Thursday, April 30, 2015

Meet Our Singers: PATRICK CARFIZZI, Music Master/Truffaldino

Patrick Carfizzi takes on two roles in Seattle Opera’s comic-tragic mashup of Ariadne auf Naxos. On the serious side of things, he’s the distressed Music Teacher, who’s having a terrible time trying to produce his young protégé’s new opera on the Ariadne legend. But after intermission, Patrick will switch allegiances and become Truffaldino, the lowest voice among the four boyfriends of fickle Zerbinetta, the comic antithesis of Ariadne. An intensely intelligent man and a fantastic singer with a big fan base in Seattle, Patrick shared with me his unique perspective on this unique situation.

Patrick Carfizzi as the Music Teacher butters up the Prima Donna in the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos

What’s the story of Ariadne?
There are several wonderful stories: that of the young Composer, growing up and making discoveries about life. Or the story of my character, his mentor, the Music Teacher, helping this teenager on his journey, when he’s stubborn and easily frustrated: “Aw, I don’t wanna do it that way, mom! I wanna do it my way!” Or the story of the commedia goofballs, who are the same as the goofballs you see on any playground. There are lots of stories in Ariadne. I always hope the audience comes to an opera and thinks: I see myself in that, or I wish I could be like that, or wouldn’t it be interesting to be like that.

Patrick Carfizzi as the Music Teacher and Kate Lindsey as the Composer
Elise Bakketun, photo

Ariadne asks questions about the nature of love. What, to you, is the love-story of Ariadne?
There are so many. For my character of the Music Teacher, it’s about the love between student and teacher.

Have you done this role before?
No, but I did Ariadne first when I was an Apprentice at Santa Fe Opera—I was the Wigmaker, I still remember the line. And then I did the Lackey at the Met. It was there I heard Wolfgang Brendel sing the Music Teacher, and I said, “That’s for me—I want to do that role someday.”

Patrick Carfizzi as the Music Teacher, with Doug Jones as the Dancing-Master
Elise Bakketun, photo

What makes a great Music Teacher?
It’s great for a singing actor. You’ve got to have a bit of experience, for the story to be credible; I’m happy I wasn’t doing the Music Teacher when I was 25! This man absolutely embraces his position as teacher, mentor, and guide to this young Composer. He’s living out some of his own personal history, and is managing hormones the best he can. The Composer is inexperienced and driven by passion; the Music Master is doing his best to help the Composer channel his feelings, and not to squelch his enthusiasm, or diminish it in any way. Vocally, there are wonderful challenges. The role is both high and low, which is fantastic.

Does the Music Teacher understand what happens at the end of the Prologue, when the Composer falls for Zerbinetta?
Oh, yeah. He gets it immediately. He sees it as an advantage—maybe this distraction is a good thing!

Patrick Carfizzi as Truffaldino
Elise Bakketun, photo

Let’s talk about Truffaldino. What does your other Ariadne role require?
Truffaldino is a wonderful stock buffo character from commedia dell’arte, with a fantastic musical palette. Strauss has written him music which is trombone-esque. That, coupled with Hofmannsthal’s text for the four guys, is really brilliant. The commedia performers don’t get the opera singers, and the opera singers don’t get the commedia troupe.

Patrick Carfizzi, with Rachele Gilmore, Joshua Kohl, and Eric Neuville, sing a passage from "Fickle Zerbinetta and her Four Lovers," the scene they contribute to Ariadne auf Naxos

There’s a lot of movement required with these commedia characters.
The best way I can put it: clumsy has to be graceful. I’m not a trained dancer, by any means, but it has to look elegant. I’m actually quite used to that challenge; you get it in almost all the buffo roles I sing. Buffo it has to be real.

Patrick Carfizzi as Dr. Bartolo in The Barber of Seville
Rozarii Lynch, photo

You’ve done buffo roles in Seattle, and also serious roles.
In my roles there’s always this balance of the comic and the straight man. The Music Teacher, and all straight men in comedy, have got to be played seriously. Same with Ping in Turandot. Ping takes his job very seriously. And then roles like Dr. Bartolo, or Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola—they have to be played seriously, but their situations are different. Those guys aren’t really in control of their situations. They like to think they’re in control, but in truth they are not.

Patrick Carfizzi as Ping in Turandot
Elise Bakketun, photo

In the Prologue to Ariadne, the Music Teacher, who’s producing the tragedy, becomes strange bedfellows with the Dancing-Master, who’s producing the comedy. The two of you are the ones really trying to solve the problem.
Yes, they don’t like each other, but they’re useful to each other. Especially when the Music Master has run out of ideas in terms of how he’s going to make this work.

The one stands for pop culture and the other represents lofty high culture.
And they both believe that theirs is the only kind of culture. The Dancing-Master doesn’t really get the point of the opera.

Which is interesting, because by the end, Zerbinetta seems to have found it touching.
Yes, she is seduced by the music, I think. Were it not for that, I think these two worlds might not really connect.

What excites you the most about opera?
The storytelling. Opera is storytelling, with these beautiful, relatable stories. By the way, if I hear someone say the word ‘relevant’ one more time, I’m going to scream! There’s this idea going around these days, that opera is somehow irrelevant; that because it’s an old art form, it isn’t accessible. “We must be sure opera stays relevant" they claim. No. When did opera or any arts stop being relevant? What are we apologizing for? Opera is so very relatable. All good storytelling is relatable to so many on so many levels and, again, Opera is storytelling.

Patrick Carfizzi as the Music Teacher
Elise Bakketun, photo

Changing the topic—I see that next year you’re doing Maria Stuarda at the MET, an opera Seattle Opera will also be presenting for the first time.
Yes, I’ve done Talbot before, and this time I’m doing Cecil. I love that opera; it’s so beautiful. The entire opera is a study in duet writing, these long and musically gorgeous conversations.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Falling flat on my face during my MET debut, embarrassing, yes, but what a way to get over stage fright.

Sarah Coburn (Zerbinetta) and Patrick Carfizzi (Truffaldino) in Ariadne auf Naxos
Elise Bakketun, photo

What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Fires onstage, and it has happened twice. Thankfully no one was injured, but how truly bizarre.

Describe an artistic challenge that made you grow.
When those who have 'believed' in you for years suddenly doubt that belief. Some might call that “growing pains.”

What music do you listen to regularly?
Jazz, Musical theater, Pop

Take us through a normal performance day for you.
It’s different for each role, but generally: Lots of sleep the night before, a workout earlier in the day, good eating (watch your salt intake!) A nap about 3 hours before curtain for no more than thirty minutes, a light supper, lots of water and a cooked sweet potato cooked to eat during the show.

What do opera lovers have in common?
Passion for listening and learning.

What’s the public’s biggest misconception about opera?
That language is a barrier.

What’s the best way for someone who’s new to opera to learn more about it?
See live performances both of a comic and tragic opera in the course of a month and take different friends with you each time.

What’s your favorite place in Seattle to:
Drink? Black Bottle
Do yoga? ACME Yoga Project
Walk? Olympic sculpture park, with my friend’s dog.
Shop? Pike Place Market

What are the biggest challenges—and the greatest opportunities—facing opera today?
I’d give you the same answer for both: Education, Audiences, and Communication. 


  1. Yes, Patrick is very intelligent, a wonderful singer, and a great actor- also, he dances well- but more than that, he is a wonerful human being who never forgets from whence he comes.

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