EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH:
At the age of 8, Giordano moved with his family to Trieste where he entered into the local conservatory G. Tartini to study the flute. One day after school near the time of his graduation from the conservatory as a flutist he discovered his voice by accident. In an empty classroom he decided to sing a Neapolitan song for fun while a classmate, a pianist with a visual impairment, accompanied him. It was the moment when Giordano realized he had the ability to sing. He studied singing with Cecilia Fusco at the age of 18 and later graduated from the conservatory “G. Tartini” in Trieste. In 1997 he won the “A. Belli” competition in Spoleto where he also gave his debut in La Clemenza di Tito at the Teatro Lirico. [source: Wikipedia]
Operafocus caught up with the successful tenor to talk about, well, everything.
I noticed that some of the operas you've chosen arias from to feature on your album aren’t in your usual rep - like “Turandot”, “Andrea Chenier”, “Simon Boccanegra” and “Manon Lescaut”. What can you tell me about your choice of arias and why these?
- When I decided to record my first album the main idea was to create an authentic Italian product and with the "Ensamble del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino" as one of the best Italian orchestras with the conductor Carlo Goldstein- I think that this idea has been fully realized! When I choose the arias I did not want to follow a stylistic or chronological logic but convey to the listener the emotion of tormented and suffered love, emotion we all feel in real life at least once. For this reason I have chosen arias that even in their sequence tell the evolution of love and suffering related to it even though I have never sang some of them and some I will never sing in the theater.
- Also, I always loved arias like "Come un bel dì di Maggio" or "Non piangere liù" and to have the chance to record those arias for me has been a challenge but overall a great achievement because some of these operas will belong to my future repertoire and I wanted to prove to my self and to the audience that I was able to fulfill this challenge.
It says it'll feature arias from “Turandot” – when do you think you’ll be ready to take on the role of Calaf?
- At the moment I don’t think I will sing the role "live" in the theaters. Since Nessun Dorma has become like an icon of the world of the opera and I decided to not feature it in my album because this aria some way has been mistreated and I didn't want once more to give a "new version" of it. For example, the main reason I have inserted Liù's aria instead is because it has a sweetness that follows the "journey of love" and contributes to the continuity of themes of all of the arias that you will find in the album.
How do you know when it's the right time to take on a role (vocally and mentally)?
- Most of debuts that an opera singer does are "stimulated" by the offers of the theaters. A theater can hear you sing a role - he likes you and then later offers you another one for the future. It is only by studying that we can understand if a role will fit on our voice or not but overall I think it is the role itself that is saying if I am ready to take it on.
- For instance, many times it happened to me to be very attached to some role that I was use to perform in the past but unfortunately as the life goes on and we grow up the same happens also for us vocally and that is the moment to be sincere with our self and take out that role from our repertoire.
What are the biggest differences between singing Verdi and Puccini?
- There are many differences in between Verdi and Puccini but mainly in the style, in the historic period they lived and the social background. Verdi had a nice baritonal voice and he was use to singing all his compositions and this is why all his magnificent arias are so wonderfully written for the voice. Puccini was the real face of passion and love and his vocal music is the portrait of the time he lived. Overall, I think that the music is such a universal language that also those differences are not relevant to everyone.
I'm noticing that you're mainly (if not exclusively) singing in Italian and French – would you consider moving into German (and thereby Wagner) or Russian at some point?
- I am Italian and of course I prefer to sing in my mother tongue but I have to say that French language helps a lot singers and I think that is extremely good for the voice. Regarding Russian repertoire I have already sung Lensky in Onegin from Tchaikovsky masterpiece and it was one of the best experiences I had in my whole career both vocally and interpretation wise. I would love to go deeper in the Russian repertoire. As for German repertoire I don’t think that Wagner will fit for my voice at the moment, though one of my dreams is to sing Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte".
You're doing Cavaradossi all over the world at the moment (currently at the RoH). What particular qualities do you think you have that makes you so desirable for this role?
- I think that I have "Le physique du role...." :) But overall I believe that is a combination of "temperamento italiano" with a voice that fits perfectly for the role so all those ingredients makes me desirable for the theaters.
What qualities does a tenor have to possess in order to do a convincing Cavaradossi?
- Mario Cavaradossi is the perfect romantic hero: he is an artist, a revolutionary rebel and overall he is in love! All those characteristics should be reflected also in the voice: sweetness, lyricism and dramatic accent. This is what I mean as convincing Cavaradossi!
How has your interpretation of Cavaradossi changed over time?
- Performing a role many times I have added each time some new nuances, a lot also depends on the partner with whom I am working with. Growing up in the role means for me also to give a different sense to the feelings of the characters I am portraying. For example: in my first performances of Tosca I sang the last duet expressing the hope of Cavaradossi to save himself and to escape with Tosca, now I try to convey his resignation, that he is realizing that the grace of Scarpia was fake, and desire to enjoy the last minutes of life with the woman he loves.
How do you approach the role from an emotional point of view as well as musical?
- The emotions of the characters for me have a crucial importance in the interpretation of a role. To create a character, a singer should understand his psychology and try to empathize, adding the experiences of his life and his own temperament. The musical approach is related to the emotional one because music is emotion. The technical approach is something different and in fact I confront my self with my pianist and we try to understand if a role can fit on my voice and on my temper, then we define which are the most difficult passages and we work on it in order to convey those passages as natural as possible.
How would you describe the relationship between Tosca and Cavaradossi? What age do you think they'd actually be?
- It's a very intense and lively relationship of two very young people, I don't think they are more than 25 years old. There is a great element of joking between the two of them : Tosca plays to be jealous and Cavaradossi pretends to be annoyed and teases her. But there is a great tenderness between these two characters and when the circumstances require they are ready to sacrifice themselves for each other.
How does your leading lady make a difference to how you portray Cavaradossi?
- To have a good confidence with the partner is fundamental because the interaction in between the two of us is what the audience will receive and if there will be truth in what we feel on the stage, people will live our love by our acting. For instance in the first act the joke of jealousy and flirting must be convincing, this is to say that the harmony with the partners must be complete.
What do you remember from your first production of Tosca?
- I was actually in Dallas and I still remember the emotions that this opera at first time has given to me. In fact it was also my first approach to a new "repertoire" lets say "heavier" and of course I was thrilled about this new dimension of development of my voice and my career. I had a wonderful partner, Catherine Naglestad that allowed me to give my best and till today when we see each other we share a good feeling remembering my first Cavaradossi.
What do you know about this new production in Florence?
- Since Florence’s theater is having at the moment a deep financial crisis, the stage direction by Luca Ronconi has been cancelled. So we will perform the opera in a concert form. It will be the 5 act Italian version.
Don Carlo is known for being a bit of a “ball buster” for the tenor. For this reason, Don Carlo is often a role that many tenors drop, or avoid altogether - what's your personal experience with it?
- In fact, after having my Don Carlo debut three years ago I swore that I'll never accept this role any more... But then the proposals of the new production at Deutsche Oper in Berlin and in Amsterdam arrived and I couldn't refuse. This is my debut of the role in 5 act version and I have to admit that nevertheless I have a good confidence with the role it is really vocally and technically very difficult!
You're doing the production in Florence with conductor Zubin Mehta. What are your expectations?
- Maestro Mehta is one of my favorite conductors ever, he is representing the music it self and the love and the passion that he put in his communication with the artists is so wonderful that time by time I wish I could do the same as a singer. He works particularly on each inflection and he is always following what the composer said but not in a way that can put the singer in difficulties but by reading what the composer wants helping the artist. With this I want to tell you that at the moment all my expectations have been fulfilled.
You've worked with some of the leading current conductors around the world (Luisotti, Luisi, Nelsons, etc) - what makes someone a great/outstanding conductor?
- I personally think that what makes a great conductor is of course the musical talent and the skills, but overall also the personality and the sensitivity of the understanding of each different composer. The great conductor leads the performance exposing his own vision of the piece and transmitting this energy to the singers, orchestra and chorus so in this way all the elements just become one single entity that gives to the audience the most incredible sensations.
BACKGROUND & SINGING
What can you tell me about your background and your first few steps towards opera?
- I was born in Pompei and my family and I later moved to Trieste where I entered in to the local conservatory to study the flute. Upon my graduation as a flutist I soon auditioned for voice after only having a couple of voice lessons. I auditioned with about 100 other participants and believe it or not I came in 2nd or 3rd. I would have to say I had a lot of luck! So I started to study voice at the Tartini conservatory with Cecilia Fusco, soprano well known in 60-70s and soon I was able to win some international singing competitions. Winning Spoleto Contest gave me the opportunity to make my opera debuts in the theatre with Traviata and Werther that opened for me the doors of the opera houses.
How/when did you first realise you had a voice?
- I did not know I had a voice whatsoever until really late. I remember it was just around the time of my graduation from the conservatory for flute that I discovered I had a voice only by accident. One day after school I went with a friend of mine into an empty classroom and just for fun I started to sing a Napolitan song while he accompanied me on the piano. It was actually at that very moment that I realized I had the ability to sing and in fact it was my friend who encouraged me to try and audition to the conservatory for voice.
What would you consider good singing technique?
- A good singing technique is what allows us to develop our voice during the years without “destroying” it! Our career duration must be thought following the same footsteps of the best singers of the past and in fact it's not a case that my example was, is and it will be Alfredo Kraus.
Can you describe your technique?
- I have started with a natural voice and everyone said that the color was very nice. I have always tried to improve it by taking advices along my development as person and of course as singer. When I sing I am thinking about things that in nature flow: breath, wind, water and other images that pops up in my mind. I am thinking as well of a little “ O” that is standing right in front to my forehead and I am trying to insert all the vowels in this little “circle”. But as you can understand it's not easy explain our technique and this is the reason why we are in such a lack of good teachers now a day.
How do you maintain your instrument on a daily basis? (and do you have any "rules" before a performance)
- I am not really following any daily routines and as far as “rules” go before a performance…well I just try to relax as much as possible. Most singers don’t talk at all, but not me…I am talking all of the time :)
What would you consider your first big break-through?
- The first big break through was my debut in Werther in Spoleto. It was the first time that I felt myself completely in symbiosis with an opera character, vocally and emotionally, and afterwards I had my first engagement in the real opera houses with this role. Even now Werther is one of my favorite roles.
You've been at the Metropolitan Opera on different occasions – what do you remember from your first experience there?
- My very first time in Metropolitan Opera I sang Manon by Massenet. The fact is that it was also my debut of the role, and my partner was Rene Fleming the American star soprano. So for me it was a huge challenge but it was also a great success.
You've worked a lot in different parts of the world and all corners of the world have different ways of approaching things like time management, schedules, rehearsals etc. What – in your experience – are the major differences between working in – for instance – the US, Italy, Germany and Japan? Where do you prefer?
- Each country is different as well as the people. I have had really great experiences everywhere I have performed. I sing more often in Germany than in my own country Italy, US and Japan. However, I do not have a preference of one country over the other but of course it is always nice to be performing in a country or city that is not too far away from my family because of course this allows me the opportunity to see them more.
You went on a concert tour in Scandinavia and Germany with Anna Netrebko in 2009 – what do you find are the biggest differences (and challenges) between concerts and a full opera?
- There is a big difference in between performing concerts and performing a full opera because its actually two different ways to perform even if with the same purpose that is to make the audience happy. I think concerts are much more demanding because we are focusing of course 90% on the vocal and interpretative side instead in the full opera on the stage we have to share this focus with the stage direction and all what is the concern of giving a right understanding of the role we are interpreting in that specific moment.
What future roles look forward to the most and why?
- Actually after so many years in this business I have already realized many dreams regarding debut roles etc. Still I would like to perform in productions that will leave a sign that Massimo was there :)
What your next big debut and where?
- I am looking forward to make my debut in Wien with Andrea Chenier in 2 years time this will be a big challenge for me and I started to study already the arias and some duets. I am pretty certain this will be a milestone in my career. Another poet on a journey! :)
How do you cope with the sacrifices on a personal level that most opera singers face with being away from family and loved ones for most of the year?
- My family is really important to me so if they are not traveling with me which we try to do as much as possible I talk to them several times a day even if it is Skyping with them from my dressing room. I am away from home a lot so I try to spend as much quality time with them as I can because it is not about the quantity of time but the quality of time.
Massimo Giordano's debut album, "Amore e Tormento", is released on iTunes, Amazon and in Germany on 6th of May.