Have Dogs, Will Travel: Bass-Baritone Luca Pisaroni’s Life on the Operatic Fast Track--with Canine Companions

By Louise Burton on Feb 13, 2015 01:00 PM EST

Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni is in demand at many of the premier opera houses in the world. This year, he will sing the role of the Count in Le Nozze di Figaro in three different productions: at San Francisco Opera, the Salzburg Festival, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. He will also sing Enrico VIII (that's Henry VIII to non-Italian speakers) in Anna Bolena in both Zurich and Vienna. Wherever in the world he goes to sing, he is accompanied by his two dogs, Lenny and Tristan.

"I always travel with them everywhere... I keep them normally in the hotel or the apartment. They are really well-trained travelers, so it's not that difficult," Pisaroni told me during a recent telephone interview.

In fact, Pisaroni is something of an advocate for traveling with pets. He even has a dog blog, where he recounts the exploits of Tristan, the miniature dachshund, and Lenny 2.0, the golden retriever.

Currently, the dogs are with him in New York, where he is singing Leporello in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Don Giovanni, directed by Michael Grandage. I had the good fortune to talk with Pisaroni the morning after opening night.

 "It went very well, I'm very happy... it's a good production," Pisaroni related. As the servant Leporello, he is witness to the Don's amorous exploits, often helping to rescue his master, played by bass-baritone Peter Mattei, from difficult and dangerous situations.

New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini wrote: "Mr. Mattei is well matched with the Leporello of the vibrant bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni. He conveys the character's bungling awkwardness. Yet Mr. Pisaroni's natural charm comes through, lending Leporello a touch of swagger."

Here he is singing Leporello's "Catalogue Aria" during a season preview of the Met's previous production of Giovanni, in 2011:

I asked Pisaroni if Leporello is long-suffering in his role as the Don's servant.

"Even when Leporello complains about Don Giovanni, I never believe Leporello would leave," he says. "Because actually Leporello loves being around the Don... Leporello is a normal person who gets to witness something extraordinary through the life of Don Giovanni.

"That's why for me, the recits between the two of them are one of the most important things in a production of Don Giovanni," he continued. "Because you actually see the private Don Giovanni when the two of them talk. Giovanni is a chameleon who behaves differently for different kinds of women. But when he's with Leporello, he's 'at home,' and you can actually see the 'domestic' Don Giovanni...

"So that is why for me, the recitatives between the two of them are so important. Because you get to meet a side of Don Giovanni that otherwise you would not see."

I ask him if the role of the Don is in his future.

"Yes, I certainly want to do it," he said. "It is too relevant, too important to ignore it. I find that, you know, it's not a straightforward role, because it is such a mixture of being dangerous, and charming, sexy.

"It is a role that requires a lot of charisma and energy. Because the audience needs to look at you even when you don't sing. And especially when you don't sing. The audience needs to understand that you are the Don Giovanni of the moment, when you step on stage... It is a role that I will certainly do, and I can't wait to do it."

No article about Luca Pisaroni is complete without mentioning a role that he created for a recent Met production: the monster Caliban in The Enchanted Island, in 2011-2012 and again in 2014. This new opera is a pastiche of Baroque arias by Handel, Vivaldi and Rameau, with a libretto that is based on two Shakespeare plays: The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

As Caliban, Pisaroni wore a costume that he describes as "outrageous."

"I had really a lot of fun singing that role," Pisaroni recalls. "I enjoyed being part of the project, because I liked my character. I think the dramatic journey that Caliban had, and witnessed, during this piece is great... really interesting and fun to play."

Here, Pisaroni recounts the steps it took to become Caliban:

The Enchanted Island, devised and written by Jeremy Sams, featured a dream cast of Baroque singing stars, including Pisaroni, Joyce DiDonato, Danielle de Niese, Plácido Domingo and David Daniels. "We had a ball, because it was such a great cast, and so everybody really worked [hard] to match everybody else," Pisaroni recalled. "It was brilliant, just brilliant."

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TagsLuca Pisaroni, Dogs, Metropolitan Opera, Don Giovanni, Michael Grandage, Leporello, Caliban, The Enchanted Island, Peter Mattei

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