Tenor Carlo Barricelli (pictured left) is everything you’d expect an Italian singer to be: passionately in love with opera, well versed in pizza, beautifully dressed, handsome, demonstrative, generous.
We agree to meet outside Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, and he turns up with fellow Italian singer Daria Masiero (pictured below right), Liù in the Sydney run of OA’s hit production of Turandot. In the Melbourne season, which opens this month, Barricelli shares the role of Calaf with Rosario La Spina, as he did in Sydney.
The artists announce that they are hungry and politely suggest an upstairs Italian café where the pizza is very good. They seem to be old favourites of the maitre d’ because he quickly finds a quiet table amidst the lunchtime buzz.
“What’s capsicum?” Barricelli asks, when we’ve been handed our menus. “Peperonata,” Masiero says, and to me: “If you’re going to have salad, you must try some of my pizza!”
I do. More than once. The waiters are attentive; they seem to know the artists.
While munching on pepperoni pizza and insalata verde, we talk about Turandot. People refer to ‘Nessun dorma’ as ‘the Pavarotti song’, and these days popular artists sing it with microphones, Barricelli says, shaking his head. There’s so much more to opera than that. “To go on the stage, I have to study for many years, get experience, and I don’t know if my lunch was poisoned and how my vocal chords are going to react to that!”
|Jud Arthur and Daria Masiero |
in Turandot 2012
Across the table, Masiero rolls her eyes, apparently in support of her friend’s view of popularising opera arias.
Calaf is a very difficult role, Barricelli says. “You stay very high all through the night. You need good …good…distribution of energy.”
You have to pace yourself? I venture.
It’s a very beautiful opera, he says, sitting back. “One step closer to the heaven of the opera. No?”
“Every tenor wants to sing that score,” Masiero agrees, offering me another slice of pizza.
For Barricelli, once he’d decided to make opera his career, the Turandot moment came fairly quickly. He was studying political science and economics – the plan was to become a politician – when at a friend’s party, after he’d entertained guests with a Neapolitan song, one of them, a retired opera singer, advised him to get some formal training. Barricelli started taking singing lessons, then enrolled at the Conservatorium, and after graduation took up private lessons with his idol, the late Franco Corelli.
At the mention of his teacher’s name, Barricelli starts talking more animatedly, throwing in more Italian words as he goes along. “When was with him I…respirara?”
Breathed? I try.
“Breathed!” he says. “When I was with Franco, I breathed opera. Franco said to me, ‘Carlo, you have a fever – malato – for opera!’ When opera touches you like that, you can’t go back.”
Masiero laughs affectionately and touches his shoulder. “Carlo, you love opera so much,” she says.
He laughs too, and begins to tell me about the type of voice a tenor needs to sing the role of Calaf: a lyrical voice to begin with; a big, heroic tenor for the section in which he challenges Turandot; a Romantic voice for the final scene. These differences may seem trivial, but they’re very difficult to pull off.
When I ask why, Barricelli breaks first into Italian, then into song, perfectly illustrating the difference between the dramatic and lyrical tenor voice.
“That’s amazing. That’s beautiful,” I tell him. “I see exactly what you mean.” Across the table, Masiero smiles at me.
There’s another challenge to Turandot: the switch in style that comes from Puccini not having finished the score. “I agree with Toscanini, who once stopped the opera where Liù dies,” Barricelli says. Next to him Masiero vigorously nods her head. “Because for Toscanini, Turandot finishes here. Alfano completed the opera, and his music is also very beautiful. But not like Puccini.”
While we finish our meals, Barricelli tells me about his background. Born in Adelaide and brought up in Italy, where his parents returned when he was a baby, he came back to sing: Il tabarro, then La bohème, Tosca, La fanciulla del West, and now Turandot.
“The country is beautiful and the work is good, so I like coming here,” he says. His accountant wife travels with him when she can, but often has to return to their home in Bologna before the end of a run.
“The opera singer has a very sacrificed life,” Barricelli says. “Very, very sacrificed. It’s a very beautiful life too, because the adrenalin gives you a lot of power.”
Even in Italy, few people understand what’s involved. “They ask, what is your work, and when you say you’re an opera singer, they ask, So what do you do during the day? They don’t understand how much work it takes to train your voice and rehearse. They don’t understand that you always have a war inside you because your body is your instrument, and if it doesn’t feel well, your instrument is not well.”
There are many roles he’d still like to sing. “I have very young career, even if I am not a young man!” This with a laugh. And he’d love to do Manon Lescaut. The Puccini one? Naturalmente!
As we say goodbye, and they warmly hug me, and Barricelli absolutely insists on paying for lunch, it’s impossible to understand how anyone could not be in love with this big, colourful art form - the sheer magic of it and the passion of the people involved.
It feels good to have been touched by that magic over pepperoni pizza and insalata verde. Naturalmente.
|The Opera Australia Chorus in Turandot|