EXCLUSIVE: Luca Pisaroni on Leoporello, French Repertoire, HIs Love For Verdi & His Dogs Lenny & Tristan
It is fun to be Luca Pisaroni. But it is also a lot of hard work.
The Venezuelan-born Italian bass-baritone, who recently spoke to Latin Post, sees his career as moving from one high to the next.
"Every season I have had highlights. Every season I had something that made me realize how lucky I was and how awesome it was to be a part of this world," he stated when asked what he considered the highlight of his career.
He made mention of a few major productions that he felt were game-changers, including his performance as Masetto in a 2001 production of "Don Giovanni" with Thomas Hampson and Anna Netrebko in Salzburg, but for him every single moment in his career has brought him great joy.
"I have been constantly working on such a high level that I move from one highlight to another. I work with phenomenal colleagues, conductors and producers in the best places in the world. It doesn't get better than that."
And in terms of repertoire, it doesn't get better than the role of Leoporello, which he is currently playing in the Metropolitan Opera's current revival of "Don Giovanni."
Pisaroni noted that he has taken on the role of comic bass-baritone in a number of productions since 2001 and only grows to love the character more and more.
"Every time I come back to it, it is a pleasure," stated Pisaroni. "I just love the guy. It is a ton of fun."
Pisaroni's interpretation of the role has undoubtedly seen variance from year to year, but the singing actor maintains that the backbone has remained the same throughout.
"He is not Don Giovanni and he will never be Don Giovanni," he asserted. "But [Leoporello] adores spending his life with him. This guy makes no sense without Don Giovanni. And the more I play him as loving his master, the more the audience connects with him."
Regarding his favorite iteration of the role in his career, Pisaroni pointed to the Glyndebourne production he did in 2011 alongside Gerald Finley in the main role. That production, which was directed by Jonathan Kent, was set in the 1950s. The production is actually available on the home video market.
"I was like a paparazzo and it was a ton of fun. I like how it altered the relationship between the master and servant," said Pisaroni.
The bass-baritone also pointed toward a production he did with famed filmmaker Michael Haneke in Paris in 2012.
Pisaroni noted that that production was particularly "weird," but noted that "the role is so fantastic that I do not think that there is any producer that can destroy it for me."
Regarding his favorite moment in the work, he immediately established his preference for the famed catalog aria ("Madamina, il catalogo e questo").
"I love the aria, because I find that for Leoporello it is a highlight of his life to be able to talk about the conquests of his master," stated Pisaroni. "I think that he believes that he is the biographer of Don Giovanni and without him the life of Don Giovanni would not pass through generations."
And how about making the leap from being chronicling the eponymous character's exploits as Leoporello to actually doing them as Don Giovanni on stage? Pisaroni did not shy away from noting that he hopes to take on the iconic role at some point in his career, but still nurtured some reservations, surprisingly, about Mozart's music for the protagonist.
"It's a challenging role because it does not have the music in the opera. Everyone has better music," he proclaimed. "He has a few nice things, but they are not as beautiful musically as the rest of the cast."
While he noted that there was nothing that screamed "I have to do it," Pisaroni is excited at the prospect of taking on the graveyard scene and finale of the opera.
"The best parts are the cemetery and finale because of the supernatural elements. I think that that must be exciting to do and feel on stage."
Pisaroni may not take on both roles in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" for some time, but he is doing the two "Nozze di Figaro" roles this year back-to-back-to-back!
In June he heads to San Francisco to take on the role of the Count before flying to Baden Baden in mid-July to play Figaro. Then he runs off to Salzburg a few weeks later to reprise the Count. He also gets to play the Count in Chicago in September and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in February 2016.
"I thought it would be nice to do the other side of it," he said regarding his choice to take on both roles in Mozart's celebrated masterpiece. "I can't tell you if I prefer one or the other because they are so different and so rewarding. I find that Figaro is such a nice guy and I think the audience is on my side by the end of the evening.
"But on the other side, the Count is such a bad boy with such great music."
After Leoporello at the Met this month, Pisaroni heads to Salzburg to play another bad boy in Donizetti's "Anna Bolena." The role in question is Enrico VIII (Henry VIII) and he will get the pleasure of taking on the role for the third time in his career.
"It is a great role," stated Pisaroni. "He is a mean human being who is used to having what he wants."
He first performed the role in Japan alongside legendary soprano Edita Gruberova before heading to Vienna to join forces with Krassimira Stoyanova. This time around Pisaroni gets to condemn world-renowned soprano Anna Netrebko to death in the opera.
"I always feel bad to be mean to them because they are such great colleagues," he noted about the guilt of having to kill of his soprano colleagues onstage. " I am excited to do it with Anna because she is so committed on stage."
Singing Enrico VIII presents another challenge for Pisaroni who revealed that he is currently studying the role ardently to be prepared to switch gears musically.
"The size of the orchestra is different from Mozart to Donizetti and all Belcanto in general," he stated. "The characters are different. As Leoporello, I can do things with my voice that I cannot do with the Belcanto because of the long phrases and beautiful legatos."
Career Roots and Beyond
Pisaroni was born in Venezuela, but spent almost all of his childhood growing up in Italy. He noted that he knew he wanted to be an opera singer from the age of 11.
"I always loved it. I listened to opera as long as I can remember. I don't remember ever wanting to be anything else," he revealed.
The big epiphany was listening to bass Boris Christoff sing the aria "Ella giammai m'amo" from Verdi's "Don Carlo" at the age of 8 on a recording that his grandfather played for him.
"I was like 'Wow' because Boris Christoff has such a dark sound. I was speechless because I could not believe that a man could produce such a sound. From that moment on I knew that is what I wanted to do."
And he noted that growing up as a singer, Christoff, alongside Jose Van Dam and Samuel Ramey, were the voices that he most admired and drew most of his inspiration from.
Another singer that he continues to learn from is his father-in-law Thomas Hampson. Pisaroni revealed that he only missed two of Hampson's performances of "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" at the Met Opera this season.
"He is so committed to this art form and he accepts challenges. He is curious about new repertoire," said Pisaroni. "He sings so many different types of concerts and operas."
But having idols and role models can also create a challenging pressure for any singer and Pisaroni noted that it was among the obstacles he was constantly trying to overcome.
"It is hard to accept your voice and sound for what it is and not try to sound like somebody else," he revealed when asked what the greatest challenge in his career has been. "I always listen and study so many other singers and I always say, 'I wish I could sound like that.'
"Sam Ramey is fantastic, but he is Sam Ramey. I wish I could sound like him or Christoff or Cesare Siepi. But I can't. So you have to accept your own voice and do your best to help it grow."
Part of Pisaroni's current growth is his expansion of repertoire. Known currently for his work on Mozart's operas, he is currently studying the role of Mefistofele in Charles Gounod's "Faust" (which he will sing next season) with the hopes of moving into the French repertoire in such operas as "La Damnation de Faust" and Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann."
He is particularly excited about the latter which he saw for the first at La Scala in a cast that featured Ramey, Natalie Dessay, Neil Shicoff and Riccardo Chailly.
"The first time I saw ["Hoffmann"] it did not grab me," Pisaroni admitted. "But now I have gotten to really love it. The four villains are so interesting. There is so much to do dramatically with them."
Beyond the French repertoire, Pisaroni hopes to one day perform the works of Giuseppe Verdi. Pisaroni revealed a tremendous love for the revered Italian composer, not only because of his music, but because he grew up in the composer's own hometown of Busetto.
Pisaroni already sang two concert performances of Paolo in "Simon Boccanegra" a few years ago but has never actually sung a staged version of any of Verdi's operas.
"I would like to wait because I think Verdi is the culmination of a career," he noted. "There is so much repertoire before Verdi that I would like to explore. Verdi is something that you get to and not that you start with."
When he does reach that summit, what Verdi would he like to sing?
"All of it. Let's talk about Atilla, I Lombardi, Don Carlo, Otello, Falstaff. There is something about this music that I feel very close to."
When Pisaroni isn't singing or attending performances, he is spending time with his dogs Lenny and Tristan, both social media celebrities. Pisaroni noted that the two canines love to travel and listen to him practicing.
"They know when we are traveling. As soon as I take out the suitcase, they get close to the suitcases to make sure that we do not forget them," he explained. "I think that they just want to travel with us all the time and do not leave them behind. I think they enjoy this life."
The dogs have gathered a following on Twitter and Facebook, because Pisaroni has actively showcased pictures of them.
"They are so entertaining and they put a smile on my face everyday. So I wanted to share it with others."
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