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"To look into the future through the past" - interview with Carlo Vistoli

Polish version Flaga polska


Carlo Vistoli, young italian countertenor and rising star of baroque opera, talked to Paweł Binek on 15th of November 2014, after the first performance of a concert version of "Tamerlano" by Georg Freidrich Handel during the 4th edition of Poznań Baroque Festival. They met at Poznań Opera House.

Carlo Vistoli photo (c) Martin Vandory Innsbrucker Festwochen published by courtesy of Carlo Vistoli
Click to magnify

Paweł Binek: You are an opera singer with rather unusual voice - you are a countertenor. Could you tell me about the profile of your voice and differences among yours and other male voices?

Carlo Vistoli: While singing I make use of my head voice. We could also call it a reinforced falsetto, because I generate the sound using so called mask, as other opera singers do to make the sound stronger. Thanks to it we don't have to use microphones to be heard. That is the difference between opera and pop singing. As a countertenor, aside from the head voice, I use my chest register for lower notes. I have to stress that it isn't typical chest register, but my "normal" voice which I  use to sing more difficult and more intense excerpts and arias.  The difference among my kind of voice and the others is that I use a voice register which anyone has but in a  special way. In contrast to other singers I'm looking for some resonances which allow me to sing the highest notes.

Countertenors usually sing baroque and contemporary music. What is your repertoire?

I haven't had a possibility to sing modern music yet. To be honest I would really love to. In 20th century many pieces of music were composed, and are still being composed, for countertenors, so I hope I will sing this kind of repertoire someday. I usually sing the music written between the early 17th century and the end of  the 18th century. In other words, from Morteverdi through composers of the 18th century to the first operas by Mozart, like Mitridate and Ascanio in Alba. The main part of my repertoire is music by Handel, Vivaldi and Porpora, so exactly the composers from the middle of the  18th century.

Ccarlo Vistoli - L'Olimpiade (c) Studio Cogliolo published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of Carlo Vistoli
Carlo Vistoli - Dido & Aeneas photo (c) Studio Cogliolo published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of Carlo Vistoli
Click to magnify

Which role would you like to sing the most?

One of the operas I would like to sing is Rinaldo by Handel. I hope I will have such opportunity in the future. Moreover, I would like to sing again the role of Otto in  Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea. Since then I made my debut in this part in Belgrade this year, I can't wait to sing it again! I adore this opera so much that I could sing it every day. In my opinion it is the most beautiful piece of music I have ever performed. Obviously, I like many other operas which aren't in my repertoire.

Does the fact that you are a countertenor and you specialize in rather narrow repertoire influence somehow number of your performances? Maybe it is limited by your specialization?

Recently I am very occupied, so I am satisfied by the number of performances. In Italy, where I live, it is difficult to find possibilities to sign, because baroque music is rarely performed. I work more and more intensely since I perform in France. I sung there in Tamerlano before and I will often be there next year. I don't think that I have limited possibilities. There are many occasions to sing but not in Italy.

Tell me about your future artistic projects.

After the concerts in Poznań, I am performing in Sofia in Bulgaria still with Les Ambassadeurs and the conductor Alexis Kossenko (the concert has already taken place). Later I come back to France where I'm partecipating in the last performances of Francesco Cavalli's Elena in Rennes conducted by Leonardo García Alarcón. We have already played it at the beginning of November in Nantes. Next month I'm singing Tolomeo in Giulio Cesare by Handel in Shanghai. Next year I'm taking part in a tournée with Le jardin des voix and William Christie.

Shanghai is rather unusual place.

Yes, it's a surprise  also for me. I haven't performed in Asia yet but I know that there is huge demand for baroque music, especially in Japan and the richest cities of the region. Many Italian ensembles have already played there.

Countertenors often sings roles composed for castrati or even women.  Are these parts more challenging than these written for an countertenor?

It depends on it how a score is composed. If it is for a countertenor, it does not cause any additional problems for me. Composers form the 18th century havev't written a lot of music for countertenors so I usually sings roles composed for castrati. Generally speaking, they do not cause any additional problems compared to the pieces of music meant for countertenors. They should only be written in an appropriate tessitura. Regarding female roles I have sung only en travesti  roles, which means performing a male character composed for higher voice register. Female roles are usually written very high, so they require a countertenor who would be able to reach the register of mezzosoprano or even soprano.

In Poznań we could listen to you in Handel's Tamerlano. How did you became a member of the cast for this concert?

Alexis Kossenko, conductor, had listened to me earlier. We performed together in Poitiers. He was looking for singers for Tamerlano  and he decided to hire me after I had sung him some arias from this opera. Moreover, Anne Blanchard, artistic manager of Festival in Beaune, recommended me to him because she had been to the singing competition which I won. This is why I am in Poznań now.

Carlo Vistoli photo (c) Studio Cogliolo published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of Carlo Vistoli
Click to magnify

How much time did you need to prepare your part?

I had known arias from Tamerlano  before from singing competitions. Especially the last one A dispetto d'un volto ingrato  which is one of the most difficult coloratura arias and I used it for studying. I started to work on recitatives this holiday simultaneously with Cavalli's Elena.

In Poznań Tamerlano is performed as a concert. Which kind of performance is more difficult for a singer? A stage version or a concert one?

It depends. The concert version can be easier for soloists, because they can concentrate only on the music and thanks to it the performance can be musically more clear.   What is more, they do not have to know their parts by heart. Stage versions are more absorbing and more energetic. The necessity of theatrical interpretation of a character is an extra stimulus both for audience and singers.

Do you apply any special technique to present your character during a concert? Maybe some special gestures?

No, I don't do any particular things. Moreover, one shouldn't be doing too much. Only during recitatives I try to look at a person who I'm talking to or to indicate them in other way. Just to show the audience who I'm talking to.

Carlo Vistoli - Spettacolo Castrati photo (c) Studio Cogliolo published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of Carlo Vistoli
 Click to magnify

One of the goals of Poznań Baroque Festival is to look into the future through the past. Do you think that baroque opera can be understood and admired by modern people or it belongs only to the past?

No, it doesn't definitely belong to the past. I think that baroque music should be rediscovered and it can be still current, like any other musical work from the past. For few decades we can observe a renaissance of the baroque repertoire. Thanks to some modernization it's becoming more interesting and more absorbing for contemporary people. In my opinion also in Poland, like in other countries, more and more baroque operas will be performed.

Is baroque opera popular in Italy? You have already mentioned that you work mainly in France.

In Italy there are many important ensembles which perform baroque music and they present very high musical quality. They usually work abroad. It doesn't mean that baroque repertoire isn't performed in Italy at all. Baroque operas are staged but definitely more rarely than in France, England, Germany or in Austria.

I would like to ask you about Polish and Italian audience. Italians are said to be more expressive while Poles are rather calm. What is your impression?

During the first performance the audience was really lively and engaged so I don't have this impression. In Italy, especially in the theatres of long tradition, there may be more tendency to criticize.  I haven't experienced it but I know that in some opera houses, like La Scala, there are always some spectators on the galleries who look for some details in singing. If they don't find them, they whistle and boo at the artists. Furthermore, some beautiful stagings, which have success abroad and are very beautiful, at least in my opinion,  aren't appreciated. The Italian audience is very demanding and should become open to novelties.

At the end, I would like to talk about the crisis of Italian opera houses. Also in Poland we hear about theatres which are closed down due to financial problems. I've heard an opinion that it's better to emigrate from Italy and work for example in Poland. Even if it's less prestigious and low-paid job, one can at least earn some money. Did you notice such attitude among Italian musicians?

I don't know anybody who would work in Poland but there are many musicians who leave Italy and work abroad. The situation in Italy is critical, I can mention for instance problems at Rome Opera House. I hope that some finance resources will be found soon and it will get better. We have to remember that the crisis concerns not only the opera but also chamber and symphonic music. The directions of the emigration of Italian musicians - Central and Eastern Europe- are connected with shorter operatic tradition which causes bigger interest. Thanks to it, despite the crisis, there is more will to fund opera houses to satisfy the demand for this genre. I've heard about this wonder for people who emigrated to Central Europe to work. In Italy the opera is present for so many years that it became usual and taken for granted. Nevertheless, it still needs further investments and ought to be developed.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Author: Paweł Binek

All rights reserved © Paweł Binek and opera.info.pl


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