There are a ton of Verdi tenors out there capable of dominating his major roles. But few are like Francesco Meli.
The Italian tenor has made the works of the great Busetto genius his bread and better, performing such major works as “La Traviata,” “Il Trovatore,” “Rigoletto,” “Nabucco,” “Macbeth,” “Ernani,” “Don Carlo,” “Luisa Miller,” “Un Ballo in Maschera” and even some of his rarer works, including “Giovanna d’Arco,” “I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata” and “I Due Foscari.”
This month he adds another Verdi role to his increasing repertoire – “Aida’s” Radamès, which is recognized as one of the most difficult tenor roles. Adding to the excitement of the endeavor is the prospect of working alongside Riccardo Muti, a conductor he has collaborated closely with. Muti, as most people, know is a Verdi specialist, and is due to push Meli to unthinkable interpretative heights. For Meli, the role debut also marks his return to the Salzburg Festival, where he has found success as Manrico in “Il Trovatore” and Carlo VII in “Giovanna d’Arco.”
OperaWire had a chance to speak with Meli about his role debut and the challenges of singing the role of the Egyptian Commander at the Festival.
OperaWire: Why do you think it’s the right moment to do Radamès?
Francesco Meli: I’m not sure if it’s the right moment but it is definitely the right situation to do it in. To debut this important role under the musical direction of Riccardo Muti is always rewarding.
OW: What is rewarding about working with Maestro Muti? What makes him so special and what kind of insight does he bring to interpreting the music of Verdi?
FM: Maestro Muti has taught me how to work and approach Verdi. He works like no other on Verdi’s music and all the other works he does. With Muti, we’re always questioning and taking a close look at Verdi’s writing. He always asks, “Why did Verdi write that precise rhythm? Why did he unexpectedly change the color in that moment? Why are the recitatives so scientifically thought out and organized?” This is how we work.
OW: With this being your first Radamès, what are the vocal challenges?
FM: Verdi always gives his singers vocal challenges of extreme difficulty. In “Aida,” Verdi requires the tenor to have a great amount of versatility from a vocal point of view. At one point you have to sing heroically and at another point, you have these intimate piano moments. Therefore, a singer must be able to play with every color in his or her voice.
OW: The tenor is asked to start with “Celeste Aida,” which is known as one of the most difficult entrances for a singer? What is so difficult about this aria?
FM: “Celeste Aida” is the most difficult aria that Verdi wrote for the tenor. Even from the beginning, the recitativo, the singer is tested. Verdi requires impulse and enthusiasm to reach at the end an intimate and deep dreaming about Aida. There are pianissimi, wide lines and, of course, the final B natural which is sung pianissimo. There is so much required and even more.
OW: How do you approach Verdi’s music and how does Radamès fit with the rest of the Verdi roles you sing?
FM: My approach to his music very simple. I try to respect the score as much as possible which is what he wanted. Verdi was very meticulous, almost scientific, in his writing and in the characterization of his characters. He does this all with his music, his dynamics, rhythms, and accents. The accent is fundamental to Verdi in the text and not in the vocalism.
As for Radamès, every role has its own identity. For me, Verdi’s tenors are all connected in their vocal writing. Radamès is similar to other Verdi roles that I have sung in that you need to have that duality and versatility. You can not do a Verdi role without having some type of dramatic, lyric or spinto tenor. Verdi needs all these types of vocal qualities and when you mix them together you create, “The Verdi Tenor.”
OW: Why does Verdi’s music suit your voice so well?
FM: It’s hard to answer this question. But I’ll do say what Luciano Pavarotti said: “At this point in my life, I love singing Verdi.”
OW: This marks your return to Salzburg after successes in “Il Trovatore” and “Giovanna d’Arco.” What do you love about singing at Salzburg?
FM: Salzburg is a great festival. It’s on the world’s radar and so many of the great singers of opera’s history have sung on the stage of the Grosses Festspielhaus. So what else can I ask for? What can be more beautiful than this?