In Opera Australia’s latest production of Tosca the period is transformed into Nazi-occupied Rome. A decision director John Bell explains “A tyrannical regime, resistance fighters hunted down, women forced to give sexual favours in order to protect a loved one — these things are still happening, and always have been, during war.”
At the head of this tyrannical regime within Tosca is the fascist chief of police Baron Scarpia. We caught up with Lucio Gallo, who will be performing in the role until the 14th of March, to discuss Scarpia, interpretations and singing with Luciano Pavarotti.
You play Scarpia, a role that you are quite familiar with. How do you go about getting into the character of the malicious Chief of Police?
I have sung Scarpia more than 170 times and each time I find a thrill in interpreting this role as it requires great depth both from the musical point and the view of interpretation. Scarpia is not intended as a “villain”. He must not fall into the temptation of being brutal. He’s a baron – a noble – who knows the art of manipulation, who knows how to seduce. At the same time he uses every means, even the most terrible, for personal purposes and he does it very elegantly. The great interpretation of Tito Gobbi was for me a crucial landmark in the study of the character!
A very strong impact, neo-realist with definitely the fiercest implications if we think of the terrible time that was the twenty years of Nazi / fascist rule in Europe. The common denominator between the two periods, one of “Roma papalina” set by Puccini and this version inspired by the films of Roberto Rossellini’s “Roma città aperta” is the perfect equality of the power relations between institutions, the Church and the people, which outline perfectly the characters of Puccini’s drama.
Do you have a favourite moment of Tosca that we the audience should look out for?
Tosca is an opera that has several moments of great beauty! If I think about my role in the Te Deum, which marks the end of the first act, Scarpia clearly reveals his real and cruel nature. It is certainly a moment of music and theater overwhelming and impressive!
You have spent time performing on Cruise Ships. How does this compare to performing on a more traditional Opera stage?
As a boy, even though I dreamt of becoming a professional singer, I had never liked opera. Before beginning my studies at the conservatory at the age of 21, I sang for four years on cruise ships as a crooner, preferring the repertoire of Frank Sinatra. My audition for the conservatory was in fact, singing “New York, New York.” My great fortune was in having met a great voice teacher, Prof. Elio Battaglia, in Turin. Understanding my adversity toward the opera made me start working on the study of the vocal technique and then I approached the Germans lieder and chamber vocal music by Italian and French composers first. With the first opera arias by Mozart I realized that through the opera I could also be an actor. In 1985, I made my debut at the Teatro Regio in Turin and since then my love for the Opera is not interrupted!
In recent years I have returned to the passion for the great Frank and with a jazz quintet, we carry around “Tribute to Sinatra” with 18 of the most popular songs which were interpreted by the extraordinary artist. You can watch our video of “Fly Me To The Moon” here!
And finally, you have also performed alongside the great Luciano Pavarotti. What was the experience like?
It was an unbelievable honour for me, singing with the great Italian Tenor, in 1986 in a La Bohēme done prior to the Opera House in Genoa and then brought to Beijing. He wanted me at his side to sing several other times, and after ten years, still La Bohēme for the celebration of the centenary of the Teatro Regio in Turin, as well as big Luciano, Mirella Freni and Nicolaj Ghiaurov! Every time singing with him was really exciting. I think we all feel the lack of that wonderful unique voice!
Lucio Gallo will be performing the role of Scarpia in Tosca at the Sydney Opera House until the 14th of March, where Shane Lowrencev will continue the role until the final performance on the 31st of March.
For more information and to book visit opera.org.au