Franco Vassallo: When I play an opera character I feel a bit like an archaeologist who unearths and rediscovers the life, loves, sensations and emotions of a human being who lived in another age.

Franco Vassallo is a native of Milan where at a very early age he discovered his great enthusiasm for Opera and Classical music. His unusual singing talent was spotted by a teacher at school who heard him singing in the corridors. The teacher was able to introduce him to his father, the baritone Carlo Meliciani, who had studied singing with the great Carlo Tagliabue and who then became Vassallo’s teacher. Meliciani encouraged him to attend the Civic School of Music in Milan (which is nowadays dedicated to the memory of Claudio Abbado). He specialised in the bel canto roles of Donizetti and Bellini that took him to La Scala, the Staatsoper Vienna, and the Metropolitan Opera New York. He performed under the baton of such maestri as Riccardo Chailly, Daniele Gatti, Valery Gergiev, Daniel Harding, James Levine, Nello Santi, Jeffrey Tate, James Conlon, Fabio Luisi, Daniel Oren, Anton Guadagno, Marco Armiliato, Marcello Viotti, Michele Mariotti, and Gianandrea Noseda. He worked as well with great directors as Robert Carsen, David McVicar, Hugo De Ana, Gianfranco De Bosio, Giancarlo Del Monaco, Claus Guth, Denis Krief, Christof Loy, Ermanno Olmi, Pierluigi Pizzi, Toni Servillo, Bartlett Sher, Ferruccio Soleri, Graham Vick, and Franco Zeffirelli. In his more mature years Vassallo has stayed true to his belcanto roots while developing his career as an interpreter of the great Verdi baritone roles which include Simon Boccanegra, Attila, Un Ballo in Maschera, Don Carlo, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, Otello, Il Trovatore and La Forza del Destino, with performances in all the great Opera Houses of the world.

Dear Franco, it’s a pleasure to chat with you. You have been nominated in several categories at the Opus Klassik Awards 2022. The award ceremony will take place on 9th October at the Konzerthaus in Berlin. How do you feel about these nominations? Which of these nominations is the most important to you and why?

I feel very happy and honored, for the attention and interest that so much study, dedication and commitment have aroused and for the high context of the event. All the 5 nominations are very important and welcome, but perhaps the one that touches me most is: Best singer category “Classic without limit – Arcano”, a sort of expressive bridge that crosses the boundaries of our environment.

Let’s talk a little bit about your albums: Arcano – soloist album and Il Pirata – opera album. How was the idea of Arcano born? What was your experience during the recording of the two albums?

Francesco Paolo Tosti is a well-known and loved composer and his romances are often sung at the end of the concerts, as an encore, because of their particularly instinctive and catchy melody, of immediate appeal to the audience. A few years ago, however, I paused to analyze more carefully the poetic of Tosti’s salon music, and I discovered it much more interesting and deep than it might seem at first sight; they are glimpses of life and small delightful watercolors of extreme expressive sensitivity, especially those inspired by the partnership with the great poet Gabriele d’Annunzio. Italy does not have a great tradition in vocal chamber music, but we could say that Tosti is our Schubert! This is why I felt the strong desire to dedicate a monographic album to him, in the hope that his poetics can be appreciated more in depth than usual. Il pirata by Bellini is a work of extraordinary and pure bel canto, the first in which Bellini’s genius shows itself in all its fullness! It is also the archetype of the romantic Opera! In fact, as far as I know, it is the first to stage the love triangle typical of romantic Opera – he, she and the other – which will then have so much luck in the subsequent Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini and veristic production, almost becoming a ‘must’. The amusing and amused definition of Opera given by George Bernard Shaw, as the ‘basic plot’ of all melodramas, is famous in this regard: “Opera is when a tenor and a soprano want to make love, but are prevented from doing so by a baritone.” This is why I was thrilled to join the project of friends Marina Rebeka and Edgardo Vertanessian of ‘Prima Classic’ for the engraving of this sublime ‘archetypal’ work! With my friend Giulio Zappa, the pianist of Arcano, we worked in a splendid unity of purpose to try to make emerge the most of Tosti’s thinking, helped by Edgardo Vertanessian, a splendid sound engineer. During the recording of the album, a magical atmosphere of great creativity and collaboration was created between the three of us.

Read the entire interview here, in the 6th/2022 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.

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