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Beata i Michał Olszewscy
opera.info.pl - 11/05/2015

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"Falstaff... I like his joie de vivre" - interview with Ambrogio Maestri

Polish version Flaga polska


Ambrogio Maestri who performs the role of Falstaff in the newest production at the Metropolitan Opera talks to Beata and Michał Olszewscy. Opera "Falstaff" will be broadcasted live on December 14th within The MET Live in HD project. 

Ambrogio Maestri photo from webpage www.ambrogiomaestri.com published by courtesy of Ambrogio Maestri click to magnify...opublikowane dzięki uprzejmości Ambrogio Maestri / Photo publisged by courtesy od Ambrogio Maestri
Ambrogio Maestri
photo from webpage www.ambrogiomaestri.com
published by courtesy of Ambrogio Maestri
click to magnify...

A few  days ago there was the premiere of the new production of Giuseppe Verdi's “Falstaff” in Metropolitan Opera in New York, that will be soon transmitted all over the world within MET Live HD program. This new staging of “Falstaff” masterpiece, directed by Robert Carson is a joint production of many leading opera houses – MET, ROH, La Scala, to mention just a few. Could you be so kind and describe what opera lovers may expect from the new production of “Falstaff” in Metropolitan Opera? Would it be rather modern or traditional approach to this famous, last Verdi’s opera?

Opera's plot was located in England 50s, when the gap between the bourgeoisie and aristocracy becomes apparent as it had been during the Elizabethan period. Despite the fact that the staging is contemporary, it remains consistent dramatically and with respect for the music. The audience will not see a traditional staging in the historical sense, but will easily feel  the spirit of the time and follow the story of Falstaff.

This production of “Falstaff” is conducted by Mr. James Levine, who is returning to work in orchestral pit after a long break. How was it to work with the famous maestro? Have you learned any new aspects of this role when preparing to this new staging?

Working with James Levine is a huge privilege for me. This is an exceptional musician as well as an extraordinary person. He loves singers and allows them to present their best side, giving them an opportunity to make full use of their vocal qualities.

Ambrogio Maestri in the title role of Verdi's "Falstaff"  photo (c) Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
Click photo to magnify...

The role of Sir John Falstaff is one of your todays' famous ones. During 2013 you sung this role in La Scala, Opera Bastille, Bayerische Staatsoper as well as during Salzburg Festival.  For us, it is a quite complex role, at first sight it looks very funny, but at the same time there is a seriousness built in this character, sadness coming from getting aware of time passing and becoming lonely, what was interestingly shown in Salzburg  production this year. What  do you like in this character? What kind of person  you want to present on stage when  singing this part? What is the most difficult in this role?

I like his ‘joie de vivre‘ and his ability to live the moment. He thinks that future has still a lot to give him. He never gives up; even when life reveals to him its bitterness. Of course he has moments of deep melancholy due to the balance that, after the 2 jokes, he makes of his life; but it‘s enough a good glass of wine to make him trust in life again. I like his irony and the capacity non to take himself and the life too seriously, because ‘tutti nel mondo è burla‘

Some of the opera singers are saying that singing at the Metropolitan Opera is something special, because of its huge scale and unforgettable atmosphere.  What is your experience of singing here?  Would you be also so kind and tell us what was the most outstanding or unusual place that you had an opportunity to sing?

The MET is really huge but the acoustics is excellent so you don‘t have to push your voice too much. I use to sing in Arena di Verona, without microphone and with 18.000 spectators, so I don‘t fear big theaters. I think that the magic of Arena is unique.

Ambrogio Maestri photo from webpage www.ambrogiomaestri.com published by courtesy of Ambrogio Maestri click to magnify...
Ambrogio Maestri
photo from webpage www.ambrogiomaestri.com
published by courtesy of Ambrogio Maestri
click to magnify...

During last years you played a lot of roles in Verdi's operas. Apart Sir John Falstaff, there were Amonasro,  Rigoletto, Nabucco, Simon Boccanegra as well as the roles in operas of other composers, like Scarpia in “Tosca”, Tonio in “Pagliacci” and Alfio in “Cavalleria rusticana”. What role is the closest to your heart? And if we ask you about unforgettable  opera / production that you took part in, what would be your answer?

I have grown with Falstaff and there is much of me in the character I bring on the scene. We are like good old friends. My dearest memories are bound to my first production in La Scala with Strehler as stage director and Riccardo Muti as conductor.
May you tell us how your adventure with opera started? When have you decided that being the opera singer is your life path? If we would like to ask you about people that have had  the most significant influence on you in your professional life, who you would name?

I have always loved singing, from an early age. This passion was passed on to me by my father who had a beautiful voice but unfortunately  when he was a boy was not able to study.  And it was my father who understood how important music was for me and when I was 9 years old enrolled me in a piano course. I first appeared on stage when I was 10 years old. I took part in the opera Pollicina, at the Teatro Fraschini in Pavia.  I played the part of Messer Gufo singing on a rickety ladder.

Then, during my adolescence I fell in love with basketball and joined the juvenile team of my town playing in the A series for some years.  I trained nearly every day and, so as not to neglect my school work and the piano, I gave up singing.

I come back to singing thanks to my parents. They had a restaurant and every evening I went there to lend them a hand.  In the main dining room there was a piano and it was inevitable that someone would ask me to play and sing something.  Among these clients there were opera enthusiasts and subscribers to La Scala.  Everyone said that my voice was a phenomenon and that it would have been a great shame not to valorize it.  So I began to study  with the tenor Umberto Grilli.  For six years I only did vocalisms, but today I understand the importance of those sacrifices. In fact, when I was 29, after having won several competitions, I was noticed and invited to La Scala for an audition for Falstaff with Riccardo Muti.

Serwis internetowy Ambrogio Maestri - www.ambrogiomaestri.com
Visit Ambrogio Maestri website - www.ambrogiomaestri.com

We would like to ask you how you prepare to the new role. Do you start with learning the character or are you reading the original play or do you start with the music? Are you usually listening to different recordings when preparing to the new role or you avoid this?

First I read the libretto and then give a look to the partitura. Then, I usually listen to the greatest singers of the past and try to get inspiration by all of them. Now, with Youtube, you can find really precious document of Cappuccili, Protti, Taddei, Gobbi... 

We have read in one of the interview that you are all the time working on your voice. Can you tell us more how this process looks like. Do you have a  voice teacher with whom you always prepare the new roles or you are working on a voice by yourselves?

I have a coach who helps me training my voice with special vocalisms that change with the part I have to sing. I have a wide repertoire that goes from the lowest score to the highest ones for a baritone. For passing from a role to another which has a completely difficult tessitura I have to work daily.

When looking in the future what are the roles that you would like to sing?

I will debut this summer in Spain in “Andrea Chénier” and I‘m looking forward to be offered a Macbeth.

Thank you very much for your time.


Authors: Beata and Michal Olszewscy

Translation: from English Beata and Michal Olszewscy; we thank very much Sylwia for translating from Italian
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