OPERA NEWS - The Fourteenth Annual OPERA NEWS Awards: Luca Pisaroni
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The Fourteenth Annual OPERA NEWS Awards: Luca Pisaroni

By Adam Wasserman 

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Portrait by Anthony Tahlier
Mélange brown and beige cashmere soft jacket by Via Luca; wool silk sweater by Via Luca
Grooming by Jamie Tannenbaum for Chicago Makeup Artists
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Alidoro to Joyce DiDonato’s Angelina in the Met’s Cenerentola, 2014
© Beatriz Schiller
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© Anthony Tahlier

LUCA PISARONI'S musical and dramatic commitment reshapes every opera in which he sings. When the bass-baritone took on the role of Leporello in Michael Grandage’s then-new production of Don Giovanni at the Met in 2011, Pisaroni’s catalogue aria stood the entire opera on its head: watching his Leporello engage Elvira was a bit like witnessing Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter torment Jodie Foster from behind a glass screen. The gorgeous malice with which he intoned the phrase “Voi sapete quel che fa” came across as the apogee of the psychological violence on display that evening.

Pisaroni’s two-decade career has been crowded with breathtaking moments that have arrived by way of sidestepping the predictable. Instead of merely projecting brawn, the virtuoso rage of his rendition of “Sibillar gli angui d’Aletto,” from Glyndebourne’s Rinaldo, left his desperate Argante on the verge of mental collapse. His urbane version of “Là del ciel nell’arcano profondo,” as Alidoro in 2014 Met performances of Cenerentola, worked not by divine will but by something closer to paternal common sense.

The bass-baritone has not merely built his repertoire around a nucleus of Mozart roles; he has exploded the presumptions of what these thrice-familiar characters can convey. The blue-blooded imperiousness that defined Pisaroni’s take on Count Almaviva during 2017 Met Figaro performances seemed worlds away from the forthright title character that got hitched in his splendid 2015 recording of Mozart’s opera. Yet the elegance at the center of Pisaroni’s vocal approach to roles is more than the work of a supreme Mozartean: it reveals a singing actor’s shrewd grasp of the parallels between an upstart valet’s nobility of spirit and a dangerous aristocrat oblivious to the limits of reason. The bass-baritone’s interpretations attest that Mozart’s characters aren’t way stations en route to more dramatic roles but destinations in themselves. It’s fitting that Pisaroni was tapped to sing Lorenzo da Ponte in this month’s HGO world premiere of The Phoenix: it’s hard to recall another singer whose characterizations have emerged so organically from da Ponte’s words. 

Born in Venezuela to Italian parents, Pisaroni resettled in Italy with his family when he was four years old. He came of age in Verdi’s hometown of Busseto and made frequent pilgrimages to La Scala and La Fenice to hear opera while regularly auditing Carlo Bergonzi’s classes at the local Accademia Verdiana. His formal musical training began at the Milan Conservatory before he traveled to Buenos Aires for a year of vocal realignment. A mere year after turning pro, Pisaroni made his Salzburg Festival debut as Masetto. 

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Méphistophélès in Faust at Houston Grand Opera, 2016
© Lynn Lane

Since then, Pisaroni’s unerring dedication to vocal beauty and dramatic truth has made him one of the most thrilling performers of his generation. For evidence of his brilliance, one need only find the YouTube video of him singing “Duce di tanti eroi,” from the 2012 dress rehearsal of Maometto II at Santa Fe Opera. “If I want to choose the way I’ll be remembered,” Pisaroni told OPERA NEWS in 2015, “I want people to say, ‘He was a great singing actor’ more than ‘Oh my God, he was a such a great voice.’” Pisaroni’s artistry has left audiences with the knowledge that sometimes one can have the best of both worlds. —Adam Wasserman 

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