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Marcello Giordani [Photo by Dario Acosta]
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The Met's Favorite Tenor: Marcello Giordani

Marcello Giordani, at present singing a generally highly praised Cavaradossi at the Royal Opera House in London, is the leading exponent of the great Italian and French tenor roles at the Metropolitan Opera, and the man whom James Levine describes as ‘my favorite tenor.’ This prominence has been arrived at after a steady rise to fame: he will celebrate the 25th year of his career in the 2010-11 season.

The Met's Favorite Tenor: Marcello Giordani

Interview by Melanie Eskenazi

Above: Marcello Giordani [Photo by Dario Acosta]


Chatting over coffee last week I found him refreshingly unegotistical about his status, and full of praise for his colleagues in London and for the production of Tosca - ‘It was really something special last night (the first night) with such a stellar cast, and even though the staging is traditional it is still very dramatic, very respectful of the music and the singers - quite a rare thing nowadays, when directors feel they have to be revolutionary and impose their own ideas, but this one respects the composer above all. What really interested me here was the way the acting was managed - everything makes sense with the movement, and I felt that the audience really responded to that. They were so involved with the intensity of the drama that the applause after the arias was much more muted than usual - but they gave us fantastic ovations at the end!’

Marcello was especially taken with Bryn Terfel’s Scarpia - ‘Wow! The scariest I have worked with - I was quite terrified myself, which is funny when you recall that he is such a really nice guy, and almost because of that, his performance is remarkable.’ The production is unusual this time around in that it features two sopranos sharing the title role, something which appeared to faze him not at all - ‘I know them both well, I have worked with Angela (Gheorghiu) many times and have known Nelly (Miricioiu) for fifteen years; I know that audiences imagine that singers sometimes walk onto a set and meet their colleagues for the first time, but even if it were really like that - and it is not - we are professionals, and we know how to respond to each other. In cases like this, it really all comes down to the production, and it’s a testament to its excellence that we were all able to adjust so quickly.’

Given his pre-eminence in the US and elsewhere, it’s surprising that Giordani rarely sings in London - he made a sensational UK debut under Solti in 1995, in the ROH La traviata. He will perform the role of Adorno (Simon Boccanegra) at the Met in 2010, when Plácido Domingo will take the title role, as he will in London, but when it comes to Covent Garden, Adorno will be sung by Joseph Calleja. Marcello loves London, appreciating especially the enthusiasm which audiences have for music here, so he is glad to be coming back when the Tosca is revived in 2011.

For me, his singing is exceptional in that it is not the really belting parts which typify it, but the more tender moments - ‘Yes, you are right, ‘O dolci mani’ is indeed very difficult because it follows much more torrid music, and then you have to scale the voice down to something far more intimate.’ It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the can belto Italian tenor, but ‘You are paying me a big compliment when you say that my singing is more in the bel canto style, and I accept that! Most of my career was spent with bel canto, so my approach is different, but back then that music was not so popular - now, we have a revival with Flórez and other singers, so my approach is coming back, and I am flattered when people who know a lot about singing tell me that my approach is ‘old-fashioned!’

Directly after Tosca he will go to Madrid for a concert commemorating Puccini’s 150th anniversary, and then to Torre del Lago and Verona - ‘I have a special feeling for Torre del Lago; Puccini called it ‘a paradise’ and you can really feel the spirit of the composer there all around you - the new opera house there means that we are not camping in fields anymore, but the intimate quality is still there!’ He will then sing in the Met’s Turandot - ‘Calaf is not my favourite role, I prefer the passion and tenderness of the more romantic parts, and of course the audience is always waiting for ‘Nessun Dorma.’

Pinkerton might seem to be another role like Calaf, which he likes to sing but does not especially empathize with, yet the Anthony Minghella production of Madama Butterfly remains one of the best experiences of his operatic life - ‘I found Anthony very humble, very knowledgeable about opera, very respectful of the voice; I learned so much from him, in fact he changed my perceptions of opera forever. He taught me a lot about staging - I used to think that because a stage was huge you had to make huge movements, but he showed me how to think in terms of intimate stage pictures - a case of a background in the movies really making a difference in opera, which of course is not always the case!’

Marcello famously stepped in to sing in Faust at the Met on the same day as he performed as Pinkerton - but for him, it was not really a case of showing that he is, as Peter Gelb said, ‘the iron man of tenors’ - ‘For me, the Met is like home, like family, and so when someone in the family has a problem, one just helps out, that’s all.’ This collaborative approach extends to sponsoring Master classes both in New York and in his home town in Sicily, although he is not complimentary about the Italian attitude to home-grown talent - ‘In Paris, Alagna is like a God, so is Flórez in Peru, and they deserve it - but for Italy, one really has to go abroad to reach such appreciative heights!’

His repertoire is a wide one, taking in many of the great French roles, with a special love for Berlioz and Meyerbeer - he declares that he wants to be regarded not just as an Italian tenor, but as a complete artist, and indeed his musical tastes are exceptionally wide-ranging - he surprised me by saying that he has two great dreams to fulfil in musical terms, the first one being to sing Mahler: ‘For me, this is the most innovative music, especially das Lied von der Erde, and I long to sing it.’ His second dream is to sing Lohengrin, ‘Maybe one day in the future, since it is quite possible for my voice, it is more Italian than, say, Tristan, and Wagner wrote it in Italy, too!’

Unlike Domingo, he does not think of branching out into Handel, nor does he see himself as an Otello just yet - ‘I have too much respect for that role, and for the great tradition of those who have sung it; my voice is not ready, for me there is more study before I can take that on, and want to be worthy of my predecessors such as Mario del Monaco. There is still much for me to do in the core repertoire, and of course I am hoping to sing Hoffman again, as that is one of those parts which all tenors dream of.’

He says that for him, just being onstage is the best part of his career - ‘It’s much better than working! You have to be a bit of a clown, or a bit crazy, or a bit larger than life, or maybe a bit insane to be a singer!’ Perhaps, but above all it is musicianship which defines this tenor, whose singing the present writer has described not only as ‘powerful’ but ‘tender (and) finely phrased.’

Melanie Eskenazi

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