Cultivating Passion with Luca Pisaroni
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Luca Pisaroni sat down with Final Note Magazine this week to talk about what opera means to him, “Opera tells us who we are as human beings…it’s not just entertainment to me”.
In this sensitive and in-depth interview we discover the bass-baritone’s philosophies behind accessibility to opera, his day-to-day reality of life on the road and his upcoming role in Agrippina at the Barbican.
When you’re studying you’re performing in a perfect environment. But the reality of this profession is that most of the time it’s about compromise, unfavourable conditions and not ideal situations."
What do you remember about school?
I hated discos and I loved Pavarotti, which wasn’t the perfect recipe for popularity as a teenager (laughs) – but I honestly never cared. My mother is from Busseto in Italy, which is where Giuseppe Verdi was born, so through my grandfather I was listening to this amazing music all the time. I decided very young that I wanted to be a singer. In high school my teachers were very supportive, I was passionate and dedicated, so they knew I wasn’t going to be convinced to do anything else. It was a great lesson, I learned that if you want people to believe in you, all they need to see is you working relentlessly to achieve your goals.
What’s the most important thing you have learned from your music education?
Ironically, school doesn’t really prepare you for the real world. You will learn far more spending six months in a theatre than an entire degree – your learning starts after you graduate. When you’re studying you’re performing in a perfect environment. But the reality of this profession is that most of the time it’s about compromise, unfavourable conditions and not ideal situations. If you want this career you have to manage that. If a colleague gets sick and doesn’t turn up until two days before opening night, you still have to do it. The audience doesn’t care if you’ve had a month, a week or a day to prepare, they’ll still expect the full delivery.
What’s your social media strategy?
To completely be myself. Don’t be anyone else, because you are the best person at being you. Embrace yourself and be honest. I talk about serious and lighter stuff, I try to find balance and keep it interesting. Life is not only light, there’s shadow and darkness. I don’t pretend that life is easy and happens without any effort. In our world the stage is the tip of the iceberg and without a lot of serious hard work you won’t get anywhere, so I share that. I have a massive advantage that my wife Catherine takes brilliant photos and is a great designer, which helps me look as good as I can.
Where do you find the balance between making opera more accessible and dumbing it down?
You cannot dumb it down, if you do it’s degrading. My approach is that I like to tell a story and let people be amazed by it. Opera shouldn’t require you to understand the genre or to read the score beforehand. When I go to the movies, I sit down and I wait to be entertained and told a story. You shouldn’t have to prepare for it. As an audience member at an opera you should think about the fact that you’re about to witness a phenomenal theatrical experiment and let yourself be amazed by what you hear and see. There will be operas that speak to you and those that don’t, and that’s ok. As a performer you have a responsibility to believe this and that your level of intention is serious.
Did you feel a transition from rising star to internationally renowned artist?
God, I absolutely hate that question, and here’s why; I work and I try to do the best I can, there was never that point for me. Every day when I show up, I am one among many and I want to do a good job and I want to sing and act well. I want the audience to appreciate what I do. I see myself as a person trying to do a job and the day I am complacent and happy with what I’ve done, I’ll probably stop singing. That feeling has never arrived for me and I’m rarely happy after a performance. Of all the artists and colleagues that the public might refer to as ‘famous’ I can’t think of a single one of them that doesn’t question their artistry. It’s a constant, relentless working progress.
Your dogs are more famous than you…
I completely agree, people are coming to see the dogs. The fact that I sing is an afterthought (laughs). When I performed with my dachshund Tristan in Le Nozze di Figaro at the Salzburg Festival, people really wanted to meet him at the stage door. My dogs are amazing, and I’m very happy that I get to travel with them. If you’ve had a horrific day and you’re in a bad mood, they’re always incredibly happy to see you. There’s no negativity with them and there’s no better feeling.
How do you maintain normality on the road?
It took me a long time to realise that I work better when I’m surrounded by beauty. I’m financially responsible, but having a nice apartment in a nice area with parks to walk in is so important. Life is not a rehearsal and if you spend your life on the road, you need to give yourself the best conditions so you can do your best job. It’s not about being luxurious, it helps me do my job better. If I’m living in a dark, tiny, stinky apartment, I become a dark, tiny, stinky person. You have to take care of this stuff.
When you’re performing, what are you thinking about?
There’s so much multitasking. The costume, the conductor, your music, your colleagues, it’s a lot to think about. Also there’s so much you don’t have control over – the conductor might be too far away, you may not be able to hear your colleagues or the set might work against you. You have to just get over it.
So after thinking about all of that I’m trying to tell a story about somebody who is not me. I don’t go on stage to show people me, I show them somebody else through my eyes. The Luca you see walking the dogs or drinking a coffee is not the Luca you see on stage, it has to be different and I’m so lucky that I get to play these roles in different situations.
Do you have a performance day routine?
Yes, it’s sleep. I always take a nap. If I don’t sleep in the afternoon my energy is low around 7pm, which is generally my time to perform. I’m in bed at 1pm get up at 2.30pm, have an espresso and then I work out. I warm up and go through the piece. I’m always at the theatre an hour before the show starts, depending how complicated the makeup and costume is. But you have to be careful about not being too early because you can deflate.
What I’ve found in working out my specific performance day routine is that it’s all about trial and error and different things work for different people, it’s about finding your own balance.
Opera tells us who we are as human beings, why we are on the planet and the conflicts and issues that we deal with everyday."
What is the main function and purpose of opera?
Opera tells us who we are as human beings, why we are on the planet and the conflicts and issues that we deal with everyday. No matter how old the opera is, we go through the same things and have the same feelings, so for me it’s not just entertainment.
It’s best when you go and you can relate to what you’re living in your own personal life now. It can make you cry or it can make you reflect. It’s always been a language that allows me to understand and feel things that sometimes words or actions can’t communicate.
It’s amazing to fill an entire theatre with your voice; it’s one instrument and it is unamplified. The first time I heard Pavarotti in a theatre I went crazy, he had one of those voices. It felt like it was surrounding you. So I want people to love it, and the performers have to love it. There’s such a difference between someone who loves something and someone who just does the job. When you love something you can convince almost anybody that it’s incredible.
How do you click out?
I love watching TV because I don’t have to talk and it relaxes me, and I love reading. I’m a nut about World War II history, everything that lead up to and after. I’m fascinated by the collective craziness of humanity because I come from a country that for a little bit of its history, lost its mind. I’m fascinated by the fact that democracy is so delicate and needs to be protected and nurtured.
What are you looking forward to in your role as Claudio in Agrippina at the Barbican with Joyce DiDonato this coming Friday?
Agrippina is interesting because it’s like an early Lady Macbeth. The psychological changes in the characters are amazing and Joyce is really a master at this. She can draw a character in the recitativo so precisely. Claudio is more of a victim of what happens until he regains control at the end. It’s a great project and every time you’re on stage with singers like Joyce and Franco Fagioli it’s an absolute blast. They raise the bar and make you want to be as great as you possibly can. I also love the Barbican because there’s so much passion for Handel in London. It’s going to be fun!
To find out more about Luca Pisaroni see:
For details on Luca Pisaroni’s upcoming Agrippina performance at the Barbican:
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