Opera in the Time of COVID: Luca Pisaroni, Versatile Italian Bass-Baritone

By David Salazar
(Credit: Frances Marshall)
“Opera in the Times of COVID” is an interview series in collaboration with photographer Frances Marshall of Marshall Light Studio. We talk to notable figures from around the opera world to get their perspective on how they feel these challenging times may change opera’s present and future.
The first time I came into contact with Luca Pisaroni in a performance was his Leporello in “Don Giovanni” at the Metropolitan Opera. Amongst a cast loaded with such talent as Mariusz Kwiecien, Marina Rebeka, Ramón Vargas, and Barbara Frittoli (all in top form mind you ), among others, Pisaroni consistently stole every scene he was in. Having watched several other of his performances thereafter in a number of different roles, what is most striking about Pisaroni, and is undeniably one of the reasons for the potency of that memory, is how he doesn’t so much inhabit his characters as become them. That is what makes him one of the most exciting opera stars working today.
Pisaroni is also a known dog lover and his two canines, Lenny and Tristan, are arguably the most famed dogs in the opera world.
In this interview, Pisaroni talks about his experience in quarantine, how his canine companions have kept his spirits high, and what how he hopes we learn from the COVID-19 crisis moving forward.

OperaWire: What have you done during this time to keep yourself positive and productive?

Luca Pisaroni: I am so used to being in constant motion that having so much free time on my hands has thrown me a bit out of balance.

For me, the best way to stay productive is to have a structure, which means planning the day and organizing my time as if I were working full-time. After I take the dogs for a walk, I study new roles and memorize my new recital program for as long as my brain can take it. Afterward, I dedicate my time to reading, or doing some home-improvement projects, or gardening. I find taking care of flowers and plants to be very relaxing and very rewarding.

OW: What do you feel will be the greatest impacts of COVID-19 on the opera world moving forward? What are some new developments that you feel are here to stay?

LP: I’m afraid that traveling is going to become much more complicated. We’re going to need a system in order to be able to go from one country to the next without having to go through quarantine.

I feel this is going to be something that will effect our industry for quite a long time. Another thing that we would have to pay attention to is to make sure that audiences can safely sit in a theater that holds 3,000+ people. I believe all presenters will have to focus their attention on solving this issue.

OW: One of the major developments of this time are the emergence of streaming and connecting with fans and followers more directly via social media. How has this impacted your time in quarantine?

LP: I have always been active on social media platforms. I enjoy keeping in touch with my audiences and followers. I like to share with them as much as I can, and, in these difficult times, I remind them that even if I am not performing in a theater, I am still here, focused on taking care of my voice and making music.

OW: What is an outcome of this virtual connectivity that you didn’t expect?

LP: I think everybody is just trying to stay connected with as many people as possible. We are all collectively focused on finding new ways to share our music through social media.

OW: What do you enjoy most about this new development?

LP: I’ve always enjoyed having a dialogue with my fans, so I don’t honestly see much of a difference from before. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I tremendously miss performing and being in direct contact with the audience.

OW: What is something that makes you apprehensive about the sudden preponderance of this virtual operatic existence? How can opera companies and artists around the world learn from this particular experience moving forward?

LP: As much as it’s easy to connect via social media, I still think that the best way to enjoy music is through a live performance. Listening to a concert or an apera is a collective experience that needs to be shared with other people, in a concert hall or a theater. There is something magical about the energy that we artists share with the audience and vice versa, and this “dialogue” makes the live performance so unique and poignant.

OW: What are you most excited about doing once the quarantine officially comes to an end and we are allowed to resume a “normal” life?

LP: I can’t wait to go back to a rehearsal room, I can’t wait to dive back into the creative process which I find absolutely intoxicating. I miss my colleagues and this sense of being together in trying to create something unique and awe-inspiring. I am longing to go back to sing in a theater and to stand on a stage in front of an audience.

OW: Who have been the people you have relied on most to help you through these challenging times?

LP: I am incredibly grateful for my dogs. It would be almost impossible for me to stay focused and positive without them. I love their positive attitudes towards life, and they help me balance my daily ups and downs.

OW: Most people in quarantine are actively engaging with the arts via either music, TV, film, reading, literature. Etc. What have you been watching or reading during this time?

LP: I spend my time reading and watching movies. I am catching up with TV series that I always wanted to see but I didn’t have time to watch, and I am reading those books that are in my library and that have been neglected for too long. I am passionate about history so at the moment I’m reading a book about how fascism managed to gain power in Italy after the First World War … not the most uplifting subject!

OW: Speaking more globally about the pandemic, what can the world learn about this experience? What do you hope to see from our leaders (political or even industry) in order to build a better future that enables us to better manage any similar type of situation?

LP: I think we need to understand that we are all part of one big entity, and something that happens in China – which is thousands of miles away from where we live – has a direct impact on our lives. I really hope that our leaders will understand that we share a common destiny, and that we are much better off if we help each other instead of fighting against one another.