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Luca Pisaroni [Photo by Marco Borggreve]
02 Nov 2014

Luca Pisaroni in San Diego

Bass baritone, Luca Pisaroni, known to opera lovers throughout the world for his excellence in Mozart roles, offered San Diego vocal aficionados a double treat on October 28th: his mellifluous voice, and a recital of German songs.

Luca Pisaroni in San Diego

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Luca Pisaroni [Photo by Marco Borggreve]


The singer, who has been gradually expanding his operatic repertoire, has performed the Baroque roles of Maometto in Rossini’s Maometto II, Argante in Handel's Rinaldo and Pollux in Rameau's Castor et Pollux. American Mozart lovers, however, need not fear losing him. His first two American performances next year will be as Almaviva in San Francisco and Leporello at the Metropolitan Opera.

Most recently, Pisaroni, who now lives in Austria, has expressed a passion for German lieder. His San Diego recital at the La Jolla Atheneum was the fourth and last stop in an international German song tour in collaboration with pianist Wolfram Rieger. Their journey began on October 10 at Amsterdam's Muziekgebouw, and included performances in Carnegie Hall's Zankel Auditorium and the Vancouver Recital Society.

This was a generous program of songs by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert, which warmed up both vocally and emotionally as the evening progressed. The first Mozart songs found the singer a bit tentative and with slightly raspy low tones. With his voice warmed through the Mozart pieces, Mr. Pisaroni chose a lyrical, Italianate approach to them, producing flowing legato phrases, rather than coloring his voice to interpret words and emotion. The group of more dramatic Beethoven songs which followed, concluded with an ardent performance of 'Adelaide', and led into Mendelssohn songs and more exciting vocal territory. Mr. Pisaroni's full voiced and moving interpretation of Mendelssohn's 'Reiselied' (Traveler's Song), brought the first half of the program to a rousing conclusion..

The entire second half, which was devoted to Schubert - to songs inspired by Heine and Goethe's mostly despairing, melodramatic poetry - allowed Pisaroni to do what he does so effectively in opera - use his voice's range and color to portray strong emotions. From the first painful sledge hammer rhythms of 'Der Atlas' (Atlas), with which the song opens, Mr. Pisaroni interpretation conveyed the weightiness of the Titan's bitter lament on bearing the burden of the world and its sorrows. The singer brought control of voice and line, to 'Der Doppelgänger' (The Wraith), in which a lover has wretched visions of past torments. His 'Erlkönig' (The Erl King), that tempestuous and most theatrical of Schubert's songs, in which the singer must represent three different voices, rang with authority and conviction .

Vehement expressions of pain and sorrow come more easily into Pisaroni's voice than the quiet, inner variety. Songs with fewer apparent contrasts, be they rhythmic, melodic or other, though on equally painful, sorrowful subjects, have yet to engage him with the same intensity. Works such as the slowly paced, 'Am Meer' (By the Sea), with its long and often downward turning phrases, (a lover is lamenting that his lost beloved has poisoned him with her tears) would have benefited from deeper exploration of every word and every curve in its melodic line.

Mr. Pisaroni was not an animated recitalist. Lithe and amusing as he appears as Figaro, his body was still, and his hands quietly at his side. He wore a tight fitting garment with the lapels turned up toward his face, perhaps a bit too “buttoned up” for a warm San Diego evening.

Pianist Wolfram Rieger, always an accomplished and sensitive partner, provided a particularly memorable introduction to Beethoven's 'Lied aus der Ferne' (Song from Afar). I've enjoyed Mr. Rieger's performances with various singers in various venues in the past, but it seemed to me there was something unique about the sound of the great open Steinway piano in that small room, which allowed its 150 listeners to fully appreciate the virtuosity of the pianist's role in the recital.

How exotic in this day and age to have world two world renowned artists performing songs in a living room. This lover of the vocal arts was indeed grateful to Mr. Pisaroni, Mr. Rieger and the Atheneum for bringing San Diego this rare gift.

I would be remiss as a writer and translator if I did not comment appreciatively on the notes that Mr. Pisaroni and the Atheneum provided for the program notes. Not only were they informative, but most unusually (though I'm likely one of the very few people who noticed) the English translation of every poem cited the name of the translator.

Estelle Gilson

Program and performers:

Mozart: ‘Das Veilchen’, ‘Komm, liebe Zither’, ‘An Chloë, ‘Abendempfindung’; Beethoven: Lied aus der Ferne, Der Kuss, Zärtlicher Liebe , Adelaide, Mendelssohn: 'Neue Liebe', 'Gruss', 'Morgengruss' 'Allnächtlich in Traume', “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges' ,'Reiselied'; Schubert: 'Der Atlas', 'Ihr Bild', 'Der Fischermädchen' ,'Die Stadt','Am Meer', 'Der Doppelgänger', 'Auf dem See', 'Grenzen der Menschheit', 'Ganymed', 'Erlkönig','Wanderer's Nachtlied II'. Luca Pisaroni, bass-baritone; Wolfram Rieger, piano;. Atheneum, La Jolla, San Diego, California, October 28. 2014

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