Tomorrow the new CD by Ildebrando d'Arcangelo is in the shops, or in a couple of weeks' time is you're in the US. Called simply Mozart, it gives the Italian baritone scope to present the repertoire he's most at home with, and with which he's won some of his greatest acclaim.
Mozart is my god. He is the composer who inspired in me the passion for music and my career.”
Right from the bass-baritone's 1994 breakthrough performance in Parma as Leporello under Gardiner, which established the young singer as a velvet-voiced charmer with a brilliant line in stage comedy, to the recent triumphant addition of Don Giovanni to his repertoire, Mozart has been central to the singer's work.
I feel that he is my ‘house composer', and I think – I hope – my voice is ready to do him justice.”
The composer's most popular baritone and bass-baritone roles are handsomely represented in D'Arcangelo's recital. From Don Giovanni we find Leporello listing his master's prodigious sexual conquests, and also meet the libidinous Giovanni himself, first descanting on the delights of instant gratification and then serenading a distant beauty. From Le nozze di Figaro we first encounter Figaro planning to outwit his employer's stratagems and later fulminating on the faithlessness of women. In Figaro's master, the Count, swears to get his revenge on his uppity domestics. From Così fan tutte there's the naive Guglielmo setting out to test his lover's fidelity and then, like Figaro, blustering when he thinks that his lover is less than pure.
I started out as Masetto in Don Giovanni, and was able to watch some of the greatest Leporellos and Giovannis perform on stage. Now I have my own ideas about how those roles can be performed, and I want to find the right emotions, and my own vocal colours for these parts.”
“There are so many fascinating questions. Did you know that Luigi Bassi, the first interpreter of the title role in Don Giovanni, was just 21 when he created it? So perhaps it should be performed with a voice that's more youthful and brillante. Or is a more mature Giovanni preferable? It's interesting to think about this.”
Having sung so much Mozart he's in no doubt as one of the most important factors for a singer, “Precision. You have to be as precise as possible. This isn't like Verdi, where a large orchestra can help you out. You're more exposed, and you have to be absolutely clear.”
There's even the world premiere of a new critical edition of a lost recitative from Figaro, prepared by the eminent musicologist Francesco Lora. This short piece, written for the baritone Francesco Benucci, was only discovered in the 1930s. From internal evidence, it appears that it was composed to precede the familiar aria Non più andrai (also performed here) in which Figaro teases the cosseted young pageboy Cherubino about his future life in the army (Benucci was Mozart's first Figaro). Some experts have doubted Mozart's authorship, but after having battled for many hours to retrieve the original manuscript from a safe in Florence, and having made an exhaustive study of the musical style and literary text, Lora asserts confidently “that the recitative is without doubt attributable to Mozart”. His new critical edition restores the lost viola part, and can be heard here for the first time.
The other items include some rarely performed concert arias.
D'Arcangelo says it was important to work with one of his favourite Italian orchestras in this repertoire, the Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Torino conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.
We worked like a family. The orchestra had been planning a strike, but agreed to make this recording because of our close relationship. Thinking like a team is vital for Mozart opera. And working with Gianandrea Noseda, it was like being with a brother. Or maybe even closer – like Leporello and Don Giovanni!”
Photo: © Uwe Arens / DG
Ildebrando D'Arcangelo is a Deutsche Grammophon artist
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.