• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Maestro Marco Armiliato

    Opera Lively met in person the convivial and personable conductor on March 22, 2013, in his room at the Met right before he conducted Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini. [Opera Lively interview # 96] Maestro Armiliato came across as a really nice and passionate man who loves his music, his singers and instrumentalists, and the culture of his country. His thoughts are very entertaining and talking to him was extremely pleasant. It is easy to understand why Maestro Armiliato is unanimously beloved by his musicians and singers, since he is such a pleasure to be around, with his contagious smile and friendly demeanor.

    Brief Artistic Biography

    Marco Armiliato, considered one of today’s most respected opera conductors, is a frequent guest in the world’s most prestigious opera houses. His 2012-2013 season has included performances of Rigoletto and Francesca da Rimini at The Metropolitan Opera as well as appearances in La Traviata and Andrea Chenier at the Vienna State Opera; Le Nozze di Figaro and Rigoletto at the Bayerische Staatsoper; Tosca at Zurich Opera; La Traviata at Monte Carlo Opera; La Fille du Régiment at L'Opéra National de Paris and La Rondine at London’s Royal Opera House.

    Making his home in Genoa, Italy, Maestro Armiliato performs extensively in North America, particularly with The Metropolitan Opera where he has conducted Anna Bolena, Il Trovatore, La Bohème, Stiffelio, Madama Butterfly, Sly, Aida, Ernani, Turandot, Rigoletto, Cyrano de Bergerac, La Fille du Régiment, La Rondine and Lucia di Lammermoor. At the San Francisco Opera he conducted La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, La Traviata, Tosca, Aida, La Favorita, Il Trovatore and Cavalleria Rusticana.

    Next season Maestro Armiliato will make his long awaited debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as well as his returns to The Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Opernhaus Zürich, Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich.

    Marco Armiliato has an extensive discography. His most recent media projects have featured Renée Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu, Anna Netrebko, Placido Domingo, Jonas Kaufmann and Rolando Villazón, among others. Recent opera DVD releases include The Metropolitan Opera’s productions of La Fille du Régiment with Natalie Dessay, La Rondine with Angela Gheorghiu and Lucia di Lammermoor with Anna Netrebko.

    Visit the conductor's page at IMG Artists: http://imgartists.com/artist/marco_armiliato


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Marco Armiliato

    © 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 and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization. All photos were used with permission of the artist, and fully credited.

    Credits - Questions by Opera Lively journalist Luiz Gazzola with input from Opera Lively general members and staff members. Photo Credits - Johannes Ifkovits.


    Opera Lively - I was told by a conductor friend of mine: “Some critics accuse maestro Armiliato of being unimaginative…

    Marco Armiliato – Yes, maybe, why not? [laughs] I’m human!

    OL - … but in my view, it’s because they don’t really understand what bel canto opera is about. Marco Armiliato does.”

    MA – Yes!

    OL - My friend said that there is a specific rubato for bel canto, and profound differences between conducting, say, Italianate and French operas. Would you please elaborate on this, and tell us what makes of you such a good bel canto conductor?

    MA – A bel canto conductor, you know, it’s a crazy definition, because what is a bel canto conductor? Is it one who follows well the crazy things that the soprano and the tenor do in bel canto music, and he is happy with that, and just keeps the orchestra quiet? Or is a bel canto conductor someone who supports the singers and give them space to breathe, and to work on the musical line while they simply sing? Bel canto is definitely not difficult music to play that would require difficult techniques. The way to play Bellini, Donizetti, etc., is to have the vision of beautiful legato, of phrasing, and to allow the singers to be comfortable, to be able to breathe and do all that they need to do. One needs to express each note in the orchestra while making musical sense of the totality of the piece.

    OL - Also, I’ve heard from different singers that you are the best partner a singer can have when singing bel canto…

    MA – That’s good!

    OL - …and that you are a really “singers’ conductor.” People seem to love to work with you. I’m sure you won’t want to toot your own horn, but it seems to be a consensus.

    MA – It’s like a collaboration.

    OL - This conductor friend of mine was saying that you are very able to adapt to the lead singers, and that this is one of your strengths. I mean, when you are conducting Italian Romantic opera, especially bel canto, but also Verdi, verismo and, to a lesser extent, Puccini, most of the opera is there, in the voices. The singers should be the real stars of the performance, if you are shooting for a really great show (and have available great singers, of course). The conductor, in this case, needs to put everything into supporting the singers, adapting the orchestra to them, not the other way around. So, we’d like for you to explain to us what exactly a “singers’ conductor” is, and what makes you so special for the singers.

    MA – Yes, absolutely. The goal of the conductor in bel canto is one of not bothering the singers. The voice is what is important in this style, and the orchestra needs to be the pillow that provides support. A “singer’s conductor” is someone who really loves singing, loves the voice, and understands what the voices need to perform their best. For me, if you want to conduct opera, you need to love voices. If you don’t love the voices, it won’t work, because you’ll probably want your orchestra to play too loudly, and to make your own show, when definitely opera is a collaboration between the orchestra and the singers. The orchestra is at the service of the voices. Opera singers are people who can understand the moment and pick up on the fact that they are supposed to be number one.

    OL - I am impressed by your prodigious memory, and the fact that you conduct most operas without a score. Before I ask you how you do it, let me be the Devil’s advocate a bit. Again, that same conductor friend of mine who always makes sure he has a score in front of him even for operas he knows by heart like Norma, was telling me the advantages of having the score there. He said “You need to take care of so many things: the right tempi, the way the string section is always entering a little bit too slow in that section, remember to subdue the horns here, give some breathing space to the singer there... When the score is available, most of the time you don't even look at it, just move it mechanically forward when you reach the end of the page, but it *is* there.

    MA – Yes, your friend is right, the score is there for security, maybe. You probably don’t need it. You skip twenty pages at a time.

    OL – Yes, you don't need to worry you will just forget something, because you can always look at the score. You are free to take care of those other things that are really your job. You can also be more responsive to anything happening in the pit, or on stage, because you don't need to worry about remembering the score.” So, given this opposite viewpoint, what would you say about the advantages of conducting without a score?

    MA – OK, the fact of conducting by memory or by heart provides such freedom, if you really trust yourself and your memory! When I started to play piano as a kid, my teacher wanted me to learn in a few days some huge amount of music, at the time. This was a very good work-out for my memory, for my brain, to just memorize those pieces right away and keep the music inside me, and have the vision of the page in front of me. I can’t tell you what kind of memory this is, if it’s here [points to his ear] or here [points to eyes]. I don’t know. But in my personal experience I feel more comfortable not having the score, because I like to look in the eyes of the people who are playing and singing. If I have the score there I’m going to turn the pages, I’m going to get distracted and lose the connection that I really want to establish with everybody. It’s just what is most comfortable for me, but it’s not important, each conductor must do what feels most comfortable.

    OL - Let’s talk about the score for Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini. It is complex. Zandonai was quite ambitious in it, and seems to have crammed into it different styles. He apparently wanted to carry forward what Puccini set up to accomplish, and wanted somehow to marry Romantic melodies with modernist harmonies. Please tell us about the gems you find in this score.

    MA – It’s complex, very. Ambitious, true. It’s romantic and modernist music at the same time, exactly. When they asked me to do Francesca da Rimini, I had in mind the glorious production from the Metropolitan in the early 1980’s with Plácido Domingo, Renata Scotto, and the fantastic James Levine conducting. It was recorded on CD and DVD and was one of the masterpieces of the Metropolitan Opera. That recording traveled around the world and everybody was listening to it. Of course I was one of those, and I watched that video a billion times. So I knew the piece very well. The problem is, of course, that we are going to be compared to them, in this production. Since I started to study this piece, I decided that it was impossible to emulate them because they did a fantastic job with this opera. So I had to make of it some other version. It’s the same production but with different singers thirty years later. Everything has changed, here. Almost all the members of the orchestra have changed, and all the choristers. Just a few members played in that production thirty years ago. Only the set remains the same. So, it’s a new piece for them, it’s fresh.

    My goal was to bring as much as I could from the score, because it is so full of things! Zandonai’s writing is very interesting because it is a mix of different styles. In one night, you can listen to it from the standpoint of the German school, and another night, you can pay attention to what comes from the French school, from the Russian school, and from the Italian school including verismo and romantic. Of course, for a conductor, this is beautiful because you have a palette of colors to show, and lots of feelings to express during the opera.

    This is all helped by the beautiful text of the libretto. These words in Italian are difficult even for me. I’m Italian, but the d’Annunzio play revised into a libretto by Ricordi is very complex. It’s in old Italian. I admire people like Eva-Maria [Westbroek]; she is Dutch and she learned the sense of the words and the sense of the phrases so well! I was really amazed, I said, “wow, I’m really surprised!”

    OL – Yes, I’m scheduled to interview her tomorrow.

    MA – She is very intelligent and such a wonderful person. I love her. Everybody falls in love with her, because she is not only a very good singer, but she is also a fantastic human being; so professional, and really nice!

    OL - Please tell us about what advice you gave to your singers for this opera. What did you tell Eva-Maria and Marcello Giordani?

    MA – Well, Eva-Maria did this role before. She knew the role already when we started the rehearsals here. She sang it in Monte Carlo last year. Actually I was just in Monte Carlo last month, and everybody was talking about her, how great she was. However, the Monte Carlo version had lots of cuts, so Eva-Maria had to learn a lot of new music. The time we had for rehearsals wasn’t too long. We had to get ready to go on stage, but she did a fantastic job; she took it so seriously; she stayed here after the rehearsals with the pianist, to study and practice her new music, and she learned it so quickly and so well! I was very impressed with her diction, and the way she absorbed the psychological traits of her character. Marcello as well, he did the role before. I mean, I know Marcello since I was a kid. I played piano for him in concerts in Italy, and had a long experience with him in so many roles, conducting him. So, it’s not like these two needed a lot of advice.

    OL - What are some of the pitfalls in singing this opera?

    MA – This opera is not easy for the singers, especially in the beginning when it is rich in rather weird music. The singers need to understand the various different styles that are required. If you don’t understand this, it is hard to put the vocal score together; it’s quite tricky.

    OL - Let’s go back to your activity as a conductor. How do you prepare for a new opera? Do you listen to reference recordings?

    MA – Yes, mostly, but sometimes there aren’t a lot of reference recordings available.

    OL - How long does it typically take to study a new score? How do you find your own interpretation of it?

    MA – Whenever I have a new score to study, it’s like opening a new book full of things that I don’t know. I’m very curious about what is going to happen. Usually I start by reading the libretto, without the music. I want to get familiar with what is being talked about, with the story, and with how that story that I’ve just learned can be put into music. Once I know well the libretto then I play the score by myself in the piano. Next, if there are good reference recordings, I listen to them. Actually I listen to any recording that is available, just for information, to know what Toscanini did here, what Kleiber did there. I have great respect for my predecessors, of course. If I have something to learn from them, I’m very happy to do so. I must listen to them all. When I get a contract to perform something even if it is six or seven years down the road, I start to study the piece right away. Then, maybe I forget about it for a year, then I start again. It’s a long process, to assimilate entirely the score so that when rehearsal time arrives, I’m able to explain to the musicians and singers what my point of view is, on that score.

    OL – So, are you always constantly studying, several hours a day?

    MA – I wish, but I’m very busy. Sometimes the only time I have to study a score is when I take it to an airport lounge and I read it in flight. Sometimes I’m waiting for a flight for four hours in an airport lounge, and I’m reading a score. I don’t need a keyboard because I have perfect pitch. [laughs] That’s good, because while reading the score, I know exactly what the music will sound like.

    OL - You are also said to be very solid and strong on the planning stage with the orchestra. Please tell us about that process. We’d like to understand better the ins and outs of being a conductor, and what you need to go through to make sure the performance comes up right.

    MA – Oh la la, that’s a complex question. Because conducting an orchestra is something psychological, something that you have to catch in the moment. Sometimes we need to arrange the music for the musicians. A good musician needs to feel the music in order to give the music to the public. Sometimes when you don’t get from the orchestra what is in your mind -- what you think the sounds should be -- then you have to change what they are doing, then and there in the moment. Maybe you need to make the musicians a little more reactive, you need to shock them a bit and awaken them. Sometimes you feel that you are losing control of some section of the orchestra and you, the conductor, need to wake up.

    OL - A lot of your conducting activity has been as a guest conductor with some of the most prestigious orchestras in the world. You don’t seem to prefer to settle down with a single orchestra. What are some of the challenges in conducting many different orchestras throughout the season?

    MA – It is true. It has never happened to me, to have a static place. I’ve had so many requests in the past to take on a permanent position with an orchestra, but I always said to them that I prefer to travel the world. I’ve said that I’d only consider settling down when I got to the age of fifty. But now I’m getting close to that age so I’m starting to think about it. Maybe I’ll need to slow down and settle down in a place and travel a little bit less. But all this travel sometimes is my choice, but sometimes it has more to do with the demands I get. You can’t always decide things in your life; sometimes they just happen to you and you follow. It’s kind of a mix between the requests you get, and the things you want to do. For now, I’m happy, but maybe the time will come when I’ll work with just one orchestra, and then I’ll do it.

    OL - You once said that conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra is like driving a Ferrari. What is special about this orchestra?

    MA – It is true. Oh, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra! I said Ferrari, but actually, then I started to think about it, and I believe it is best compared to a Boeing 747. This engine sound that it makes is more comparable to the power of a Boeing engine than to a Ferrari. [laughs] It has this “whoooooooo” – every time I do my first downbeat here, I always gasp and think, “wow”! This orchestra has a great sense of sound. Only this orchestra has it. I know this orchestra so well, and I consider it my favorite orchestra. The relationship with them is 100%. I know them, and they know me. I admire them a lot, especially when they get into these tours de force like two weeks ago when they played Parsifal Friday night, and Francesca at noon on Saturday and another opera in the evening – they are always under this kind of pressure and they keep performing at the top level. This orchestra always plays well. They always remember the right style and they change styles so easily – they play German style, French, Italian, Czech, they are amazing, what can I say? I can just say “wow”, they are the best opera orchestra in the world.

    OL - Have you ever had any profound differences of opinion with a stage director? What is your opinion of the movement known as Regietheater?

    MA – Yes, of course I’ve had these differences of opinion. Things have changed a lot since I started to do this job. When I started, most productions were classic; only in Germany they were doing something modern and weird and tentative, but now it looks like we’re in Germany, everywhere. The directors took over the operatic art. They command these new productions, and sometimes they are good, but sometimes they are very bad [emphatically]. Some of the directors are geniuses. I can mention a few, like David McVicar who is always great; Laurent Pelly who is always fantastic. These are the kind of people who use modern techniques and modern mentality but respect the score and the music and make beautiful moments on stage. But I’m disappointed when I’m conducting and I look at the stage and see things that don’t match the music, and unfortunately, these days, this happens many times.

    OL – Do you try to influence the director, in this kind of situation?

    MA – If it is a new production and you have your own say and you can fight with the director, yes. But when you’re doing a revival, it’s a fait accompli, you just have to go and conduct the score, and hope for the best.

    OL – Has it ever happened that you declined to accept a job because you didn’t agree with the staging?

    MA – Sort of, yes. I has happened. I won’t tell you exactly what directors I’m talking about, unless you turn off your tape recorder [laughs hard].

    OL – I can do that! [laughs]

    MA – Oh no, even so, I think I wouldn’t say… [laughs] It’s not a big deal. But yes, I have plain declined to go conduct in a specific production; it was actually a very important one for my career at that point, but in that case, I preferred to say “no, thanks.”

    OL - We would like to hear your opinion on playing opera with period instruments versus modern instruments, and on the modern versus ancient tuning of the A key for opera and its impact on singers (A440 versus other pitches that were practiced in the past).

    MA – Yes, about that, there is a fantastic video with Piero Cappuccilli, the masterful Italian baritone in the last century. There is a video of one of his master classes he did in the 1970’s, with two pianos. One is tuned to 440, and the other one to 444. He was singing parts from Andrea Chénier and I Pagliacci, and then he got to an aria from Ernani, and said “the baritone range here, for this piece that Verdi wrote, it can be sung perfectly with this piano; it matches my voice and my legato, and I can do a perfect passagio, but if you put the same aria in this other piano, then you have to change your technique to solve the passagio, and it is not anymore what the composer wrote – just a little tiny difference completely damages your technique.” And this happens also when you go to different orchestras – in Vienna it’s a bit higher, you go to New York and it is a little lower, you go to Munich and it is in the middle, and for the voice, of course, it is difficult.

    With the modern instruments, especially after a while when the instrument gets a bit warmer, the pitch goes up. It’s very difficult to keep the same note forever throughout a long opera. It’s a big problem. The period instruments allow for a bit more control in this regard. But we have to be relaxed, and think about the pitch that was adopted by the composer. We shouldn’t have one standard to fit all, but should rather try to be faithful to what the composer wrote.

    OL - Please tell us about contemporary opera composers. Who do you see as possessing great talent?

    MA – Heh!... [In what we interpreted as a sort of dismissive tone].

    OL - We just lost one who was great, in my opinion, Mr. Henze, who died recently.

    MA – Yes, you are right about this one, he was good.

    OL - Do you look at contemporary opera with interest, and do you follow the careers of some favorite contemporary composers?

    MA – Yes, of course. I have several composer friends, people for whom I have interest and I follow them. But it is very difficult today, to be a composer, as compared to the time of the great masters of the past. We already have a huge amount of music to play, so it is hard to be fresh. Like in this case of Francesca da Rimini, we haven’t played it for 30 years so getting to it again feels new, and it’s tough competition for those who want to truly write new music. When you have a new piece by a contemporary composer, everybody has this question – how will this sound like? It’s interesting, because it could be a very great piece… or not! It’s the incognito part. When can you be sure that you are in front of true talent? Time talks. It’s only when a piece survives long enough that you can be sure of its value. Of course, you can gauge the ability of a composer to write for the orchestra and for the voice, but true talent depends on a complex combination of things; so, only time will tell.

    OL – What do you think of Sciarrino, in terms of his ability to carry on, composing new Italian opera?

    MA – Oh, Salvatore Sciarrino, of course, he is very good! He is very interesting, a wonderful composer! He is one that I’m sure will be famous in the future. There are a handful of those. You know, even at the time of the great composers, some of those premieres were disasters, like Traviata, and Butterfly, and Carmen, and then with time these pieces got recognized as some of the most beautiful operas ever, and today if someone says he doesn’t like Traviata or Butterfly, people will say, “What??? It’s a masterpiece” but the opening night was a disaster.

    OL - You once, in February 2012, conducted six performances in six days. How did you manage it?

    MA – [Laughs] Yes, I remember that, it was here, at the Met. You know, it was actually fine, fine.

    OL – It wasn’t exhausting?

    MA – No, no. Music gives you energy. When you are on track, if you take it easy, one by one, day by day, you are fine. You live in the moment, that’s my point of view: just be relaxed, and just enjoy the music, enjoy the moment. In this way, you are calm and you can even do thirty operas a month… If you are in shape. The health is very important. If you are healthy, you can do it.

    OL - Please tell us about your encounter with classical music at some point in your life. I imagine that as a young boy in Italy, everybody was crazy about soccer.

    MA – Exactly, just like I am.

    OL – Luca Pisaroni told us that his schoolmates considered him to be weird because he liked opera over soccer. Any interesting stories to tell us about your beginnings?

    MA – True, the same thing happened to me. [laughs] At first, I was too young to understand what was going on with music. Then my dad decided to rent a piano for himself, so he put me and my brothers in the car and drove to the piano store. On the car radio, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was playing. When we got to the store, I sat on one of the pianos and played the Moonlight Sonata from memory, from having heard it on the radio minutes before. I don’t know, I don’t have a recollection of that scene, but this is what my brothers told me. [laughs] So, that was quite shocking for everybody. There were no musicians in my family up to that point. When my father heard me play spontaneously like this, he immediately found somebody to teach me seriously, and sent me to study music.

    For me at that age, the piano was a toy and playing it was a game. But the lady who came to teach me was desperate because at the time I was more interested in playing soccer rather than playing the piano. [laughs] I was actually pretty good at soccer and almost became a professional soccer player, but I simultaneously kept playing the piano. At a certain point I realized that music to me was life, and soccer was just fun [laughs].

    OL – So, you started with the piano. How did you decide that you wanted to be a conductor?

    MA – I always wanted to be a conductor. I was considered to be a child prodigy because I could play the piano so easily, but in my head, in my body, I always wanted to be a conductor.

    OL – Why?

    MA – I don’t know… because I was always fascinated by the beauty of making music together. It was not for the power associated with being a conductor. When I attended a concert I was always looking all the time at the conductor, watching him.

    OL - What major influences shaped your training?

    MA – I had a stint as a boy singer as well. When I was a kid in Genoa, Alfredo Kraus came to sing Werther, and I looked up to him like he was God. I was singing a small part for a child singer in act I and act IV. So I was listening to him from the wings during the other parts of the opera, and it was a fantastic experience. I also remember the first time I saw Pavarotti when he came to sing in Genoa, in La Bohème. I remember the feeling I felt that day, as a child, listening to Luciano’s pure sound. I was sitting in the back of the opera house, and his voice was so well projected that I had the feeling that he was singing only for me – and I think everybody else was feeling the same. Luciano Pavarotti was the greatest; he was this kind of person who can go right into your heart and give you the right vibe to fall in love with this beautiful world of opera.

    OL – How old were you when you sang in Werther with Kraus?

    MA – I was about seven or eight.

    OL – And when you saw Pavarotti?

    MA – I was ten. I was lucky to have heard these people up close as a boy.

    OL - What opera you’ve conducted was the hardest one for you?

    MA – The one I do tonight! I explain, I don’t mean Francesca da Rimini, I mean any opera I’m performing a given night. [laughs] My first thought is, “Oh my God, am I able to do this?” But then I watch myself on the mirror and I say to myself: “Try it.” [laughs] And then, I add the passion, and it works! But I always feel that the hardest piece is the one I’m doing at the moment.

    OL - Please tell us about a couple of items in your discography that you are most fond of – if someone wanted to purchase Maestro Armiliato’s recordings and wanted advice from the man himself, what would you say?

    MA – Oh… it’s difficult to answer. They are so different… It depends on the listener’s tastes. Recordings are a little weird, there are two ways of doing them – in the studio, or live. Personally, I prefer live recordings, because it’s more spontaneous. It’s full of mistakes, but it doesn’t matter, it’s the reality, it’s what it is, and it is more natural. In the studio you can say “that clarinet wasn’t perfect, can you repeat it” and you can do it 21 times, and you can get the sound technician to work on things… But I prefer to make music, than to obsess about these things we do in studio recordings. But of course, the market asks for recordings, so, why not?

    OL – I have one of your blu-ray discs, that opera gala in Baden-Baden, when Anna Netrebko was singing “Meine Lippen” from Giuditta

    MA – Yes, yes, and then she started to dance…

    OL – And then, you started to look at her, not at the orchestra!

    MA – Yes! [laughs hard] Anna sometimes does things that you don’t expect! She starts doing some crazy things that we were absolutely not taught, and then we go, “Oh, OK! Why not?” [laughs hard]. I mean, how can one not look at a woman like Anna? [laughs]

    OL – I agree! [laughs]. What is your opinion on the current state of opera, and its future?

    MA – That’s the main question… I’m afraid, because the way to see the opera world is changing, especially in the young generation. Certainly we are going to lose some of the tradition, because there is always transition, it’s impossible to keep things as they are; this is what has happened to music since its start. So we have to have new developments. But I believe that one day we will go back to the old mentality. People will again want to see something more traditional. That’s my point of view – that regardless of evolution and change, we also have to preserve the old world of opera – the one I fell in love with. I don’t know if I would have fallen in love with opera the same way, if my first contact with it had happened in one of today’s bad modern productions. I fell in love with Pavarotti singing La Bohème. And now we have this big responsibility of bringing opera to the new generations. It is not easy, because they are too distracted, now, between social media, and the Internet, and sports, and TV, and all those small screens.

    I think one needs space and time, in life. When someone finds the time to sit in that space that is live opera, and takes the time of listening directly to it – not through the radio or broadcasts, but right there, with the orchestra live and the singers there with no microphones, with that combination of beautiful colors on the stage and beautiful sounds from the pit, and all the drama and the dancing and the story and the passion – death, fighting, love – if you allow this world of opera to get to you, you will find there the things that interest you and keep you alive. We must open the doors of this world to everybody, and get the young people to come for free to see the rehearsals. I believe that even today’s distracted youngsters can be touched by opera, if they are given the opportunity.

    OL - What pieces would you recommend for a young person’s first contact with the art form?

    MA – In generally, when people ask me “what opera is good to start with?” it is easy to say The Magic Flute or The Barber of Seville, because they are funny, have nice music, everybody recognizes the tunes from some commercials, but I don’t know, I fell in love with Werther! [laughs] I think Tosca is one of the operas that are good for beginners, because it is not too long, you don’t have time to get bored if you are going to the opera for the first time. Bohème, also. It depends on what kind of person you are. If you are a light person you may want easy music, but if you are a deep person you may prefer Eugene Onegin.

    OL - What can be done to reverse the apparent crisis in popularity and financial support for opera in Italy?

    MA – Heh, the problem is not only with opera, in Italy. The problem there is with arts in general. Right now we don’t have the government behind us any longer. How can people not invest in art, in Italy? I mean, Italy became famous because of art! What is Italy? Pizza, Mafia, soccer, and especially, the arts! [laughs hard]. No, seriously, in the world we are famous for the arts, for what we were able to create in this small peninsula, this small piece of land, and we got arguably the best artists in the history of humankind! Italian history is in our hands, now, and we are destroying it! We are destroying the best thing we had, and it’s a shame. I hope it will be fixed. Because we created opera, and we exported it around the world, and now if you think of La Scala, everybody dismisses it and says, “Oh, La Scala is going bad.” And to me, unfortunately, I have to say, it is true! It is true, because compared for instance to the Metropolitan, La Scala is not on the same level, now. Today, the leading houses are the Metropolitan, Vienna, Munich, Zurich, London… I mean, come on, we need to do something about this!

    OL - How was the experience of conducting for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions? Any promising new singers we should watch?

    MA – It was wonderful. I always love the opportunity to listen to new talent. In this competition, we work for one week with the finalists, and sometimes we discover people like Angela Meade. Now she has a great career. When she came to the competition, she said she would sing Norma, and everybody in the jury said “she is too young to sing Norma.” I said, “guys, listen, she is something!” The same thing happened in Monte Carlo, when I listened to this fantastic young soprano called Sonya Yoncheva. She sang La Traviata there.

    OL – Yes, and she is very pretty.

    MA – Yes, and what a beautiful job she did with La Traviata! Oh my God. I’m sure she will make her Met debut soon, and will have a great career. It’s very interesting when you find somebody who could be the next star, and in fact is! Leah Crocetto is another one, she has a beautiful voice, I loved her in every thing I’ve heard with her. When I talk about these young artists, I call them “my people,” I’m very proud of them!

    OL – Yes, when I interview them, I also get protective, I feel some paternalistic feelings, like they’re my kids!

    MA – [Laughs] Exactly, exactly!

    OL – Do you have any specific plans at this point for the future of your career?

    MA – It’s not that clear yet. But probably, like I told you before, I’ll take a position somewhere, at a certain point. It’s been a lot of traveling, and it’s hard, especially when you start doing too many projects at the same time. Here at least when I come to do a run like this one at the Met, I have my own apartment in New York City and I can relax a bit. But in Europe sometimes you have to conduct an opera in Vienna then you fly to Berlin to conduct another one then you go to Munich the next day, and you can’t sleep very well and get some rest.

    OL - Please tell us about Marco Armiliato, the person. What kind of person are you when you are away from the world of opera and classical music? How do you define your personality? What is your take on life? What are some of your interests?

    MA – I think I’m a very pure person. As you know me, I am. I have no secrets. I live the life in the happiest way I can. I think this is thanks to my family, to my mom, to my parents who gave me the spirit and the joy to just enjoy life. I have a very important word in my life: it is passion. In everything I do I put all my passion, all of myself. It can be good or it can be wrong, but I always do it with all my heart. I believe in what I’m doing. We have to believe. But I’m not perfect, I’m a long way from being perfect, so I just try to do my best. This is what I try to teach my son as well: “whatever you do in life, do it with passion.” Even if you do something wrong, as long as it’s done with passion, it’s not that bad. [laughs]

    OL – How old is your son?

    MA – He is 24 now, a big boy!

    OL – Is he a musician?

    MA – He is not but he loves music, of course. He studied music a little bit, for me, actually.

    OL – So you like soccer!

    MA – Oh my God, soccer, yes, it’s the other part of my life!

    OL – Do you root for Sampdoria? [Editor’s note – one of the two main soccer clubs in Genoa]

    MA – Yes, of course, I’m a Sampdoria fan! I root for my Sampdoria and I don’t miss a game. I wake up at 6 AM to watch their matches if I’m in a different time zone. I do crazy things for soccer, I’m really fanatic about it.

    OL – Me too. I’m a Rossoneri fan [Editor’s note – AC Milan is known for the colors red and black and is called the Rossoneri by fans].

    MA – Oh, OK, of course, you’re Italian too. [Editor’s note – the maestro had inquired about the journalist’s Italian last name before the interview started, and got confirmation that the journalist is a dual citizen of Italy and the United States]. Then, you understand me [laughs].

    OL – Any other interests besides opera and soccer?

    MA – Many, but the problem is, I never have time for anything else. I’d love to have more time, to do stuff.

    OL - Regarding your brother Fabio Armiliato and his wife Daniela Dessì – do you have any plans of engaging in any sort of foundation or teaching or some other project together with your brother and your sister-in-law?

    MA – Not yet, but maybe… Why not? Of course. We may in the future do something like that, of course. It is very hard to plan on doing this sort of thing right now, because I’m so busy! I barely have time to go home and see my wife! But in the future, yes, for sure. I would like to start a foundation to benefit opera.

    OL – I guess we are getting close to the performance, but we did well, we covered a lot.

    MA – Perfecto, yes!

    OL – Thank you so much, it was wonderful!

    MA – No problem! My pleasure!


    This is the Baden-Baden performance with Anna Netrebko that was mentioned in the interview:


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    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Dongiovanni's Avatar
      Dongiovanni -
      Thank you Almaviva for this wonderful interview, as always very in depth, so many topics covered. Such a pleasure to read.
    1. Jephtha's Avatar
      Jephtha -
      Thank you Alma! Very interesting interview. I especially liked when Maestro Armiliato mentioned that he felt freer conducting without a score, as I experienced the same thing when I was still performing. I always played from memory, even in orchestra concerts, so I could concentrate on making music. I also liked the bit about Cappuccilli demonstrating how even a slight rise in pitch causes problems with vocal technique.

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