Our excellent partners Opera Carolina will be showing a Puccini opera that is rarely staged around here: La Fanciulla del West.

This opera that is notable for its exquisite written-through score and was Puccini’s own favorite is inaugurating an important step for Opera Carolina: its first international cooperation, with the Teatro di Giglio in Puccini’s hometown of Lucca, Italy, the Teatro Lirico in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, and the New York City Opera.

Charlotte will have the privilege of counting on world-class major star Marcello Giordani in the leading male role, and acclaimed Italian stage director Ivan Stefanutti. Sets and digital projections were built by Opera Carolina. New costumes are by Atelier Nicolao, Venice, Italy. Maestro Meena conducts.

So, dear readers, we’ve been treated to great productions by Opera Carolina before but this is likely to achieve an even higher level of quality. The “not to be missed” cliché is looking to be very true indeed!

Unfortunately Opera Lively will only be able to attend the third and last run of the show but we will be publishing our review when that time comes. Below you’ll find our exclusive interviews with the three principal singers (a longer one with Marcello Giordani as Dick Johnson, the last one when you scroll down, and two mini-interviews with Kristin Sampson in the title role, and Aleksey Bogdanov as Jack Rance).

Click here for more information and tickets from the company’s web site.

Sunday April 23rd at 2 PM is the first show; the second one is on Thursday April 27th at 7:30 PM, and the run ends on Saturday April 29th at 8 PM, at the Blumenthal Performance Arts Center in Charlotte, NC.

Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – We are honored to have a star of your magnitude in Charlotte, Mr. Giordani.

Marcello Giordani – Thank you, thank you!

OL – Let’s talk first about your role, Dick Johnson. His most recognizable aria comes very late in the opera, in the third act, “Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano,” after a lot of stage presence and recitatives. Is this challenging in any way, regarding pacing? Is this a difficult role to sing?

MG – Well, it is a difficult role; first of all because it’s not only a matter of singing. If you consider the first act, it’s just acting. It’s not a big sing for Dick Johnson; it’s conversational. Puccini is doing this great discovery of new things in music. He is maybe inspired by Debussy and Richard Strauss, putting this nice conversational attitude in beautiful musical phrasing. Of course the “Ch’ella mi creda” is the climax of the opera; everybody knows this part but it is just one minute of music. We have so many other beautiful musical moments; it’s very concentrated.

It is very difficult for the tenor to perform this role because he has to be perfect in Italian diction. I’m lucky that I’m Italian, so I can really do some juicy words and I love what I am singing. I really understand what I’m saying and singing. The best part for an Italian singer, is singing in an Italian opera.

OL – Other than the lyricism early in the first act sung by a comprimario, Jake Wallace, in “Che faranno I vecchi miei,” Johnson seems to have the best juicy parts, like the one I just mentioned, and like the beautiful “Quello che voi tacete.” Otherwise this written-through opera with not so many arias has suffered in popularity in spite of its beautiful score. Please tell our public why this opera is still very compelling. The orchestration is the best part, right?

MG – Yes, the orchestration is the best part with such beautiful passages, but I find that the theatrical part is also not secondary. Consider that Puccini saw this play The Girl of the Golden West in New York in the Belasco Theater and he was overwhelmed and fascinated. He decided to make an opera of it and of course he put all his Italian music in it. He was in a sense the pioneer of silent film music. One can say he created the Spaghetti Western.

As you said, “Che faranno I vecchi miei,” and “Quello che voi tacete, me l’ha già detto il cuore,” etc. etc., have beautiful lyricism and musical line. Only Puccini could write such beautiful music, because he was so romantic!

OL – Please tell us about the psychological arc of your character, and compare him with other Puccini characters.

MG – Well, he is different; there is this idea of catharsis in one act. He comes to the Polka Saloon with the intent of stealing the gold, and then immediately when he sees these people and sees Minnie, and listens to her talking about how strong she is about protecting the gold and protecting the miners, and she adds that she wants to meet the man that will give her the first kiss, he is blooming, he is falling in love and changing his idea. In the second act he tells her that when he saw her, his life changed. He says that he was born a thief and got into this position by accident for having been born of a father who was a thief, but seeing her, his life changes.

That’s what is different because the other Puccini characters are monochromatic. From beginning to end they are the same. Rodolfo is a poet in love from the first act until the end. Dick Johnson is different; he is growing by the act.

OL – This is a peculiar opera, with Italians displaying their vision of the American Wild West. Some people accuse it of being a bit cheesy and stereotypical.

MG – Yes, like I said, it’s a Spaghetti Western. [laughs]

OL – What do you think of this opera’s libretto? (I’m being the Devil’s Advocate here – personally I do think it is theatrical enough, coherent, and well-paced).

MG – The libretto is written beautifully. I love all words of it. It is very carefully crafted even for the small roles. Every single word is heartbreaking. It is so poetic! And of course Puccini’s music, it is impossible to consider it trash. After Manon Lescaut, this is my second favorite Puccini opera.

OL – Opera Carolina is engaged with this show in trans-state and international cooperation in co-production. It’s an important moment for our company. Please tell our public what to expect from this production.

MG – I just saw the production for the first time yesterday when we were on stage. The production is beautiful. It is very sensual. There is nothing modern; it is very, very like a Western. We are in the saloon, there is a projection in the back… I don’t want to say too much, because I want to invite people to come to the opera and enjoy these beautiful visuals as a surprise. I’m very proud that I was one of the people who convinced James Meena and the other companies in Italy and in New York to have this co-production, particularly in Tuscany, in Lucca where Puccini was born. I’m very proud that I belong in this production in this particular moment, and I invite the public to come and see the visuals, and enjoy not only the music but this beautiful and sensuous production.

OL – Please tell our readers a little about the vocal competition you’ve sponsored, and your work intended to support young singers.

MG – The competition alternates between America and Italy. One year here, one year there. This is my sixth edition. I have the privilege and the honor of doing it here in North Carolina this year. I have to thank maestro James Meena and the board for hosting the competition. The goal is of course to promote and discover a new generation of singers. The specific of the competition is that I never intentionally invite veteran singers to be part of the jury, because with all due respect, the veteran singers can give suggestions and advice but no future jobs. So I always invite general directors, managers, intendants from all over the world.

[See the press release for the competition by clicking here]

Here we have the privilege of having maestro Dominique Meyer from the Vienna State Opera, Liviana Caporale from the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Evans Mireagas from Cincinnati Opera, Sabino Lenoci, CEO of the magazine Opera Italy, Michael Capasso from the New York City Opera, Eva Franchi from the Sergio Franchi Foundation, and Claudio Ferri, a manager from Royal Artists in Monaco.

Over these five years I already heard over two thousand singers. The winners, they are already in careers. An American guy who won in 2013 in America, David Pershall, already had his debut at the Vienna State Opera. The girl who won my first competition in Italy is already singing at Vienna State Opera, La Fenice in Venice, and La Scala. I’m very honored and very proud. The Marcello Giordani Competition is becoming a part of the big league of the great aria competitions.

OL – What are some of your best pieces of advice for young singers trying to break into the operatic career?

MG – First of all try to find good competitions, look good for the jury, and sing the right repertoire. The important thing is to have patience. Be surrounded by the people you can trust. Don’t trust people who are always telling you how great you were. You are the best teacher for yourself. Don’t trust people who say to you “you sang beautifully tonight” because in five years you’ll find out that that night was the worst. Just have patience, tolerance, and study, study, study. That’s all I can say.

I’m 54 years old. This is the 31st year of my career. For the first ten years of my career I just sang Bel Canto. I heard offers to sing different repertoire in those first ten years, and I’m glad that I said no, in that period. Now with the Bel Canto background I’m able to sing heavy repertoire. So, make the right choice in your repertoire, but you have to trust the right people – a good teacher, a good wife, a pianist, whatever. Don’t rush. Don’t ever be impatient.

OL – A very curious fact in your artistic biography occurred when you joined a handful of singers who sang two leading roles at the Met on the same day, a matinee performance of La Damnation de Faust, and an evening performance of MadamaButterfly. I’m in awe of it. How stressful was it, and how did you manage to have the vocal stamina to pull it off?

MG – [laughs] For me, I consider the Met my artistic home, and of course when your home calls you, you don’t say no. It was a great opportunity and privilege. They said “we are in difficulty, the last moment your colleague cancelled, we need help.” I won’t say it was easy but at least I was lucky to sing Damnation first and Butterfly later. I won’t say I’m a hero, but I’m a professional. Things happen in a career. I did it, I don’t want people to be saying “thank you” to me but I’m proud I did it. I also sang five performances in a week at the Met. This is my job: to do it; so that’s it.

OL – In your discography you have three phenomenal solo albums, “Tenor Arias”; “Sicilia Bella”; and “Ti voglio tanto bene”. Which one gave you the most pleasure? I’d guess that it must be the one with songs from your native Sicilia.

MG – No, you are wrong. [laughs] I’m proud of “Ti voglio tanto bene”; I will tell you why. Because it took me over one year to discover all this repertoire and find the arrangements. Some of the arrangements were totally new, for piano and vocal score. Maestro Mercurio and I worked over a year to find the right arrangements and the right colors. If you have the possibility of getting the CD you will find that every single song is dedicated to a different tenor. It’s a long process in research: who was singing that aria before me, and why it is dedicated to them. For me it is not just simply music that I recorded on a CD, but more a historical moment. For the students of music it could be interesting, I think.

Read the interview on Opera Lively’s website.