Talking with singers: Franco Vassallo

Talking with singers: Franco Vassallo

Jenna Simeonov

This week at the Hamburgische Staatsoper, in a long-awaited role debut, Italian baritone Franco Vassallo takes on one of the most coveted characters in opera: Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca. He will share the stage with Jonas Kaufmann (Cavaradossi) and Anja Harteros (Tosca) in Robert Carsen’s production.

For Vassallo, acclaimed for his interpretation of Verdi’s operas in major houses worldwide, Scarpia is an exciting step into verismo repertoire. We spoke with the baritone about the art of taking the right roles at the right time, and how he unpacks a layered character like Scarpia.

Why do you sing professionally?

This was my dream since I was 11 years old. Gradually it became a reality and now it is my beloved job!

What do you know now about the singing career that you wish you knew 10 years ago?

When I was young I refused some roles because I thought I was not ready to face them. I thought I would have been appreciated for this sense of responsibility and respect for the audience and opera houses - instead, I discovered I had been considered a snob!

Vassallo as Figaro, with Elīna Garança (Rosina) in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Metropolitan Opera, 2008. Photo: Marty Sohl.

What kind of a man is Scarpia? How does he differ from other operatic villains, and what do you think makes him so dangerous?

Scarpia is a refined nobleman. He studied with the friars, soon becoming the Chief of Police of the Papal State for his clever mind and a real flair for hunting criminals.

I think he is a sensitive person who suffered during his childhood, probably from very severe and rigid parents and teachers who punished him very often, forming his introverted and cruel character. His boundless lust makes him a De Sade epigone; his greed is perverse, he desires everything, knowledge included. I think he practises his profession as a sort of spiritual mission, in defence of the “Nation of God on Earth”.

He has a really complex and controversional personality, a really dangerous ideology, deeply convinced to act in the right in the name of higher principles, of an ancient world now collapsing under the French Revolution and Napoleonic advent.

He hates this new “alba vindice” becouse it doesn’t recognize the ancestral privileges whom he believes are deserving.

A wonderful character, I’d say unique in the history of melodramma.

Vassallo as Amonasro with Sondra Radvanovsky (Aida) in Aida, Wiener Staatsoper, 2015. Photo: Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Pöhn.

What other roles are still on your wish-list for future seasons?

Next year in Bruxelles I will make the debut of another wonderful verismo role: Barnaba in La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli.

I wish very soon to sing Francesco Foscari in I due Foscari and Miller in Luisa Miller, both by Giuseppe Verdi.

As well, in September at Festival Verdi di Parma, there will be the world premiere of Robert Wilson’s production of Le trouvère, the French version of Il trovatore, never put onstage.

Photo: Alberto Terrile.

For more with Franco Vassallo, follow him on Facebook and Instagram.



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