By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 30 MARCH 2010 When Ildebrando DArcangelo is
described as "the hottest thing in Opera these days," it is a winking
acknowledgment of the many meanings of the term "hot." But the Italian
bass-baritone superstar is charmingly self-deprecating and approachable,
as our Patricia Boccadoro recently found out.
It was with some trepidation that I sat, in a tea shop on the Left
Bank, waiting for the arrival of Ildebrando DArcangelo. This
larger-than-life, glamorous star was in Paris for a short stay, singing
the role of Alidoro in Irina Brooks stupendous version of Rossinis
La Cenerentola at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées. In addition,
his first solo recording Handel, for Deutsche Grammophon was
just being released, occasioning the opportunity for our conversation.
When the charismatic Italian bass-baritone arrived, he immediately put me
at ease with his large smile and firm handshake and, over the course of
our time together, showed himself to be a warm, thoughtful and courteous
person, as much interested in asking questions as in answering them.
Generous with his time, he proved almost alarmingly candid and extremely
easy to interview.
Why did he choose to record Handel, a composer whose music, unlike that
of Puccini or Mozart, is not easily accessible to a wide public and not
normally associated with his usual repertoire?
Settling down comfortably in front of his pot of tea, he replied that,
apart from the fact that it was the 250th anniversary of the composers
death, he relished the chance to sing something different, and to find the
range of expression that Handel demanded.
"He is a composer whose work has always fascinated me," he said.
"Musically it was a challenge for my voice, as I decided to sing each aria
in full voice, including Fra lombre e glorrori from Aci, Galatea e
Polifemo, a cantata composed in Italy and written in three octaves. I
liked the attraction of something new, as the high notes were perhaps sung
in falsetto at the time. Moreover, there was the added interest of being
accompanied by period instruments with the ensemble Modo Antiquo conducted
by Federico Sardelli.
Photo: © Giovanni
Bonamici for Deutsche Grammophon
"Handel," he added, "has been part of my life since childhood, as
my father was an organist and we spent a lot of time listening to his
DArcangelo was born in Pescara, a coastal town about a 90 minute drive
from Rome. Influenced by his fathers organ playing, he began studying the
piano at the age of six and never gave singing or opera a thought.
"I remember watching an opera on television with my father, but after
the first act I was bored out of my mind," he told me. "I didnt
understand a word of what was going on. But my father never gave up hope
and encouraged me to sing in a choir. When I was sixteen, there was a
competition, and the teacher who came seemed to be impressed with my
voice, encouraging me to take up singing as a career. It wasnt the fact I
had an exceptional voice," he added modestly, "but more that I had a gift
of being able to mimic whatever I had heard, and Id heard many singers.
So, for example, I could sing Rigoletto, but whether I unconsciously
copied Tito Gobbi or even Corelli, I wouldnt know. And I certainly didnt
know whether my voice was bass, baritone, or whatever, because I never
thought in those terms.
"However, I was taught to really listen, which Id never done before.
My father had assumed that because I could read music, it was enough. I
became fascinated by opera, reading all about it in books, imagining what
it could be like on stage, and I began studying at my local conservatory.
But the turning point came in 1986 when I finally went and saw my idol,
Samuel Ramey in Rossinis La Gazza Ladra."
Since then, DArcangelo has sung roles in Cosi fan tutte, Don
Giovanni, Les Noces de Figaro, Le Turc en Italie, Carmen and
Faust, among others, at opera houses throughout the world, but he
has little hesitation in proclaiming Mozart to be his favourite composer
and Don Giovanni the role he loves best.
"What is so wonderful in my profession is changing roles and styles,"
he declared. "I love being the bad guy as well as the good," he added
hastily "but it also depends on my mood. It would also be very boring to
be typecast and to find myself singing the same kind of part all the time.
For years, directors had me singing Leporello, thinking I was born to sing
it because of my comic gifts, when all the time, I was longing to be Don
Giovanni. The difficulty of course is casting the perfect couple. Don
Giovanni needs Leporello, and Leporello needs Don Giovanni.
"Im 40 years old now and I wanted to sing Don Giovanni, who is a young
man, after all, before I got any older! Everyone has their own idea of
what he is like, but to me he is so full of himself and cares nothing for
anyone. Hes constantly seeking a happiness he never finds. Hes not
particularly handsome, but charismatic. The music in the death scene is
unbelievable. And Mozart celestial! He is my God, and the composer who
gave me my passion for music and my career. Its a role I relish."
And as for DArcangelos comic gifts, they were exploited to the full
in the brilliant staging of La Cenerentola created at the Theatre
des Champs Elysées in 2003 and restaged in 2004 and today to wildly
enthusiastic audiences. Oddly, however, although it is one of the finest
productions around, traditional or otherwise, it has not yet been
programmed in the U.S.
La Cenerentola at the Theatre des
Champs Elysées in Paris, 2010
Director Irina Brooks left her artists free to interpret their roles,
and the results were astounding. DArcangelo, theatrical to the backbone,
gave an exceptional interpretation of Alidoro, Rossinis transcription of
Perraults fairy godmother.
"What we were doing was even a little too successful," said the
baritone, smiling ruefully, "for the audience was so geared up to laugh at
everything we did that they started to giggle at what should have been the
most serious moment of the opera. Here I am, singing a serious aria, about
how God can see Angelina and her situation, and how she mustnt despair
because everything is going to change, and as I take off my beggars cloak
to show myself all dressed in white they burst out into laughter as if I
"Maybe Irina thought the 10 minute aria over-long, but judging from the
amusement I caused, plus the choir in their pastel flowered suits
sneaking, Buster Keaton style, onto the stage one by one, the audience
didnt. There were so many other opportunities to laugh, not least the
scene where I enter dressed as a policeman. I was wearing two costumes at
the same time, feeling like a fat man, and in addition, they lost the
belt." He shrugged before laughing uproariously himself.
"Its a production for today which we all loved doing," he added,
"unlike some of these cold, unemotional versions, said to be contemporary,
that one sees, notably those staged by Gerard Mortier in Paris. I really
have no time for highfalutin productions where artists have to take their
clothes off because they cant come up with any better ideas. Having naked
people run around on stage is so out of place in classical opera.
"But I enjoy fooling around onstage and love the fact that this
production attracts even non-opera goers. The story is told in such a
funny way without destroying any of the music."
From Paris to Vienna to Los Angeles to New York, DArcangelo is
constantly on the move, but he confided that the American city where he
felt most at home was Chicago. "Not only is it a pleasant city to live in,
but I have family there. My great-grandfather emigrated in the 1920s and
my cousin and I are trying to discover where he is buried. There are many
administrative problems, but we have recently unearthed some of the
reviews from the theatres where he worked
as a singer. But we cant seem
to get hold of his social security number. I suppose it was rather a long
Photo: © Fadil Berisha
But just where is his home if not Chicago or Pescara (where he recently
had a house built but never stays for very long)? There was a long moment
of hesitation before he replied that he could only quote Maria Callas on
"We are citizens of the world; our home is the
DArcangelo will be singing the title role in Don Giovanni in
Los Angeles next season, and will be appearing in Chicago in
Handel: Arie italiane per basso
Francesco Maria Sardelli,
Recording: Florence, Teatro della Pergola, Saloncino,
Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Hamburg 1 CD DDD 477 8361
Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and senior editor at
Culturekiosque.com. She last wrote on dance in Siberia.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: 2 April 2010
The photograph and caption published in the above article on 30 March
2010 of Ildebrando DArcangelo as Don Giovanni at the Sferisterio Opera
Festival 2009 in Macerata, Italy misidentified the male artist in the
photograph. Universal Classics France (Deutsche Grammophon) brought this
error to our attention and has identified the artist in the
image as Andrea Concetti, not Ildebrando DArcangelo. The image and
caption have been removed from the article to reflect this
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