Q & A: Italian Bass Carlo Lepore On Specializing In The Works of Rossini & Other Buffo RepertoryBy Francisco Salazar
Rossini is one of opera’s most popular composer and throughout the past centuries, his works have given the world a plethora of an incredible interpreters.
Today, Rossini’s popularity is as big as ever with an increased number of devotees and interpreters tackling not only his most famous operas, but some of his rare gems.
Italian bass Carlo Lepore is one such Rossini expert, having performed the giant’s music all around the world with such companies as the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala to the Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma, Semperoper Dresden, and Teatro Regio di Torino.
And despite his devotion to Rossini, he has also expanded his repertory to include the works of Verdi, Rossini, Puccini, and Donizetti, as well as many baroque and modern composers. This is season he returns to Paris, Köln, Torino, and Geneva for Rossini, Verdi, and Mozart works.
Lepore had a chance to speak with OperaWire about his relationship with Rossini and the buffo repertoire.
OperaWire: Tell me about your relationship with Rossini?
Carlo Lepore: In 1995, I became a member of the Rossini Academy in Pesaro where I met Maestro Alberto Zedda and have continued my relationship with returning various times. With Zedda, I did many Rossini roles and it has always been at the center of my attention.
If you look at my schedule there are always different Rossini roles that I am doing and this season, for example, I will be doing the Messa di Gloria with Maestro Antonio Pappano and Don Magnifico in “La Cenerentola,” another one of my signature roles.
I will also make my role debut as Lord Sidney at the Oper Koln in “Un Viaggio a Reims” with Maestro Riccardo Frizza. Rossini isn’t the only composer that I sing but it is the biggest part of my repertoire and one I love to sing.
OW: The role of Don Basilio in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” is one of your signature roles. How has it evolved throughout the years?
CL: “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” is Rossini’s most presented opera and, therefore, you have the possibility to work a lot and sing it all over the world. It’s an opera that is so famous and part of the standard repertoire. I started with the role of Don Basilio and that was my introduction to the work. Since my debut in the role in 1992, my interpretation has evolved as I have been able to dig deeper because I have done it so many times.
“La Calunnia” is the aria that everyone knows and that is where I started with the role. It is such a famous aria because it uses the Rossini crescendo that begins piano and arrives at a fortissimo during the “come un colpo di cannone,” which is one of Rossini’s most important characteristics.
The other thing that makes this aria so interesting is the text. If you look at the aria it wouldn’t be the type of aria that interests most because it has the same notes. But the text is what really makes this aria work so well and it arrives at this explosive moment that allows the aria to have some great colors.
While Basilio is not the protagonist, he has so many layers and this aria gives it an impulse. As a result, when you don’t have a great Don Basilio it is hard to follow the drama of the work. It’s a role that audiences expect a lot from because everyone knows the aria and in many ways, it is a fun character that drives some of the actions.
OW: You alternate between Basilio and Bartolo. Tell me about the differences between these roles?
CL: I have done Bartolo so many times around the world. One of the last times I did it was at the Arena di Verona with Leo Nucci and Ferruccio Furlanetto and it was one of the most important productions I did last year. It’s a role is very difficult because you have to pronounce the text so quickly and therefore it is a role that most Italians are called for.
The most important part of the roles isn’t to pronounce every word but to make everything as comprehensible as possible to the public. The music in this role isn’t always the most interesting. It is the text that makes this an incredible experience because at many times Rossini uses the same music for different works but the meaning changes with the text. But you as an interpreter and musician, you need to have this sensibility and have to have the best diction possible.
But if you look at the two roles, Bartolo is all about velocity and patter. Bartolo is usually sung by a comic singer and a performer who can act. Meanwhile, Basilio is for a bass and is usually sung by a bass that has done dramatic operas. I’m not sure I completely agree because I think you need to have an authoritative voice for Bartolo as well as for Basilio. I don’t think there is anything funny about Bartolo and what he tries to do to Rosina. When I sing both I always think of both characters with the same importance. Basilio I think has less time and also an easier sing on stage.
OW: Many times when people talk about Rossini and his music, the subject centers on the virtuosity of the music and the high notes. Why do think this happens?
CL: That is very true. But just like every composer, Rossini’s works have the support of a libretto. In this case, the work is based on Beamarcheau and the content isn’t futile. It’s not a pretext to make anyone laugh. This work, like many of Rossini’s, has different contrasting situations. You look at the buffo and it is used many times as a villainous character that laughs at himself. The buffo is laughing at himself and many times he’s laughing at the nobility of the time.
If you look at Rossini’s music, he always found ways to contextualize and to cite others like Mozart, who he considered the greatest composer. You could see that in “Il Turco in Italia” where he sites “Don Giovanni.”
Rossini also used repeated music in various different operas. For example, “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” and “Elisabetta, Regina di Inghilterra” have the same overture. Both overtures have the same music but the difference is in the way you interpret it. Zedda used to say that when he conducted “Elisabetta” he did not think about “Barbiere” because the opera has a different spirit and when you perform something with a different character, it will show. It wasn’t because Rossini was lazy to write a new overture. It was because he thought the music could be adaptable to different situations.
In essence, when you sing or perform Rossini, it is about finding the meaning and the body of the work.
OW: You have sung many different roles in your career but you constantly return to the Buffo roles. What is the key to singing the Buffo repertoire?
CL: I always say that no matter the situation, it is not comic. People can laugh at you but you should not try to be comic or a clown. You should always believe in what you do and be convinced of the seriousness of the part. That is when people will laugh. When you exaggerate the situation and try to make people laugh, it does not work. That is not the role of the Buffo. That is what has worked for me.
If you also look at characters like Mustafa, who tries to force a woman to fall in love with him and imprisons her or Falstaff, who is a Don Giovanni, you see that these characters are quite serious and complex. Falstaff thinks he can write the same letter and get away with it.
OW: Did you always want to sing Buffo roles?
CL: I thought my voice was born to sing something else. When I was younger, I studied all the heavy repertoire like “Simon Boccanegra” and “I Vespri Sicilianni.” But I quickly realized that if I would have continued with these roles, my career would have been ended quickly.
Instead, I concentrated on the baroque, Rossini and Bel Canto repertoire. To this day I have not had any vocal issues and I have not compromised the quality of my voice. It was a choice and as you get older you start maturing and singing with a better technique and less from the gut.
OW: Having sung all these Buffo roles and being a Bel Canto expert, is there any repertoire you haven’t explored that you want to in the future?
CL: After having done so many comic works, I will sing more comedy.
But I want to sing some dramatic roles like Filippo II or Ramfis. These are roles that I want to discover. And I want to continue discovering Rossini in his serio roles like Assur in “Semiramide.” I want to continue in the Bel canto line but I will attempt some things like I did last year with Geronte in “Manon Lescaut.”
It’s very different repertoire but there are some things that remain from the Bel canto repertoire and he is in many ways a bit comic. So we will see what the future has for me.