Salvatore Licitra - Fast Lane Tenor poised to conquer Montrealby Joseph So
/ June 5, 2004
Is this the tenor of tomorrow, the
long-awaited successor to Pavarotti and Domingo?" asked the New York
Times in May 2002, following a sensational 11th-hour debut by Salvatore
Licitra at the Metropolitan Opera, when he replaced an ailing Luciano Pavarotti
in a gala performance of Tosca. It must not have been easy to step
onto that hallowed stage, knowing that the audience had paid up to $1,875 for
the privilege of hearing arguably the greatest tenor of our time in his farewell
appearance at the Met. Licitra's huge success was a testament to his exceptional
talent; he exhibited coolness under pressure, solid musical preparation, and
above all, a beautiful lirico-spinto evocative of the sunny
Born in 1968 in Bern, Switzerland, to
Sicilian parents, Licitra grew up in Milan. He fell into opera by accident.
After graduating from high school, he worked as a graphic artist, doing layout
for Italian Vogue, studying voice in his spare time and singing in church
choirs. It was only when he started studying with Carlo Bergonzi in Busseto that
things began to happen. Licitra made his debut in Un ballo in maschera in
Parma in 1998, in a performance for Bergonzi's students. His success led to a
contract as cover in Ballo, Rigoletto and Aida in Verona,
and he ended up singing them all. Buoyed by positive audience reception, he
auditioned for Riccardo Muti at La Scala, who hired the young tenor for Alvaro
in a new production of La forza del destino. Since then, Licitra has
become a favourite at La Scala, appearing in high-profile assignments such as
Tosca with Russian diva Maria Guleghina (available on DVD), and an
opening-night Manrico in a new production of Il
An exclusive Sony artist, Licitra can be heard on
the soundtrack of the Sally Potter film The Man Who Cried. His Je
crois entendre encore from Pearl Fishers is a model of plangent
vocalism. Also interesting is a live recording of the La Scala Il
Trovatore, when Muti, in the name of authenticity, forbade the tenor to sing
the unwritten high C at the end of Di quella pira, touching off a
firestorm of catcalls from the infamous loggionisti. In his disc of
Italian opera arias, and with a more accommodating maestro in Carlo Rizzi,
Licitra showed that he has high Cs to burn.
As the headliner in l'Opéra de Montréal's Signature
Event Benefit Concert, this is Licitra's second time in Canada--his debut took
place last year with the Vancouver Recital Society. "I am glad to come back to
Canada," said Licitra from his home in Milan, where he lives with his parents.
"Unfortunately, last time I was sick; and you know sometimes it is better to
cancel a concert, but I decided to sing in some way." Even over a trans-Atlantic
phone line, one is struck by his easy-going nature and personal charm. He does
not speak French and apologizes for his accented English, which is actually
quite serviceable, as long as the interview questions are kept short and to the
LSM: Your conductor will be Maestro Eugene Kohn.
Have you worked with him before?
SL: Yes, many times in Asia and in
Germany. It is very comfortable for me to have the same conductor because it's
not so necessary to do many rehearsals, especially with the orchestra. And also
he knows my tempo and my breathing.
LSM: You will be singing the Flower Song from
Carmen. Have you sung Don Jose onstage before?
SL: No, never. I am so curious to sing
this aria because it is the first time I am singing in French. [Pauses.] That's
not exactly true because I did sing French in the Duetto album with
LSM: That was a best seller. Are you happy with
SL: Oh yes, of course. What do you
LSM: The opera fans would have liked you to sing
SL: I know! It is necessary in my
opinion to try to convince a new audience to come to the opera. Unfortunately,
most young people love pop music and don't care about opera. Because I am young
too, I like to say to young people, "Don't forget about opera, it is very
important for our culture."
LSM: How do you find American audiences versus
SL: In America it's possible for me to
meet an audience, how do I say, with "big culture." It is a big pleasure for a
young singer like me because not everyone in Italy appreciates opera. I went to
San Francisco last winter and also received a warm success.
LSM: Do you still study with Carlo Bergonzi?
SL: Unfortunately, I have no more
time. You can imagine my schedule, it is so full, and I have to spend my time on
the plane flying around the world to sing.
LSM: How many performances do you give a
SL: Really not that many, because in
my opinion it is important to have time to study. Also I would like to conserve
[my voice]--I would like to be able to sing for a long time.
LSM: What new roles will you be
SL: In August and September I will be
in Washington to sing my first Andrea Chenier--a wonderful role. I am
studying Manon Lescaut, Fanciulla del--West, Pagliacci and
Cavalleria rusticana. In the future I would like to sing Bohème,
and I will try for sure to sing Carmen.
LSM: Have you sung Pollione?
SL: I sang Pollione in Miami last
winter and I will sing it again in Vienna in 2005-06. Calaf of course is a role
[made] for my cords. I am waiting for a new production because I want to sing
for my first time in a new production to offer the audience a big
LSM: Any new recordings?
SL: We have a project; we are looking
to find time to do it. We need time to record. It is a compilation of arias, but
I cannot say the titles right now.
LSM: You are coming to Toronto in January. What
will you be singing?
SL: I think we will offer maybe a big
program from my repertoire. It will be the first time I'll be singing with a
Salvatore Licitra performs in l'Opéra de
Montréal Signature Benefit on June 6, 2004 at 4 p.m., Place des Arts, 514
985.2258. On January 22, 2005, Licitra will give a solo recital with piano
accompaniment at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, 416