Young Italian singer’s recital showcases a genuine rising star

Sat Nov 07, 2009 at 12:13 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni performed Friday night at Ravinia.

The Italian bass-baritone, Luca Pisaroni made his Chicago-area debut Friday night in an interesting recital as the first performer in Ravinia’s off-season Rising Stars series. The program at Bennett-Gordon Hall—to be reprised Nov. 13 at Carnegie Hall—offered a close look at an important new operatic voice in the early stages of what promises to be a notable career.

Pisaroni is a tall, dark and handsome presence on stage, and his voice has power and technique to spare. He brought along an unusual program of songs by Schubert, Rossini, Meyerbeer and, most notably, Liszt.

The young singer seems at home in a wide variety of musical idioms. His technique and fluency were demonstrated in Italian songs by Schubert, one written for his teacher Salieri (yes, that Salieri) and some Rossini songs from the Sins of My Old Age and the Soirees Musicales, penned after the composer had abandoned opera altogether.

A group of German lieder by Meyerbeer was an apt bridge to the High Romantic fervor of Franz Liszt. The French-German composer’s songs are fluid and forgettable in a salon style, and they were knocked off by Pisaroni in a stolid but idiomatic fashion.

The singer’s stolidity in fact was somewhat distracting throughout. Possessor of a winning smile, he nevertheless has a reserved stage presence, and is not yet strong in the art of presentation. He stands, leaning slightly, with his hands at his side, and rarely changes that basic posture except for an occasional dip when the music is particularly challenging. This is a serious young artist with a remarkable voice who will eventually unbend and have more fun at this kind of recital in time to come.

The Liszt songs were the meat and potatoes of the program, and Pisaroni rightly dedicated the second half of his recital to these seldom-heard works which are musically innovative and romantically self-indulgent by turns. The singer had all the mercurial turbulence and chromatic tone painting nailed impressively and his excellent accompanist, Vlad Iftinca, had no problem with the many challenges of the piano part.

And the voice? Comparisons have been made to Fischer-Dieskau and Thomas Hampson (Pisaroni’s father-in-law), and it is enough to remark that no one  could match the burnished gold of Dieskau’s instrument or the rounded nobility of Hampson at his best.

But Pisaroni has a great deal to offer: A fairly wide range on the higher end, a bit less on the lower, but plenty of resonance and evenness in the areas in between, he achieves thrilling fortes and hushed pianissimos. Although he has a tendency to croon some of the softer notes, he has a fine legato which no doubt serves him well in Mozart and Bellini. He is agile in ornamentation and clear in enunciation; an intelligent and highly musical artist. We will be hearing more of Luca Pisaroni in the future.

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