René Pape has a has dour personality. A smile consists of lifting the edges of the mouth by a millimetre, and he rarely looks up to engage with the audience perched up in the gods. But Pape sure knows how to sing.
He manages to fold his enormous voice down to produce the smallest whispers of sound, he uses a true mezza-voce without going into falsetto, has an enormous range and impressive breath control. His only lacking on the recital platform is the human touch, but at the eleventh hour it emerged from its hiding place.
For the German bass’s last encore, after an all German leider programme, he walked in with an iPhone in his hand. Holding it up he said, ‘Text,’ before singing Tosti’s L’Ultima Canzone. A nice tribute to his Italian audience, but it’s a song with a lot of words! So with his iPhone cupped in his hand – hardly noticeable – he sang the song, word-perfect, but also with perfect Italian pronunciation and spirit.
Pape, pointing at his phone, laughed… and the Milanese audience was won over.