In the first of two interviews leading up to our Wimbledon Symphony Orchestra June 22nd concert Conor Molony speaks with Roberto Barbaro, tenor soloist currently with National Opera Studio.
Listening to your recordings I love the clarity and freshness of your voice, how do you protect and nurture this wonderful instrument?
Thanks for your kind and generous comment. I think having a healthy lifestyle is paramount. This includes diet, staying active, sleeping sufficiently (which for a singer is more than the average level I would say), not smoking and avoiding drinking. The ‘healthy lifestyle’ mentality is a good starting point. In addition, one needs to have a reliable and functioning singing technique.
Practising is important. Also, one must be careful not to over sing, but pushing the limits sometimes can be a good way to see what shape the voice and body are in. The other thing I consider is the repertoire I learn and perform – if the glove fits then wear it.
Of course there are many renowned Italian tenors, as an Italo-Australian do you think your Italian heritage gives you a greater understanding of the music and the words, or indeed greater freedom to interpret?
My Italian background certainly set me up for having a feel and natural connection to Italian music. I was fortunate as a kid to have been exposed to Italian pop singers of the past, Neapolitan and other Italian folk singers and Italian poetry. So, yes, I suppose that passively I absorbed ‘Italian-ness’ to some extent.
However, it was only when I lived in Italy when I was able to really absorb ‘Italian-ness’ - which really does exist. Italian language has a rhythm and taste really hits when you have to speak, train, rehearse and perform only in Italian and with native speakers. When one understands the aesthetic and intricacies of Italian, one can have the confidence to play with the colour and shape of the words and phrases.
Have you any particular heroes? Who inspired you as a young upcoming soloist?
Hmm, a difficult question ... I have so many heroes. Artists like Billy Joel and Rod Stewart really got my attention: how these guys could play their instruments, command the audience and express their thoughts and feelings through song - how cool is that!
In terms of classical singing Mario Lanza, Andrea Bocelli and Placido Domingo made me realise that the voice could be used to create a powerful sound. As a young student of classical voice, and still today, singers like Beniamino Gigli, Franco Corelli and Dame Joan Sutherland just blew me away: the captivation of their voice but also how they draw you into their world.
What was the inspiration for you and Celine to perform the chosen duets with WSO? Which one do you enjoy most?
The duets are musical gems, but also have an out of this world, dreamy vibe. I never get bored of the ‘Bohème’ because the scene has a real truth to it - nervous flirting but also deep undertones of yearning for another human being.
The ‘Otello’ is a new one for me. The role isn’t one I’ll do for a while, but in a concert setting it works well. Verdi is a really comfortable place for me, so it may turn out to be a new favourite duet. Ask me after the concert! Haha!
How do you use the orchestra in facilitating the still controlled emotion of your Tosca solo rising to its dramatic climax?
The orchestra sets up all the emotion in this aria - from the wondering lonesome clarinet in the introduction to the burst of thick strings in the climax. If I allow the phrase to building by itself then the emotion can be within the line so as not to lose control of the voice. It is not a question of ‘competing against the surge of instruments playing’ but more a case of riding the wave of emotion with the orchestra.
The words “la vita” at the very end can be a trap, with all that built up emotion, the voice is brought back down, but as the tenor you mustn’t drop the blocks on the floor and make a mess, you have to guide the blocks to land dramatically but with poise. Sooo much easier said than done. I try and keep it sincere and not ‘put it on’ for the sake of it.
Finally Roberto, after our concert in June what is next on your London calendar?
This WSO concert coincides with finishing at the National Opera Studio. In July I will be singing in a new production of Puccini’s La boheme with King’s Head and in August I’ll be singing the role of Kuntz Vogelgesang in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürmberg for Fulham Opera.
Apart from that, I will be working toward various competitions and auditions in the UK and Europe.
For further information on Roberto, please see his personal website.