• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Zeljko Lucic

    [First of all, we have not included the diacritic marks in the title of this article because they cause problems with the URL links in our software; the correct spelling of the artist's name is Željko Lučić]

    Opera Lively met the excellent baritone Željko Lučić in his dressing room backstage at the Metropolitan Opera House on January 23, 2018 for a pleasant chat about Tosca, which we later continued by email, resulting in this interesting dialogue-like interview you are about to read. The singer had just delivered another fabulous performance of the role of Scarpia, in the gorgeous Sir David McVicar new production that we attended in person and reviewed recently (read our review by clicking [here]), which was, four days later, shown worldwide on Met Live in HD, to universal acclaim.

    Artistic Biography

    - Željko Lučić
    Born in - Zrenjanin, Serbia
    Born on - February 24, 1968
    Fach - he's what we'd call a Verdi Baritone, with 23 leading Verdi roles under his belt
    Recently in - Simon Boccanegra (title role), Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, Nov/Dec 2017
    Currently in - Tosca (Scarpia), Metropolitan Opera, New York, January 2018
    Next in - Cavalleria Rusticana (Alfio), Metropolitan Opera, New York (late January, early February 2018), then simultaneously back-and-forth in the title roles of Rigoletto, Oper Frankfurt, and Macbeth, Wiener Staatsoper in February and early March 2018; then from late March through mid-April, Macbeth again at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden; in May, Nabucco (title role) at Deutsche Oper Berlin, and from mid-June to mid-July, Il Trovatore (Il Conte di Luna) at Opéra National de Paris-Bastille.

    Early Training

    Lučić was a member of conductor Slobodan Bursać's Josif Marinković Mixed Choir in his native city while he was a teenager. From there he went to Belgrade to study soloist singing with Dorotea Spasić. After some years, he became a student of the famous mezzo-soprano Biserka Cvejić at the Music Academy in Novi Sad in 1991.

    Professional Debut and In-the-job Training

    In 1993 Lučić became a member of the Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad, where he sang his first professional role as Silvio in Pagliacci in April 1993. He stayed with the ensemble for five more years, appearing in leading roles in numerous operas (Lucia, Traviata, The Maid of Orléans, Faust, Eugene Onegin, and others). He was also, from 1995 through 1998, a member of the Belgrade National Opera Company.

    In 1998 he joined the ensemble of Oper Frankfurt, where he stayed for ten full years, singing a broad repertory of leading Verdi, Donizetti, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Cilea, and Rimsky-Korsakov roles, among others.

    Subsequent International Career

    Simultaneously with his stint at Oper Frankfurt Lučić already started appearing as a guest singer in prestigious venues, such as De Nederlandse Opera in 2002, the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2003, and the Teatro Comunale in Florence also in 2003.

    His Metropolitan Opera roles started in 2006 as Barnaba in La Gioconda, and never stopped to this day, with a long string of appearances in Il Tabarro, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Otello, Tosca, La Traviata, Pagliacci, and Cavalleria Rusticana.

    He's been numerous times to the Wiener Staatsoper in La Traviata, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlo, La forza del destino, Nabucco, and Tosca.

    Currently Željko Lučić has completed the tour of the most prestigious houses in the world, and is a regular, in addition to the above mentioned, at La Scala, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Bayerische Staatsoper, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opéra National de Paris, Zurich Oper, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Salzburg Festival, San Francisco Opera, and others.


    In 1995 he won first prize at the International Music Competition in Bečej. Željko Lučić is a recipient of the 1997 first prize at the International Competition Francisco Viñas in Barcelona.

    The operatic press routinely refers to him as one of today's preeminent Verdi baritones who sings with power and elegance, accurate technique, and a large palette of nuances and colors. He is also praised for his stage presence and handsome acting.


    We can see the singer's artistry in several DVDs/Blu-ray discs, for example, in two Macbeths from the Metropolitan Opera House; an earlier one with Maria Guleghina, and a newer one with Anna Netrebko.

    His Rigoletto in Dresden with Juan Diego Flórez and Diana Damrau is also on video, as well as the one from the Met with Piotr Beczala and again Diana Damrau.

    His Traviata in Aix-en-Provence with Mireille Delunsch and Matthew Polenzani is on DVD, and the Royal Opera House with OpusArte released on blu-ray disc his Andrea Chénier with Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek. The singer is also seen and heard in Otello with Sonya Yoncheva on a Met DVD.

    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Željko Lučić

    This is Opera Lively's interview # 248. All rights reserved. Reproduction in full is not authorized without our agreement (scroll down and click on Contact Us). Brief excerpts are allowed as long as the source is quoted and a link to this article is provided. The singer's headshots were recovered from the press package provided by his website but there was no mention of photographer credit; we'll be happy to include it if we learn of the proper credit; meanwhile it is fair promotional use. The Metropolitan Opera production pictures were gently authorized by the Met Press Department. Questions by Opera Lively chief editor Luiz Gazzola.


    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Let’s talk about Scarpia. To fully understand the character, we need to look for clues in the acting, in the orchestra, in the way Puccini uses his voice more in recitatives and parlando-like than in veritable arias. This is an ideal role for an actor-singer, even more than for a singer-actor. Puccini himself said that, beyond having a solid center, the best choice to perform Scarpia was 'a good actor'. What are your comments on this?

    Željko Lučić - Puccini was right! Besides solid center, being a good actor is extremely important, in order to perform Scarpia in a proper way. I personally wouldn’t say the best choice is to just get a good actor, but it’s almost like that. But first of all, the singer has to have an excellent voice control.

    OL - Puccini picked for the world premiere Eugenio Giraldoni, a more robust baritone, almost a bass-baritone. What about your voice type? Is this role comfortable for you, or does it present vocal challenges?

    ZL - There are no vocal challenges for me, singing Scarpia, but to say that it is easy, would be a bad joke! Puccini‘s choice for the world premiere was exactly what he needed and how he imagined that Scarpia should sound like. It is written for a robust baritone; bass-baritone if you like, but one with technically solid high notes.

    OL - Please tell us about how you read the psychology of your character. Is he entirely evil, or does he have somewhere inside him, a true soft spot for Tosca? Or maybe because he lives in a corrupt society and is in a position of power, he simply is a man of opportunity and takes the political and sexual opportunities available to him?

    ZL – I’d simply say that he is evil to the bone!!!!

    Željko Lučić and Sonya Yoncheva in Tosca at the Met - Photo Credit Metropolitan Opera / Ken Howard

    OL - He says in the second act that it is not so much having won a woman or having won a race; it’s running the race; it’s really going after the untouchable. The race is more important than the victory for him. He really enjoys the process. He really enjoys the interrogation of Cavaradossi. He enjoys tightening the screws both figuratively and literally around his head. He enjoys the seduction of Tosca and the eventual rape that he is planning.

    ZL – Yes, He is majestically painted in all sadomasochistic colors! The process of torturing, the seduction and the unlimited expression of his sexual desires are things that are deeply seeded in his character and his mind! He is a latent maniac with nice manners!!

    OL - Puccini writes in the score extremely wonderful legato lines over a lot of the stuff that he has to say of Tosca in the church – “Tosca divina,” etcetera. He is very seductive; very sexy, very Don Juanesque in a way. There is something very creepy about him but also very appealing. Do you see Tosca as feeling attracted to him, underneath her disgust? This might depend on the staging, too.

    ZL – In my opinion Tosca is not feeling attracted to him at all! She agrees to play the game only to save her true love. The legato lines in Scarpia‘s music are showing to us that he is a very patient man, which means that he is very clever at the same time.

    OL – That sensuality, you need to use mezzavoce and sfumato to make it suave, right? When Scarpia comes up to her and says that one line indicating that she is going to give in to his desires in order to save Cavaradossi, he says “E bene!” – you know, that one word, every woman in the audience feels that he is whispering it right in her own ear. He whispers out of the earshot of Spoletto – “E bene!” – it just gives you chills! And he says “Mia, mia!”

    ZL - To get the full picture of the real sociopath, the changes in his behavior are inevitable! That’s why the whispering, singing mezzavoce and sfumato are taking place in his personality description.

    OL - Are there great Scarpias that you look up to? What do you think of the ones from the more remote past like Antonio Scotti, Apollo Granforte, Titto Gobbi, Eugenio Giraldone who was a great actor…Giuseppe Taddei who was more a singer than an actor?

    ZL - Yes, talking about great Scarpias in the past, we can’t go on without mentioning all these excellent singers. I’d add another one — Ettore Bastianini. He and Giuseppe Taddei maybe weren’t the best actors among singers, but they could bring us the Scarpia character just by listening to them.

    OL - What about the more recent ones; Sherril Milnes, Leo Nucci, Ruggero Raimondi, Bryn Terfel…?

    ZL - Respect! These people are legendary and I always talk about them with admiration.

    OL - His entrance in the Church, "Un tal baccano in Chiesa", is the first clue we have of Scarpia. He should transmit, at the high end of his tessitura, his capacity for violence, his power. And just after that, in his invocation of Tosca, "Tosca Divina", his sensuality, his sexual appetite. When you sing such an iconic character with numerous illustrious predecessors who sang the role, how do you make it unique, your own personal way?

    ZL - I’m just trying not to imitate anybody. We are all bringing something new to this character and have something of “ours” that we put in. My first entrance is just to show to everyone that I’m the first one below God!!

    Željko Lučić as Scarpia in Tosca at the Met - Photo Credit Metropolitan Opera / Ken Howard

    OL – Hehe, funny! The Second Act is the great moment for all Scarpias. There is the temptation of using mere declamation. I prefer when it’s more musically phrased. How do you do it?

    ZL - There are two moments where I’m using “parlato” to express my anger, but even those should be sang as written. But the atmosphere is just forcing you to yell!! I try to bring it down a bit, to show more elegance. Scarpia is a killer with white gloves!

    OL - One recurring criticism of Tosca is the fact that Act Three is musically anti-climactic when compared to One and Two. Indeed, the central conflict of this opera is the one between Tosca and Scarpia, and there is some sense of it all being deflated when the latter dies. One can arguably say that the morbid and ritualistic duel between the heroine and the antihero with Scarpia's long and minatory phrases opposed to Tosca's rapid, apprehensive interjections in Act Two are indeed what makes this opera musically special in its ability to illustrate their conflict in musical terms.

    ZL – Yes, I agree. The second act is, according to my opinion, the highlight of the whole opera!

    A scene from Act Two, with Željko Lučić and Sonya Yoncheva in Tosca at the Met - Photo Credit Metropolitan Opera / Ken Howard

    OL - Benjamin Britten deemed the opera "sickening" in its alleged "cheapness and emptiness" - others have called it a "shabby little shocker" after the world premiere. I couldn't disagree more. There's nothing empty about Tosca. It contains powerful music that perfectly sets the emotional tone of the piece - and its melodious blockbusters have been forever enshrined in the memory of generations of opera lovers. Tosca might be called "cheap" if it were only made of melodious tunes, but it definitely is not, and contains dissonant contrasts, carefully executed local colors, impressive drama that is very well crafted for theatricality, not to forget that said melodious tunes are indeed gorgeous.

    ZL - All this criticism came from pure envy! Plenty of self-aggrandized egos were hurt after the premiere of Tosca. I couldn’t agree more with you on this one — this is a masterpiece!! By the way, the strongest entrance music for baritone has been here composed!!

    OL – What do you think are the assets of this new production by Sir David McVicar at the Met?

    ZL - This production is bringing opera back to the place where it was and where it should be — the golden age of opera, back in the´50s and ´60s of the last century. Grand Opera is back!!

    OL – Now let’s put Tosca aside and talk about you for one last question. How are you, as a person? What’s your personality like, and your take on life?

    ZL - I’m a very normal and humble person. Nothing special can characterize my personality. I’m a family man with a normal way of living, trying to avoid publicity whenever is possible.

    OL – Thank you for this nice conversation about Tosca! It will enhance our coverage of the show.

    ZL - Thank you and 'till next time!!


    Let's listen to this superb singer, in this extraordinary duet with Anna Netrebko in the recent Met's Macbeth ​available on DVD and blu-ray disc:


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