Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.

Sound Bites: Luigi Boccia

by BRIAN KELLOW

Sound Bites Boccia HDL 1111
Photographed in New York by Dario Acosta at Sant Ambroeus, West Village; www.santambroeus.com
Grooming by Affan Malik / jacket by Boglioli / shirt by Façonnable
© Dario Acosta 2011
Sound Bites Boccia SM 1111
© Dario Acosta 2011

Luigi Boccia is an uncommonly cerebral tenor who speaks with high-speed, high-energy eloquence. Born in Wayne, New Jersey, but raised in Italy, he received a master's degree in musicology from the University of Pavia in 2004. His thesis was on the Italians' changing view of Richard Strauss — "how he went from being dissed by a lot of Italian composers who thought his style was too German to being loved, because during the Fascist period, every German artistic intellectual was to be worshipped as an example." Boccia had always sung, but never with an eye toward performing professionally. Mostly, he was a devotee of old Italian recordings. "The average kid would listen to Pavarotti or Domingo," he says, "but I would listen to Tamagno, Gigli — these old giants." 

His career path changed when he accompanied a friend who was studying voice to a lesson with Gianni Raimondi in Bologna. At the end, Boccia was asked to sing for Raimondi. "I was in Cremona, an hour and a half away, but he said, 'If you want to come here, as many times as you want during the week, I will teach you for free, because I think you have a beautiful instrument.' I went for a year and a half, several times a week, until his health began to deteriorate. He was invited often to dinners and parties, and they were lavish things in his honor, and he would always save a portion of what he had the day before — and give me something for the ride back." Under Raimondi's tutelage, Boccia developed a warm, distinctly Italianate sound that he is currently polishing at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts, with William Schuman. "I had heard a lot about him, including a lot of controversial things," says Boccia of his current voice teacher. "But I knew of his success with tenors. I feel so fortunate to study with him. People tend to think that a voice teacher is kind of a preacher, and he gives you his credo, and if you don't follow the rules you're a heretic and excommunicated. With Bill it feels more like a friendship, more like a discussion."

Boccia is racking up valuable stage experience. At AVA last spring, he had a success as Don Ottavio; he returns in 2012 as Nemorino. This month, he makes his Wexford Festival Opera debut in Ambroise Thomas's La Cour de Célimène, a comedy about the romantic intrigues of two titled sisters, one of whom, Boccia says, "has a Turandot syndrome with men. It is the most charming and elegant French music. The spoken dialogue is extensive, and I am glad they did some cuts, which I think will make the flow smoother. Can you imagine fifteen pages of French dialogue performed by non-native French singers in Ireland?" spacer 

BRIAN KELLOW

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Current Issue: July 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 1