is amazing, you have to, or rather, you must study.”

    I came back home and kept thinking “I don’t want at all to become an opera singer; I’ll be an engineer.” But then in the next nine months – like pregnancy – step by step I became convinced that I should indeed become an opera singer, to the point that night and day I thought about opera and everywhere I looked around me, opera images would come to my mind. It was strange, like these opera ghosts came to me. Finally in June 1999 I went back to this teacher, and when he saw me, he told me “come on, finally! You needed nine months to understand that you must be an opera singer! Now you are here; we start.” June 6, 1999 was my first lesson. I never stopped singing, ever since. I sang every day of my life, and now I am an opera singer and can’t live without opera, anymore.

    OL – Interesting, very nice answer! When you were interested in becoming an engineer and not an opera singer, did you at least have an interest in opera? Did you listen to it?

    MC – [laughs] Even now, I don’t really like to go to the opera. I like it when I know very well the piece or when I know the singers. This year here at the Met I went to the opera three times, but it’s for the sake of my colleagues that I love. I went to Macbeth because it was with Anna, René, Joseph, and Zeljko, with Luisi conducting, and I love them. For me it was easier to sit there for three hours and listen to them, but if I don’t know the singers, for sure I’m not going to the opera. It’s awfully difficult for me to stay put and sit there for three hours. I love to see the rehearsals.


    Massimo with the cast of the 2010 Met Bohème - singer's personal photo

    I live in Zurich now, but when I go to my hometown of Lucca, I go to the local opera house and buy a full box – all six seats in it -- and have it all private to myself, because being alone there I can move, I can stand up, air conduct, and on occasion I can grimace and do faces like… [laughs, makes a disgusted face] and express what I think of the performance without anybody seeing my face. So, before becoming an opera singer, I had never been to the opera.

    Even now, when I am learning a new opera, I don’t like to listen to recordings, initially. I don’t like to be influenced by other singers. I prefer to learn by myself, and only then I go listen to what others did, in order to resolve some difficult points. If you start by listening to a recording, you tend to absorb the bad parts rather than the best. It’s easier to acquire the mistakes rather than the good points.

    [Switches to Italian] The problems, the ugly parts of a singer are the key to that singer. One remembers a singer for what is unique to his voice, and often these traits are those that are not exactly the right ones for the singing, but for that particular singer they are perfect; however if you want to do the same thing, it won’t sit well for your particular voice, understand? Cesare Siepi, for example, he was a bass. He had an R that was too grating, like this [makes a harsh R sound]. For his voice, it was perfect, with a fantastic legato, but if I try to sing with this R, I’d be funny and stupid, while for him it was perfect. So, the important thing is to listen to these recordings afterwards, when one has already found one’s own style.

    I can tell you this, [switches back to English], when I started to step in the opera, I immediately felt at home for the first time in my life. Information was coming to my mind, my ear, and my body easily, more than when I was studying to be an engineer. In my engineering studies I needed hours to learn something basic, but in opera, in a few moments everything went in. There was a special open door in my mind for opera. From that, I understood that I was an opera singer.

    OL – Did you graduate with an engineering degree?

    MC – No, I dropped out. I did finish the college degree in Italy that is the first step to becoming an engineer, and with my degree I’d be allowed, for example, to project the electric system for a house or for a small industrial project, but I’d not be fully licensed as an engineer. But I also worked in this field for a while, in order to support my singing lessons. I worked for a paper factory. Wait a moment, Luiz.

    [we pause while he goes get a charger; his computer is running out of battery juice]

    MC – I’m back.

    OL – I’m sorry that the interview is taking so much of your time, it’s a long list of questions.

    MC – No, don’t worry, I’m just here, drinking a lot of water. Many people think that our lives are funny, glamorous, sparkling, but in reality we stay home a lot, hydrating, and being careful because it’s rainy outside and cold, and maybe we’d risk catching a cold and losing the voice… Our life is to wait – wait for a performance, wait to be ready for the stage, and we spend a lot of time locked in at home. For example, right now in New York City my parents are here with me, and I’m staying with them and not going to places where there is a lot of people because there is always someone around who is sick.

    OL – I see. So, back to your beginnings, how did your friends and relatives react to your career choice? Luca Pisaroni, in an interview with me, said that as a teenager in Italy, peers would find him weird because he liked opera rather than soccer.


    MC – Most of my friends and relatives don’t understand the job of an opera singer. I can tell you a funny story that I think happened to Luca as well, and to others. One day I was at a party in Lucca with many relatives – it was the anniversary of my parents’ wedding. I was singing something there, for everybody, doing something like a small recital, and someone told my mom, “Massimo has a good voice, but one can’t make enough money with art.” My mom said “he tries, he is trying his best” but people think that this is not a real job.

    Sometimes when someone asks what I do and I say “opera singer” they ask “but what is your real job?” [laughs]. Other times, people offer me jobs. I remember when I was singing in the wedding of a good friend of mine, and after the ceremony the photographer came to me and said “you know, you have a very good voice; I do weddings every weekend; leave me your card and I can find you some odd jobs; not too much money, but we’ll find a solution for you.”

    OL – [laughs] This is funny! I just read an interview with Marina Poplavskaya, and she said that when the passport control officer at the airport saw that she had a visa that is only granted to persons of extraordinary ability, he asked her “what do you do that is considered extraordinary; are you a doctor or a scientist?" She said “I’m an opera singer” and the officer scoffed and said “An opera singer, extraordinary ability? You got to be kidding me, Ma’am!” She got angry and said “Just put your stamp there and say ‘welcome’!”

    MC – I’m sure… they think we’ll be singing for coins under the bridge or in the subway. But when I go back to Italy and I’m with my friends I try to be a normal guy. I’m addicted to soccer like any other Italian guy. I support the Juventus club from Turin. I stream their games from the Internet if I’m able to do that. When I’m with the guys in Lucca, my hometown, I’ll talk about normal things and I leave the opera world far away, because I’m sure they won’t understand. We talk about politics, the economy, and about girls. When I am with people, I try to talk about them more than about myself. It’s nicer that way.

    OL - On the same topic, let’s turn our attention to the cultural environment in Italy. First, at the time of your training, which is prior to the economic crisis, what kind of resources were available to you; what kind of support you got? What would be different, now? With the dwindling resources in opera and drop in popularity, can people make a decent living by singing in regional Italian opera houses, or do they have to have a day job and sing as a second career?

    MC – Already when I started to study in the early 2000s, I immediately understood that the situation was different from years before, at the time of the great history of opera in Italy. Conservatories in Italy have never been too interesting. No famous opera singer teaches in conservatories, there. The few good ones tend to either teach privately, or be in the main opera house academies, like the La Scala Academy. The quality of the teaching in Italian conservatories doesn’t fit the necessities of a modern operatic career. They teach in an old-fashioned way that doesn’t prepare people for a real career.

    When I started, it was already the beginning of the crisis, but I never felt it, because I started from a situation of low income, so for me any fees I was receiving felt like progress. Now the fees in the international environment where I’m working are up again; not as much as twenty or thirty years ago, but better than when I started; then, it has seemed to me that my income is always going up, so I never had the feeling of being in the middle of a crisis. But for people who are starting now in Italy and working there, it is terrible. Theaters are not paying people; they are not able to put together real seasons, except for a few like La Scala, and the theaters in Turin, Palermo, and maybe Venice.

    OL – Not Naples and Rome?

    MC – Naples now is not able to pay anybody, and in Rome they fired their entire orchestra and chorus. Rome if I remember correctly posted a 14 million Euros negative balance, something like that.

    You know why, Luiz? Theaters in Italy have been at the mercy of political institutions. The situation in Italy is different; you cannot compare it with the international situation. It’s completely different; we spend a lot of money with strange and unimportant things in our foundations. In Zurich, ten people in the administration do the same job that requires one hundred people in Italy, or even two hundred. We don’t have a lot of private sponsors. They should change the rules that govern sponsorships.

    Also in Italy we no longer teach the people to come to the opera. We should give to the audiences more opportunities to come and there are no alternative venues accessible to the people. Operas are very interesting and coming to a live performance is important, but in Italy people lost a bit of the culture and I’m not only talking about opera; any culture. People in Italy are addicted to television and Italian TV programming is rubbish, with a lot of reality shows that are anything but reality, because they are completely scripted. People still watch them and think they are real. We have to change the minds of the Italian people, back to higher cultural pursuits than reality TV.

    OL – That’s amazing, because Italy was the cradle of opera and had very strong culture and it is getting lost; it’s very sad.

    MC - It is. I’ll tell you a very funny story. I won’t mention who said it to me or the place, but it’s a real story. I was saying “You know, in Italy we have amazing culture; we have people like Rafaello, Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, you know them, right?” and the person answered, “Yes, I know them, they are the Ninja Turtles!”

    OL – [laughs] Incredible!

    MC – This is the cultural level we have in Italy now! People in other countries know more about Italian culture, monuments, and museums, than our own people; that’s it.

    OL – What do you think needs to be done to change this situation?


    MC – We have to change a lot; starting from the base, definitely. We should not have politicians in charge of the administration of our theaters and cultural foundations; we need to put there people who have degrees in and understand the business of culture. You wouldn’t go to a politician to have brain surgery in your head, right? You’d want to see a neurosurgeon. I’m sure that the chair, the general manager of a hospital is a doctor. Why should the general manager of an opera house or a museum be a politician?

    These positions in Italy are given to former mayors, or former house representatives for the party that is in power. What does he know about opera or libraries or museums? That’s the first mistake. The second mistake is that we have no outreach for children whatsoever, in Italy, unlike here and in Germany where they do outreach in schools and show operas to the youngsters. In Zurich I remember when they did a Kinder Ring – the Ring of the Nibelung for children! Sometimes it gets to be a bit strange: they even did a Kinder The Rake’s Progress!

    OL – Wow! That one is a heavy one, to be shown to children. [laughs]

    MC – Yes, but at least we should do things like Die Zauberflöte for children, in Italy, and produce it with young guys, not too expensive. Look, Luiz, we waste a lot of money in Italy. We have storehouses full of old productions that are never used again, and then when an opera is given they build everything from scratch, unlike here at the Met where they have new productions but they also revive the old ones.

    Unlike in Vienna for example, the opera houses in Italy don’t make use of the opportunity to make money with tourism. We could revive these stored productions and have houses like Venice, Florence, and Naples having a show every night – the tourists are dying to see it, but they find no place to go because everything is closed, and that’s why we’d need a permanent staff with singers, orchestra, and chorus ready to go every night. The working environment today is more dynamic and opera workers need to change their mentality – they need to be willing to go where there is work to do.

    OL – I see. What do you think of contemporary opera in Italy? I admire, for example, composer Sciarrino whose opera Luce mie traditrice I love. The least ancient piece you did was Britten. Do you have an interest for contemporary opera? Would you consider roles in contemporary opera?

    MC – I was scheduled to perform in an opera for La Scala, from Azio Corghi, Il Dissoluto Assolto; it’s an opera about Don Giovanni; it’s a new version of it. But we did not realize the opera because we had problems, as usual in Italy; the orchestra went on strike.

    Contemporary opera is very interesting if you have a good conductor, the right conductor for this kind of opera who knows this style, and if you have the composer there to give advice and to make adjustments so that we build the opera together. But I don’t like very much these operas with no lines, jumping from one note to another note. I’m not that kind of opera singer. My voice was not born for this.

    I have sponsored by myself new composers for new operas. Right now I’m sponsoring a new opera called Halloween. It’s a new creation from a nice, good young Italian composer, and now I’m trying to sell this opera to an opera house, to produce it. It’s a very good opera, easy to listen to. Aurelio Scotto is the composer; he is thirty or thirty-five years old. I like to give opportunities for people to compose new operas and I like to listen to them when I find them. Next year they are going to do this CO2 at La Scala; I think I’ll be there to listen to this new creation.

    When I was in Zurich, every year they did a new creation. This is a good way to produce new operas because governments give grants to these new projects. I’m very open-minded to this, but when we attend a new opera we need to study a little bit before, to be ready, otherwise it is very difficult. I remember in Zurich, when I listened to not a new opera but a very difficult one, Moses und Aron. It’s a difficult one, maybe better for a matinee, when you’ll be ready for this kind of thing, rather than after dinner, for my taste. But I’m open-minded. I could sing one, but not too extreme, maybe with a good conductor. I think Chailly is good for these new operas. Lorin Maazel wrote a new opera, right?

    OL – Yes, he wrote the opera 1984.

    MC – Yes.

    OL – We are getting to the end; the last few questions are about you as a person. What kind of personality or take on life to you have?

    MC – Well, I’m a very easy person. I like to read books, and I watch films a lot, but not in cinemas; they are too full of people and like I said I need to worry about not catching a cold. I go to the cinema in the afternoon, especially in Italy, when nobody is there. I like to do Lego. [He shows me one] I just bought this one, it’s a Batmobile. I have very big Lego buildings. I like to spend time with friends at home and I love to cook.

    My life is very simple and easy. I give a lot of time to my job, studying new operas. When I study an opera I just don’t study the vocal score but also the orchestral score, because I want to understand what happens, musically, and the harmonics there. I like to take walks and go to museums, I love the arts a lot. Today with my parents we are going to the Metropolitan Museum. When I have the possibility, I like to buy old paintings. What else?

    OL – You are a coin collector, right?


    MC – Yes! [enthusiastically] I collect almost any type of coins but I like a lot European and American coins. I have completed my Lira collection, the old Italian currency. I have a collection of Euro coins; people assume they are cheap but there are some very expensive Euro coins when they produce very few of them. I have many coins from the 19th, 18th, 17th, and even 16th centuries, in silver and gold. The feeling I like is that these coins were used by people who lived three hundred years ago, and they are still there for us.

    OL – Do you go to meetings and conventions of coin collectors?

    MC – Yes, when I’m Italy, I do. The main specialized shops in Italy know me. Bolaffi for example is the most important coin collection store in Italy and he knows me. When he has something very special in Euros or American or Canadian dollars, he calls me personally to propose them to me. I really love to buy mistake coins, when the Mint made a mistake; for example, I have quarter dollars with different faces on the back, not Washington’s face, but another face because they made a mistake. They are very rare. I love it.

    OL – What about your cooking? Are you a really sophisticated cook? What do you like to make?

    MC – Risotto and pasta. When I’m in Italy where I have my good stuff for cooks, I can make everything, like handmade lasagna, tortelli, cannoli, whatever. I love risotto with mushrooms and pumpkin.

    OL – Mm, funghi porcini…

    MC – Right, funghi porcini, I love them. I don’t like to use too many spices. My taste is not spicy at all, and not too much garlic. I use onions, but the mild kind. I try to cook with organics, no MGM, gluten free, and I try to use ingredients that are kilometer zero, that is, they come from the same place where I am, because I know what they are. It’s a bit more expensive but it is good for the body, without any preservatives and hormones, and chemicals that our bodies are not able to digest, so they get to be stored in your belly. When you see on labels things like E75, E200, they are all chemicals.

    OL – Do you like wine?


    MC – Yes, but I’m not a big drinker. I think that my grandparents drunk all the wine I needed for myself. [laughs] They were very good drinkers. I know good wines, and when I have to choose I know what goes well with a dish. I prefer Italian wines but also when I’m here in the states I like good Californian wines, and I like to experiment the Australian and South African wines, but I love the Italian wines: Brunello, Morellino di Scansano, Amarone, I know many. I think 13% alcohol is perfect; not too strong.

    OL – My family used to have vineyards that were part of the Amarone della Valpolicella appellation, from the Veneto.

    MC – Yes, this one is very good with risotto.

    OL – The Super Tuscans, Ornellaia, Sassicaia, are also very good.


    MC – These are great too, you’re right. And I also love the Primitivo from Sicily.

    OL – Yes, the Primitivo is so good, isn’t it? Is there good wine in Lucca?


    MC – There are good ones, but not major names; it’s more like the small local winemakers that sell their wine by the liter or gallon. The town has nice hills around it. There is a place in Lucca called Montecarlo, and in that hill there are very good white wines.

    OL – Tell me a bit about your family. Do you have children?


    MC – No children and no wives. [laughs] I have my parents with me, even now. They follow me everywhere. We are a good team. They know exactly what I need when I am under stress, and they know how to support me in my decisions and my steps. We have a good time together. Everybody in the theaters know them. They can come to the Met even without a pass card and they have no problem coming in, even at La Scala.

    OL – What do they do? They are not musicians, are they?

    MC – No, they are not musicians. They are retired, now. My father used to build greenhouses and my mother used to work for the textile industry. They had never listened to an opera before I became an opera singer, but now they are very good opera listeners. They understand everything. They catch the mistakes when I am on stage. They are not musicians, they are not technical, but they understand the meanings of the opera.

    My father can smell the perfume of the stage. They’ve seen many productions and rehearsals. If the audience could come to the rehearsals, the real ones, not the final dress rehearsals but the ones where we are trying to build up everything, they’d understand the opera better, because that’s when we are learning about the true meanings of the opera.

    OL – These were all the questions I had. Thank you; this was a great interview.


    MC – Oh, I don’t know if mine is as good as others I saw in your site, like Piotr’s.

    OL – That one was good, but no, yours is very good too; you have interesting things to say.

    MC – Thank you. I read your site and I think you’ve been doing a great job, I’m very proud of being in your company now.

    OL – Aw, this is very kind, thank you.

    ------------

    Let's listen to the singer, here with Fabio Sartori in Don Carlo at Opernhaus Zürich, under Zubin Mehta:



    ------------

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