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Cheryl North Interviews Marcello Giordani

Classical Music Column for August 25, 2000 ANG PREVIEW Section

by Cheryl North

What do you think of when you hear the words �Italian tenor?�

Whatever first comes to mind probably won't fit Marcello Giordani. The young 37-year-old tenor is currently in the Bay Area rehearsing for his upcoming role in the first opera of the San Francisco Opera's 2000-2001 season, Verdi�s �Luisa Miller,� with Patricia Racette, Elena Zaremba, and Paolo Gavanelli, scheduled for performances on Sept. 9, 13, 17, 19, 22, 28, and Oct. 1. Most local opera aficionados will remember him as the exceptionally fine Fernando in last season's production of Donizetti's �La Favorite;� and previous local leads in �La Traviata� with Carol Vaness; in �Lucia� with Ruth Ann Swenson; and �La Boheme� with Patricia Racette.

Yes, he is Italian -- Sicilian, in fact. But he�s neither short, chubby, nor convinced he�s God's gift to music or womankind. Rather, he's surprisingly modest and intent on improving both his voice and his art and he's been a devoted husband to the love of his life, Wilma, for the past 10 years. He�s also a tireless supporter of aspiring opera talent and has recently established the Michele Guagliardo Fellowship, named to honor his late father, at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.

The words �tall, dark, and handsome� fit him like a glove and he has a relaxed sense of humor and doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. But, in spite of all that, he can soar up to the high C's with the precision and power of a guided missile. Moreover, he has gleaned critical praise for his �sensitive legato� and for being �secure of pitch, even and expressive through all registers and all dynamic levels, from a feathery pianissimo to an earth-shaking forte.�

Quite a package.

During a chat at the opera house last week, the affable tenor revealed that he'd been singing since he was a small child in the small seaside town of Augusta, near Siricusa, in Sicily. �I would sing everywhere -- in church, in the shower, everywhere. When my singing disturbed my older brothers watching television in our small apartment, my father would always tell them to let me sing -- that it was a wonderful thing that I was singing,� he said.

The tenor also credits the elder Guagliardo (Giordani is Marcello's stage name) for his sense of values. �He told me,� said Marcello of his father, �that if ever I am blessed with a successful opera career, I must give something back to the profession by helping young singers. Now I have an opportunity to fulfill his wish.� In reminiscing about his youth, he said, �Although I was born with high notes and had a naturally strong voice, I knew I had to get training and to learn proper technique. When I was 17, my father and I searched for teachers. It was difficult to find one in Sicily. Finally, I found Signora Maria, a wonderful 82 year-old soprano in Catania. She adopted me like a son and made me work up to eight hours a day on singing.�

He stayed with Signora Maria for three years and then set out to get further lessons in Milano.

By the time he was 23, he made his professional debut singing the role of the Duke in Verdi's �Rigoletto� in the Spoleto Festival. Two years later he debuted as Rudolfo in Puccini's �La Boheme� at the great La Scala Opera in Milano.

However, the year 1994 was a turning point for him. What he now considers to have been an inadequate technique, contributed to major problems with his voice. It was also the year that his father died. It was then that his manager suggested that he move to New York to study with a teacher well suited to his particular vocal problems. �This teacher was only 35 years old. I didn't trust him at first. What could one so young teach me? But his pedagogy just opened my voice. I felt like I was free,� Giordani said, punctuating his speech with a wonderful �vocabulary� of hand and arm gestures. �This teacher was a miracle for me. My voice has become brighter and has more even coloration throughout its range. It�s even bigger.�

Critics and opera administrators seem to agree. He is besieged with offers from major opera houses throughout the world to sing major roles in the Italian and French repertory. He has just finished a run of Massenet's �Werther� with Jennifer Larmore in Vienna and excerpts from �Tosca� with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic before 100,000 in Tel Aviv. Besides his local appearances in �Luisa Miller,� in the opening night gala honoring Lotfi Mansouri on Sept. 8, and �Simon Boccanegra� in SFO's Verdi Festival next June, he is preparing for the role of Lenski in the Metropolitan Opera's upcoming �Eugene Onegin� production. He is also generous with his talent and plans to participate in benefit concerts in Connecticut and Sicily later in the year. In addition, there are always a few recitals on the back burner, since he genuinely enjoys the intimacy recitals allow with an audience.

When I asked him what he liked about San Francisco, he made an Italianate sweep with his right arm and said, �Everything! I like the view. The weather. The people. The food. Everything! If I were going to live in the United States, I would choose San Francisco.�

He likes it so much, in fact, that his wife and their two sons -- Michele Francesco, age 3, and Gerard Andre, age 2 -- were due to appear within the hour at his next rehearsal, and his older brother and his family are due for a September stay.

�My wife and boys travel with me wherever my singing engagements take me,� he said. �We know we won't be able to do this as easily when they are in school, so we are enjoying travel together now.�

He also enjoys American movies and claims to have perfected his English by watching American cartoons on television (his wife, a Swiss citizen, speaks five languages). Noting his athletic build, I asked him if he was involved in sports or exercise.

He flexed his right arm to show me his biceps. �See that muscle? It comes from eating spaghetti. That's the only exercise I do,� he said with a chuckle and did a little pantomime illustrating the Italian way of twisting spaghetti strands around a fork.

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