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A Tenor's Tale
Musings from Marcello Giordani as He Prepares Benvenuto Cellini for the Met

Seventeen years have passed since his professional stage debut as the Duke in Rigoletto. Since that evening in Spoleto, Italy, Marcello Giordani has had many professional
ups and downs.  Ultimately, his successes have outweighed all else and he has emerged as one of the leading tenors in the world.  Vocal difficulties dictated a six-month sabbatical in 1994, and he used that time to work on his technique, returning to the Opera stage with even greater skill and excellent musical resources.  Today, he is one of the most recognisable and respected tenors on the Opera stage and performs in all of the world’s major Opera houses.  He has been positively reviewed by the New York Times, Opera News, Washington Post, Associated Press and countless other publications.  With a long-awaited Naxos disc of tenor arias released in the US this November plus his performances this month in the title role of Benvenuto Cellini with the New York Metropolitan Opera, Giordani has been exceptionally busy.  Fortunately, he was able to take a few moments to talk with us about his life, his career, and his hopes for the future.

Naxos: You are easily one of the most sought-after tenors in the world today.  How do you measure your success?  At what moments do you feel most successful?

Marcello giordaniMarcello Giordani: I think that one cannot really measure success, but it feels nice for me when I am hired over and over again by respected opera companies and when I perform and feel as though the people remember me.  When I feel that I have the respect of the public, then I feel successful.

N: You performed several times with Georg Solti at Convent Garden.  You said of your performance in La Traviata with Solti in 1995, “It was like singing Traviata for the first time in my life.”  Why?

MG: Because it was like rediscovering the score.  He knew what he wanted and he knew exactly what each performer could offer.  That is the quality of a great Maestro.  Conductors like Solti, Levine, and Muti are not only musicians; they are kind of like therapists.  They understand each performer and manipulate the voice to create the most beautiful sounds.  That is why they are great—they really know.

N:  How important was the time you spent working with George Solti to your successful re-emergence onto the Opera stage?

MG: Very important.  He gave me back my self-confidence.  In many ways, he was like a father-figure to me.  He had a way with the musicians.  He displayed a wonderful sense of humour without losing the respect of the orchestra and performers.  When I am depressed or feeling down, thinking of him brings me back up.  I miss him, as I am sure that others do.

N:  Earlier in your career, it was said that you preferred the bel canto repertoire. 
As you move further in your career and are asked to perform a multitude of roles, you seem to be moving more toward the dramatic tenor roles.  Do you find yourself choosing certain types of repertoire more frequently?

MG: No.  I think that the process always depends on the voice and its development.  Some tenors as they progress develop into the heavier roles.  I have many requests for singing the dramatic tenor roles, and I am slowly developing toward that role.  I sang bel canto for ten years and for that I am thankful.  It put me in a good position, because I can now move slowly and smoothly into the heavier repertoire.  Another discussion that we could have, though, is about what we consider heavier repertoire.  Personally, I think of much of Verdi’s work as bel canto (that conversation, however, would take a couple of hours). [laughs]

N: You say that every young singer should start his musical studies with Mozart.  Why?

MG: I am glad that you ask.  This is one piece of advice that I really want to give to the young singers.  I never sang Mozart when I was young.  That is my only regret.  Mozart is like medicine for the throat, and is the best training for a singer, especially in recitative and breath control.  Many hear Mozart’s work and think that it must be easy to sing.  If one is prepared, Mozart sounds easy but really it is not.  He wrote some very difficult recitative such that, if one has not learned proper breath support, one cannot even finish the aria.  It is very good training.

N: What would you say has been the defining moment in your career so far?

MG: It was, without a doubt, my Metropolitan Opera debut in 1996.  That is the theatre that everyone dreams of performing in, so when you go there and perform for the first time, you really feel as though you have earned it.  Of course, singers also dream of debuts at La Scala or Convent Garden.  When I was performing as a young singer at La Scala and at Convent Garden, I was dreaming of my debut at the Met.  The arrival of that day gave me a feeling of great satisfaction.

N: You have expressed a desire to sing the works of Mahler, especially Das Lied von der Erde.  Is that ahead in the near future?

MG: Unfortunately, no.  I love Mahler, like any music lover.  Mahler leaves your soul in turmoil, puts your feet on the ground and forces you to evaluate life and its realities.  Sometimes we need those kinds of experiences.

N: I understand that you were the first Italian in the history of the Metropolitan opera to sing the role of Lensky in Eugene Onegin.  Is it a goal of yours to break new ground by performing roles not usually attempted by Italian tenors?

MG: It is always a goal of mine to try new ideas.  Singers are like painters.  We are always looking for new colours and attempting to paint new rainbows.  If we don’t feel this way, then maybe we need to change occupations.

N: What other roles do you hope to create?

MG: I have, in my schedule, forthcoming performances in Carmen, La Gioconda and Manon Lescaut.  I dream of one day also performing in Andrea Chenier and La Fanciulla del West.

N: I notice that in your new release on Naxos you perform several arias from Il Pirata, which you performed at the Met during its 2000/2001 season.  Have you performed in all of the operas represented on the disc?

MG: I have performed in most of them, yes.  The ones in which I have not performed, like Carmen and Il Trovatore, will appear in my schedule in the next couple of years.

N: On December 4th you begin your run in the title role of the Metropolitan Opera production of Benvenuto Cellini.  Besides rehearsals, are there certain things that you do to prepare for your performances?

MG: Well, I am just a normal human being, so I am not doing anything special, really.  Approaching a role like Cellini requires a lot of research, not just vocal preparation.  I engaged in a lot of historical studies.  I studied the places where he lived and the time in which he lived—the people and the customs, and then I looked at the score and decided on a musical approach.  First, though, I learned about the man.  I read his autobiography; I visited Florence and Paris, and did an in-depth study of his life, so I went to the first rehearsal very prepared.  When I sing a role like Cellini I feel as though I am not Giordani anymore, but that I am the man himself—I am Cellini.

N: Brian Kellow, who interviewed you for Opera News, called you one of the best and brightest of today’s tenors when he was interviewed by NPR.  What are your thoughts on the idea that you may be the “fourth tenor”, following Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti?

MG: First of all, I really appreciate Brian Kellow’s opinion.  It is always nice to be recognized but, frankly, I do not believe in the idea of “fourth tenor”.  I just want to be myself.

N: One hundred years from now, what would you like for people to remember when they think of Marcello Giordani?

MG: Marcello Giordani who?  [Laughs]
Seriously, if they still think of me, I want them to say, “He was a wonderful singer but, more importantly, he was a good human being.”  I feel that it is so important these days to be a good person.

Interview by Pearl Amanfu, November 2003.  This interview is the property of and may not be reprinted without permission.


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