Music critic and journalist
     Cheryl North :: Interviews

Cheryl North Interviews Frank Lopardo

ANG Newspapers Classical Music Column for September 21, 2001

Frank Lopardo is a tenor with both sense and sensibility -- a combination somewhat rare among the breed. His portrayal of the Duke of Mantua in the San Francisco Opera's current production of Verdi's Rigoletto shows off his mellifluous yet powerful voice, as well as his finely tuned musicianship.

In his earlier years on the operatic stage, while singing a great deal of Mozart and Rossini, his voice was much lighter and lacked the heft it has today. In a one of his rarely given interviews last week, the 43-year-old tenor explained that his clarion high notes and resonant power are not because he is doing anything special or singing in a different way than he did earlier in his career. "It's all happened quite naturally -- possibly because of increasing age and because of years of healthy singing. I still study with the same teacher, Robert White, and maintain the same practice routine as I did when I started singing opera back in the early 1980s."

Handsome, fit, and finely featured, Lopardo had no intention of becoming an opera singer during his childhood years in Queens, New York. Neither his mother, whose family had immigrated to the United States from Northern Italy, nor his father, whose roots were in Salerno, Italy, was musical. "I wasn't much of an athlete and didn't have much to do with music when I turned 12. I just wanted to survive," he said with a sigh and a chuckle. "Then, when I got into high school, I sang in the chorus of our school production of Fiddler on the Roof. Some of the people who heard me suggested that I audition for a part in our community theater."

He landed a few parts and found that he really liked singing. With the idea that he might pursue a career singing in Broadway-style musicals, he entered Queens College intending to get a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. "At that age, opera wasn't high on my priority list," he said. But faculty members recognized the possibilities inherent in his luminous voice and his extraordinary musicianship, and urged him to try some opera. Although he claims that there was no decisive moment for his decision to go into operatic singing, he was nevertheless hooked on the art form. He auditioned and was accepted at Juilliard School of Music and began studying with White.

"Now I really feel at home in the classical music world," he said. "I can't imagine doing anything else -- but in my old age, I hope to go back to doing some painting and sculpting and a lot of reading."

Although Lopardo's voice can soar skyward with stunning high C's, his common sense keeps him with feet firmly on the ground. He is definitely NOT a temperamental prima donna-type. When I mentioned that some of his local musical colleagues had told me about his good nature and easy sense of humor during the recent Rigoletto preparations, he modestly replied, "I've been known to keep things light during rehearsals." Continuing, he emphasized, "I try not to bring too much attention to myself during rehearsals and to just do my job. It takes a lot of hard work to really do justice to a particular role. I can't waste my energies trying to become a famous household name."

When I asked him what he would like to be doing 15 or 20 years from now, he spontaneously said, "Just what I'm doing now. I love the repertoire I'm presently doing -- La Boheme, Traviata, Lucia, L'Elisir, Eugene Onegin, Rigoletto . But I want to explore them more fully. Just because you've got a role memorized, doesn't mean that you've uncovered all its secrets. I'll always be searching for more nuance and polish to bring to the roles I'm now singing." However, he added that he hopes to add the lead tenor roles of Werther, Manon and Tales of Hoffman, even though he qualified these plans with the comment "Life is short. Why should I do what I don't particularly like when I am quite happy doing the roles that resonate with me?"

Another indication of what many in the music world would consider this uncommon tenor's common sense, is the fact that he doesn't read reviews until a particular engagement is over. "You can get seduced by the good ones and depressed by the bad ones. I think its best to simply compile them and read them when you've finished a particular role -- or in your old age," he quipped.

The only thing about his operatic success that gives him the least bit of pause is that it keeps him away from his home and family in New York _ his school-teacher wife and two sons, 12 and 15 years of age -- for long blocks of time. "Even though my boys are more interested in MTV than opera, they still come to as many of my performances as they can," he said.

Lopardo has by now successfully established himself performances of his signature repertoire in most of the major opera houses of the world, such as the London Royal Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, the Vienna State Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Santa Fe, the Paris Opera/Bastille, and well as on many CD and video recordings.

But, don't expect him to be singing Wagner any time soon!

. . . . . . . . . href="">.