Sticking to ‘Real Italian Vowels’

Chris Pasles is a staff writer for The Times' Orange County Edition

Tenor Marcello Giordani was such a hit when he sang for Opera Pacific in 1991 and 1993 that hardly anyone realized he was going through a vocal crisis.

But he was. His career had been a case of too much, too soon, too loud, all on top--as he says now--of faulty technique.

“The tenor voice should be like sunshine,” Giordani, 34, said from his home in his native Sicily. “My voice was sounding old already, too dark.”

But the sunshine is back, according to all reports of his performances as Gabriele Adorno in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” this summer at Covent Garden (under the late Georg Solti) and Des Grieux in Massenet’s “Manon” in the fall at the Met.


One British critic even compared his singing with “the musicianship and style of a young Nicolai Gedda,” the elegant Swedish tenor of the ‘60s. Giordani will return to Opera Pacific to sing Rodolfo in Puccini’s “La Boheme” during the Jan. 6-11 run at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

The young tenor credits his New York teacher, Bill Schuman, with whom he began studying in 1993, for bringing back his voice.

“We worked two months, very hard, two hours a day at the start,” Giordani said. “I saw immediate progress. I have not had to cancel any opera. Everybody seems happy about my technique and my voice now.”

Giordani’s case of vocal trouble is hardly unique. “I’ve seen so many young kids explode,” he said. “They come on like stars, then disappear after four or five years. They don’t have the right advisors. They think too much about money and how they can become famous fast. . . .


“I hope I can help some young singers about that. The bad experience I have had, I don’t want anybody else to have. It’s a really terrible feeling when you have that moment in your life.”

The Giordani saga began modestly. He grew up in the small town of August near Sicily’s east coast. There was no opera house in the town, but there was a church, of course, and he learned to love music singing in the choir.

“I was this crazy kid singing all over the place,” he said. “My father encouraged me. I quit my job in the bank when I was 19. I took a chance. I went to Milan to study opera and singing. My father really supported me economically.”

Success came when he won the 1986 Spoleto Festival in Milan, singing the Duke in Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” He soon sang the role in a full production.


“They applauded me because I was the winner and I was young,” he said. “But inside I knew it was not really good. I was 22 years old. My technique was not so good. The Duke’s role is very, very difficult.

“So I stopped singing for one year and studied hard. I tried to improve my technique. That’s what I’m doing now. For years. Every day.”

Always on the lookout for fresh voices, however, impresarios began casting him in powerhouse roles such as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s “Tosca” and the title role in Verdi’s “Don Carlos.”

“My Italian manager and the people at the opera houses tried to push me into the wrong repertory,” he said. “I was singing, but I was not so consistent as I could be. Then I decided to move to America and study with Bill Schuman.”


Couldn’t he find any teachers in the land that created opera?

“We don’t have very good Italian teachers right now,” he said. “During and after the war, all the great Italian singers moved to America. That’s why, I think, we lost our tradition.”

Schuman, who often travels with Giordani, taught him that tradition of using “natural voice and natural vowels. He also taught me to open my body. When you’re insecure about your technique, you close yourself off. Your shoulders tighten. The first thing, you should open your body and sing. Be happy. Sing real vowels, real Italian vowels. When you’re learning a good way to sing technically, you find it’s very easy to sing well.”

To prevent further problems, Giordani, Schuman and his New York manager, Matthew Laifer, are all very careful about his repertory.


“Right now, I consider my voice pure lyrico, even if I know I can be a lyrico-spinto [a more powerful tenor voice] later,” he said. “Last night someone told me, ‘Finally, we have a “Trovatore” tenor.’ I said, ‘No. No. You have to wait another five years.’ ‘Why? You have the volume to sing this.’ No, I think I’m going to stick to bel canto and lyric roles for a while because they’re healthy for the voice.”

Such roles include (this season) Romeo in the Gounod opera in Palermo; Puccini’s Rodolfo and Lord Alfred Talbot in Bellini’s “I Puritani,” both in Vienna; Gennaro in Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia” at La Scala, and the title role of Gounod’s “Faust” at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires.

With his career taking off, Giordani is trying to balance professional and personal life. He met his wife, Wilma, when singing in Lucerne in 1988. They married two years later. The couple had their first child, a boy, Michele, in July . Another child is on the way.

“Right now, we travel a lot together,” he said, “all four of us, actually. We have a dog. He was traveling with me before I got married. A Dachshund. His name is Puppy Duke. We bought him when I was singing the Duke in ‘Rigoletto.’ He doesn’t look like a duke, more like a prince. I would feel miserable if I couldn’t have them with me.


“I don’t want to change anything about my life. I want my wife and children to travel always with me and share good things and bad things. That’s what the family is for. Of course, the birth of my son, after trying so many years and finally God gives me the great gift that every person wishes--I’m very happy. Even the way I’m singing is better. . . . My life is complete. I am totally happy.”

Well, perhaps not totally.

“My dream was always to be a baritone,” Giordani added. “Every time I hear a great baritone voice, I’m so happy. Even when I warm up, I sing some phrases--the role of Gerard in Giordano’s ‘Andrea Chenier,’ or Barnaba in Ponchielli’s ‘La Gioconda’ or Tonio in Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci.’ It’s too low for me, but I would like to sing it.”



“LA BOHEME,” with Marcello Giordani singing Rodolfo, Opera Pacific, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Dates: Tuesday, Thursday and next Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Also, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, 2 p.m., with Carlo Scibelli singing the role. Prices: $28-$93. Phone: (714) 556-2787.