Q & A: Tenor Enea Scala On Debuting The Duke In ‘Rigoletto’ & Bel Canto Style

By Francisco Salazar

For many artists, Verdi’s operas are the supreme pinnacle that they work towards. Getting there and being one of the foremost interpreters of his work often requires tremendous technique skill, but also great artistic maturity.

For tenor Enea Scala, Verdi has always been a dream from the start of his career. While he has focused on the Bel Canto repertoire for the majority of his career, the tenor is slowly moving into heavier roles such as the Duke in “Rigoletto” which he performs for the first time at the Opéra de Marseille. He is also transitioning into the “bari-tenor” Bel Canto works such as Pollione in “Norma” and Rossini’s “Otello.”

In a recent interview with OperaWire, Scala spoke about his upcoming debut in “Rigoletto,” the Bel Canto style, and the Verdi – Bel Canto connection.

OperaWire: Why did you decide to do the Duke in “Rigoletto?”

Enea Scala: For my voice, this role is perfect. The tessitura is better than Alfredo in “La Traviata” because it is higher and I have found it a natural fit and a continuation in my Bel Canto style.

But there are differences, especially in the Verdi style. There is an accent that you to do differently than others. In Rossini, you have the accent but in Verdi they come during a legato and moments when the orchestra is loud. With “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata,” you can open a different part of the voice and it can show the lyrical part of my voice that I will continue to develop in the next 10 years. After the Duke, roles like Rodolfo in “La Bohème” and Pollione in “Norma” will be more possible.

OW: What are the challenges of singing the Duke?

ES: Technically this role is difficult and I think it’s risky. You have to always be in good health to sing this role.

The hardest part is definitely “Parmi veder le lagrime.” I was speaking with Italian conductor and pianist Leone Magiera who worked with Pavarotti on this role. They really created the right way together and found many colors in “Rigoletto” and in other roles as well. I was curious to hear what he thought. He told me that Pavarotti resolved the aria almost five years after he first sang the role. It took time for him to put the aria inside him. If someone like Pavarotti couldn’t do it immediately, that means it is quite challenging.

The difficult part is that the Duke is almost bipolar between the recitatives and the aria. When he first enters with the recitative, he is very angry and then he calms down into these very romantic lines. The difficulty is to show how fragile the Duke is. You have to show how upset he is and then how sweet and childish he is. And vocally it has to be virile and never white. It has to be lyrical but at the same time strong. It’s always very difficult to sing.

OW: How do you view this moment in the opera? Do you believe he is being sincere?

ES: This aria depends on how the stage director views him and since I have not sung the work I cannot give a complete opinion. I am not able to understand it yet and I trust the stage director. Generally, after doing more than one production, I understand the character much more. Now I have the information from the score and libretto and we know he was married.

But this is Verdi. For sure he is selfish and he doesn’t care about Gilda and he probably only cares in this one moment. But he probably treats every girl the same way and Gilda is not special. When he realizes that Gilda is the daughter of Rigoletto, he should have stopped but he didn’t. It means he wants to go straight to the point. He wants to collect as many women as he can without any moral.

In “E il sol dell’anima,” he is being so real. It’ sweet and I really feel it when I sing it. “Bella figlia dell’amore” is another moment but he is sincere with Magdalena and he likes to be a predator and hunt for women.

OW: How different is this opera from “Falstaff” and “La Traviata,” the other two Verdi operas you performed?

ES: With Fenton, the differences are enormous. With Alfredo, it’s a real person and you can see him as a young boy in love with a charming woman. Alfredo is a real person while the Duke is the version he wants to show to the court. He wants to show how powerful he is and he wants everyone to succumb to him. He is like the king and that is what he wants to show.

Musically it is in the Bel canto style and that is the reason why people who sing bel canto are able to sing Verdi. But not immediately and you have to wait. I wanted to wait to have more experience before approaching Verdi. Now I feel totally mature to do his music. The music is in the bel canto style. The accent and pianissimi, dynamics and colors are very Bel Canto and we can not talk about Verdi in another style because it is connected. Someone who is able to sing Mozart is able to sing this type of Mozart. The difference is the tessitura. Alfredo is lower but not bari-tenor. It doesn’t finish very high and there are no high notes. The cabaletta is very heavy and that is a reminder that Alfredo is not for a light voice. You have to show your virility and you cannot shout. It’s a moment where Alfredo changes completely and here he has a mature mind.

As for Fenton, I realized that it’s actually not that light. The fact that there is a light orchestration doesn’t mean you should use a light voice. It’s very lyrical. He sings in the middle like Alfredo and that makes them similar. Then you have to be able to use the mezzavoce which is pianissimo. I keep the color and the mystery of the night. I cannot show my heroic qualities but I can show a legato and expressive qualities. But that does not mean it is light and it can become nasal. I prefer a lyrical voice.

OW: Having sung so much Bel canto, would you say, it is easier to transition into the Verdi repertoire?

ES: I think with Donizetti serio, especially the queens and “Caterina Cornaro,” you feel the direction and the style is very close to Verdi. Verdi took a lot from the finales of these operas. I think we cannot talk about Verdi without Donizetti or Rossini. They are all connected. The main difference in the male and female voice is the coloratura. You see it in some instances and  in Verdi you don’t see it. The Cadenzas are not written in Verdi and not exactly in the style. In Donizetti, you are still linked to that. That makes them similar.

The French Verdi is also very connected to the French Donizetti. You find a lot of the style in “Il Duca d’alba” and “La Favorite.”

OW: How do you keep your voice flexible when singing this heavier repertoire, especially when you return to Rossini?

ES: If I have to sing Alfredo in “La Traviata” after “Ermione,” I can do it. But if I sing Verdi or Donizetti and comeback to Rossini, the energy of the voice is perfect but the coloratura is not as easy. I have to work harder. Before “La Traviata,” I sang “La Donna del Lago” and “Semiramide” and “Maria Stuarda,” “La Traviata” was so easy. Rossini gives you this flexibility and you can do whatever you want.

Maestro Riccardo Frizza told me after Idreno in “Semiramide,” which was one of the hardest things to sing, everything will be so much easier and he was so right. If you sing Rossini, you can sing anything.

OW: How did you decide to perform “Pollione” at the Theater an der Wien?

ES: Pollione was proposed to me. The invitation came from Vienna and it wasn’t something I was expecting. It was something I thought about singing in 10 years because there is no rush and it’s not a role that would change my career. When the invitation arrived we considered it with my agent and vocal coach and I studied the score.

My agent and teacher said I could do it because it’s not a role that that has to be sung by a dramatic voice. As a matter of fact, we don’t hear a lot of things that were written in the score when it is sung today. The colors and the coloratura are omitted a lot of times and the style of the singing is also not there. Just considering these things, in this Vienna theater, we thought it could work. “Pollione” is not that long and it’s not that difficult. It’s the virility that is difficult and keeping it with the long lines is hard. It’s also not that far from “La Donna del Lago,” which I have performed before and I am not afraid of the tessitura and I consider that “Pollione” is in my territory.

I also accepted it the role because it would put one foot in the door in Vienna where I sang years ago and since then my voice has changed. I decided to use this opportunity to see what the audience and theater think.

OW: As your career continues, what are some of your dreams?

ES: My big dream is to sing at the Metropolitan Opera because it has such a great Latin and Italian audience and tradition. It’s an intense and big dream and I think you have to start by covering and I hope I have an opportunity very soon. In Europe, I have not sung in the main theaters yet. I have not sung at the Opéra de Paris and Wiener Staatsoper so I am patient and will wait for that opportunity. I would love to sing my repertoire in these houses and continue to do my Bel Canto work.


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