Welcome to Seattle Opera! Can you tell us more about your background, where you’re from, and how you got started in opera?
I was born in Uruguay, but I’ve been living in Italy for four years now. I study with tenor Salvatore Fisichella. Cenerentola was only the second opera I ever sang!
So what was the first opera?
Gianni di Parigi, by Donizetti, which we did in Martina Franca, with the Festival delle Valle d’Itria. Giacomo Sagripanti, the conductor who is making his US debut in Seattle with me now in this La Cenerentola, was the conductor of both my first two operas.
Small world! But have you sung in Uruguay yet?
Yes, little roles: Borsa in Rigoletto, Remendado in Carmen.
And then you moved to Italy, specifically to study voice and singing?
Yes. Actually, I live in Sicily, in Catania, and for my first lessons, which were in Florence, I went up by plane and came back home by bus.
That must have taken forever!
Yes, it’s a long trip, many hours. It worked out like that because it only takes two hours to fly there, so that could be planned more spontaneously.
Elise Bakketun, photo
What made you want to be an opera singer?
I studied music, piano, in my hometown of Rivera, near the border with Brazil. I started a chorus in my hometown, and I got to know the opera singers there. And with the chorus I started singing a bit, and then I got connected with our zarzuela group there, and sang with them. I was about 18 when I began studying singing.
You didn’t have anybody in your family, for example, who was a singer or a musician?
No, no, the family, no. They didn’t like it! In South America it’s very difficult to make a living in music, and my father said, “Oh, you can’t! You must study law or medicine. No music!” But I studied in secret.
Elise Bakketun, photo
Oh, my! That can be hard to do, as a musician, because...you’re loud. It’s hard to keep it a secret from someone who lives in the same house, when you have to practice.
I even sometimes told my father, “I’m going to sleep over at my friend’s house” when I really was going to the capitol, 500 kilometers away...
That’s how you got used to taking buses all night long!
...to take lessons in Montevideo. All a secret, only my grandmother knew. She gave me the money!
I hope someone will make a movie of this—what a great drama!
And a year later I won a monetary prize, which made it seem more legitimate to my father. It’s difficult, because although there’s an old tradition of opera in Uruguay, most normal people don’t know much about it.
In Argentina there’s one of the most important opera houses in the world, the Teatro Colón...
And in Montevideo, the Teatro Solis, that’s a very good theater with a long tradition. Although they’ve been having money trouble recently...there are only two operas this season, and the tickets are very expensive.
Elise Bakketun, photo
Now, let’s talk about La Cenerentola a little bit. What is your favorite moment in this opera?
Okay, what’s your favorite NOTE in La Cenerentola?
Because we were talking to René Barbera, who shares your role of Ramiro, and he mentioned how much he likes this one high B—
“Lo giuro, lo GIU-ro!”
--right, that one, it comes out of nowhere and it’s just amazing.
Yes, that is fantastic. It’s so affirmative, so strong. “I am the prince. STOP IT!” More so, even, than the aria, where I sing five high Cs. I think “lo giuro,” with this B, is probably the best.
Is that one of those high notes where you get to hold it for a long time?
Yes, Rossini wrote a fermata. So the conductor has to stop there!
What do you think the moral of Cenerentola is?
I think Cenerentola is a very good first opera because, besides its wonderful music, there are these great characters—real people, the simple, honest young Cenerentola, the jealousy and envy of the sisters, the ambitious step-father. All the important lessons of life are here in this opera, which Rossini gave the second name of La bontà in trionfo, Goodness Triumphant. That a rich person like Ramiro finds this simple girl, without any money—this is important to communicate to our audience.
Does Ramiro learn anything from Cenerentola?
Ramiro is much the same as Cenerentola—he is a very simple person. He has the same values that she does. But because he is prince, he’s in a difficult situation—it’s hard for him to demonstrate his values, he can’t choose. I think meeting Cenerentola confirms his own feelings. His father ordered him to get married, but he’s a young man, and he’s upset when we first meet him because he doesn’t want a loveless marriage. But he doesn’t yet know Cenerentola.
That’s right, he says that, and then poof! Two seconds later he’s singing a love duet with Cenerentola. Now, we saw the neatest trailer online for this television Cenerentola you did directed by Andrea Andermann, Cenerentola una favola in diretta.
Yes, this was a cut version of La Cenerentola—no recitatives, and they cut the Dandini/Don Magnifico buffo duet. Honestly, it was difficult for us, the singers, to do it without recitatives, because the soul of the opera is in the recitatives. That’s where you understand clearly what happens. In the aria you can say “I love you, I miss you,” but in the recitative that’s where you’re the real person—without orchestra, alone, just speaking, and this is where the story is.
How was it filmed?
We were on location, in different places. The orchestra was in an auditorium, and we were in the locations—Don Magnifico’s house, Ramiro’s castle—working with an Assistant Conductor and with the sound piped in.
It was complicated. My aria was filmed in a huge salon, and the reverb from the speakers of the orchestra was way too loud. But I think it was a very good idea.
It looked like they used a slipper, instead of La Cenerentola’s bracelet.
Yes, Andermann wanted it to be closer to the Disney Cenerentola. But it was a very good production. We had a great feeling among the cast. It was my first time on television—I had to readjust when I got back to the theater, where it’s not quite so intimate!
Elise Bakketun, photo
You are very young, so what are some roles you’re hoping to sing in the next few years, or other houses where you want to perform?
My repertory now is Rossini, Mozart, and three or four of the Donizetti buffo operas: I like Don Pasquale, that’s a very good role for me. And Gianni di Parigi. I’ll be singing a lot of Rossini: Barbiere in Zurich, La donna del lago at Covent Garden.
Are you going to sing in Spanish? Any more zarzuelas on the horizon?
I don’t know, I love singing in Italian. For zarzuela you need a very good lyric tenor—they have to be very dramatic.
I debut La sonnambula in 2015 in Frankfurt.
What about Arturo in I puritani?
This is my dream! But I think you must arrive with not just technical security but maturity onstage. It’s much like Aida, the struggle between his romance and his patriotic obligations. You’re not in the second act, yet you have a very long third act. This can be dangerous!