Baritone  Piero  Cappuccilli

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Piero Cappuccilli

Piero Cappuccilli, who has died aged 78, was the leading Italian baritone between 1960 and 1990, and a singer of full-blooded vigour in the tradition of his kind.

His firm, wide-ranging tone and incisive delivery made him an ideal interpreter of all the major roles suited to his voice in Verdi operas, and he undertook no fewer than 17 of them during his career. Cappuccilli's only rival when he was in his prime was Renato Bruson, a subtler but less imposing baritone.

Piero Cappuccilli was born on November 9 1926 at Trieste, where he also trained. He sang small parts in his native city before making his official debut as Tonio in Pagliacci at the Teatro Nuovo, Milan, in 1957. Walter Legge, who was EMI's recording mogul at the time, knew a good voice when he heard one, and he summoned Cappuccilli to London in 1959 to sing Masetto in Don Giovanni, part of the starry cast Legge was assembling under Giulini's baton.


See my Interviews with Joan Sutherland, and Graziela Sciutti

Cappuccilli then undertook Lord Henry Ashton in Callas's second recording of Lucia di Lammermoor, also for EMI. He made his debut at La Scala in the same part in 1964, following it with impressive appearances as Amonasro in Aïda and Don Carlos in La forza del destino by Verdi.

His debut at Covent Garden came with Visconti's black-and-white, fin de siècle production in 1967 of La traviata, in which Cappuccilli made an imposing Father Germont. [Photo of the main participants is shown at the bottom of this webpage.] But his most celebrated appearance in the house came in 1976, when La Scala came to Covent Garden for a now famous visit. He was seen and heard as an ideal exponent of the title part in Giorgio Strehler's striking staging of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, with Claudio Abbado in the pit. That staging was first seen in Milan in 1971, and Strehler and Abbado were again in charge when the company put on Verdi's Macbeth. Cappuccilli assumed a role that once more ideally suited his gifts for a refined legato and long-breathed phrasing.

By this time he was exhibiting his skill in all the major opera-houses and festivals. Karajan called him to the Salzburg Festival to take the part of Rodrigo in Verdi's Don Carlos in 1975, and when, four years later, Karajan returned in triumph to the Vienna State Opera, Cappuccilli was his Count of Luna in Il trovatore. A vivid memento of that occasion is now available on DVD, and discloses Cappuccilli's artistry at its most potent.  [Besides the insert-sheet from the DVD shown immediately below, a photo of the baritone with the conductor appears farther down on this webpage.]


See my Interviews with Fiorenza Cossotto, and José van Dam

Among his other most noted Verdian parts were Rigoletto, which he recorded with Giulini, and Iago, which he sang to great effect at Covent Garden and sings on a video from the Verona Arena (1982). His final appearance at the Royal Opera House came as Tonio in 1989.

Cappuccilli did not simply confine himself to Verdi. He was a vital and nasty Scarpia, the role in which he bade farewell to La Scala in 1989. He helped in revivals of Donizetti's Robert Devereux and Il pirata by Bellini.

He was Gérard, the French revolutionary in Giordano's melodrama Andrea Chénier, and fairly early in his career sang the part in an Italian Radio production which is now available on DVD - it evinces all those characteristics of dramatic power and vital utterance that were so much Cappuccilli's hallmark, as does his portrayal on CD of the evil Barnaba in La Gioconda by Ponchielli.

Cappuccilli's career ended when he was involved in a serious motor car accident in 1992, after he had sung the title part in Verdi's Nabucco at the Verona Arena.

He had been adored by his public, and would respond with an ever more energetic performance when he received generous applause. He loved playing to the gallery, and was not shy about inserting high notes uncalled for by the composer. This confident manner was justified by his vocal prowess, and no Italian baritone since has, as yet, achieved his preeminence.

Cappuccilli died July 12, 2005


Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate to experience the artistry of many of the world
’s greatest musicians.  Some lived here and performed season-in and season-out, while others came from all over the world to share their talents with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  The history of both organizations shines with the glory that can only be accomplished by the top practitioners.

One such artist from Italy was Piero Cappuccilli.  His stentorian voice and articulate stage presence illuminated various roles here over ten seasons
— including three opening nights.  Most of the operas were by Verdi, and his full repertoire in the Windy City is shown in the chart farther down on this webpage.

Needless to say, it was a distinct pleasure to be able to spend some time with him during his visit in the fall of 1981.  
It was a fascinating and illuminating hour, filled with much insight and a good deal of levity.  My thanks to Marina Vecci of Lyric Opera for translating for us.

cappuccilli Here is what was said at that time . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie
:    You’ve sung in opera houses all over the world.  What’s the different effect on you of singing in a smaller house as opposed to a bigger house?

Piero Cappuccilli
:    There is no difference between the small one and the large one.

BD:    No difference at all?

PC:    No difference between the big one and the small one.  The only thing is the sonority, the acoustics.  This is a very important factor.  It is important because it is necessary to hear the voice.

BD:    When you sing, does the voice come back to you?

PC:    Yes.  It’s necessary.

BD:    Are there houses where it does not?

PC:    If it doesn’t come back to you, you have no control over it.   That’s why so many singers that begin singing very well, later do not sing as well.  They’ve lacked this control because they cannot hear the voice coming back.

BD:    So you have to rely on your technique and use that no matter what you hear?

PC:    Even if it’s a small voice, the important thing is that the voice is issued in a forward projection.

BD:    So you don’t feel you have to strain or be forced to sing louder in a big house?

PC:    If one has a big voice, it’s easier to sing louder and softer, but it can be difficult for a very big voice to sing softly.  This depends on the school of technique.

BD:    You have a ‘bel canto’ technique?

PC:    Yes.

BD:    You sing a lot of Verdi roles.  Do you sing Verdi roles the same way as you would sing Bellini or Donizetti?


PC:    It’s very difficult to sing Donizetti and Bellini, but it’s the same with Verdi because Verdi took much from Donizetti.  They are sort of the same.  The early operas of Verdi are very close to Donizetti.

BD:    Is the early Verdi similar at all to the later Verdi?

PC:    No, it’s different because there’s a revolution within Verdi from his first opera to Falstaff and even Otello.  

cappuccilli BD:    Have you sung either Falstaff or Ford?

PC:    No.

BD:    Will you?

PC:    Not now because my voice is too big and dramatic and heroic.

BD:    Do you enjoy singing the other verismo works, such as Catalani and Giordano?

PC:    Yes.

BD:    How are they different from Verdi operas?

PC:    [Laughs]  Verdi is much more expressive, with more singing involved.  The only good opera by Giordano is Andrea Chénier.  It is a highly dramatic opera.  It’s very explosive, and the story is very easy to understand.

BD:    Should the other Giordano operas not be done at all?

PC:    No.  Giordano operas are not of much interest.  They are very difficult but they’re not very interesting.  

BD:    Why
vocally, or dramatically, or...

PC:    No, everything.  Musically they’re always respected, but one can always hear Verdi in all of these operas.  There are other composers, but it’s very hard.  Also Mascagni, for instance.  What one only hears is Cavalleria.

BD:    Are the other Mascagni works good operas?

PC:    Mascagni composed Il Piccolo Marat, but it’s a very bad opera, and vocally very difficult.  It’s not interesting, no.

BD:    What about Le Maschere?

PC:    No, that is also not very interesting.  Cavalleria is enough.  It is the only one.

BD:    What about contemporary music.  Do you sing any?

PC:    No.  I’m not interested.  Musically there are seven notes but they’re badly put together.  [Laughter all around]

BD:    What about early works such as Monteverdi or Cavalli?

PC:    Monteverdi is good.  I like Monteverdi. 

BD:    Does Monteverdi speak to the same public that Verdi speaks to?

PC:    Yes, just a little.  I feel that Monteverdi
s music is in the same area as Verdi’snot because the name Verdi is contained in Monteverdi, but they sort of appeal to the same public.  The main difference, of course, is the style of the period.  The two styles are totally different, but it is the music of the day, so they’re not so different as composers. 

BD:    Would you do some Monteverdi if you were asked?

PC:    I have not sung Monteverdi, but I would do it if I were asked.  But I think it would be unlikely that I’d be asked to do Monteverdi.

BD:    There are too many people wanting you to sing Verdi?

PC:    That is true.  [Much laughter]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk about some of the early Verdi works.  Why do you feel these have these been neglected?  [As noted in the chart below, Cappuccilli sang both early and mature works of Verdi in Chicago.]

PC:    In order to sing early Verdi, they demand a lot more.  The early Verdi is very vocal because there’s a lot of importance on the voice.  The later Verdi is vocal indeed, but also more interpretative, more dramatic.

Piero Cappuccilli at Lyric Opera of Chicago

1969 - Puritani (Riccardo) with Rinaldi, Kraus, Washington, Van Ginkle; Ceccato

1970 - Traviata (Germont) with Caballé, Gedda, Krebill. Cornell; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi

1971 - Rigoletto (Rigoletto) with Robinson, Kraus, Vinco, Zanibelli; Bartoletti, Sequi, Pizzi

1972 [Opening Night] - I Due Foscari (Francesco) with Ricciarelli, Tagliavini, Little, Voketaitis; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi

1974 [Opening Night] - Simon Boccanegra (Simon) with Arroyo, Cossutta, Raimondi, Clatworthy, Enns; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi
                        Favorita (Alfonso XI) with Cossotto, Kraus, Vinco, Zilio; Rescigno, Anderson, Lee

1975 [Opening Night] - Otello (Iago) with Cossutta, Cruz-Romo, Terranova; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi
                        Traviata (Germont) with Cotrubas, Kraus, Zilio, Voketaitis; Bartoletti, De Lullo, Pizzi

1981 - Macbeth (Macbeth) with Barstow, Little, Plishka, Kunde; Fischer, N. Merrill, Benois, Schuler (lights for this and all succeeding productions)

1984 - Ernani (Don Carlo) with Bumbry, Bartolini, Ghiaurov, Doss; Renzetti, Melano, Benois

1986-87 - Ballo in Maschera (Renato) with Chiara, Pavarotti/Sebastian, Blackwell, Cossotto, Vinco, Skafarowski, Kaasch; Bartoletti, Frisell, Conklin

1987-88 - Trovatore (Luna) with Tomowa-Sintow, Verrett, Ciannella/Sebastian, D'Artegna; Bartoletti, Frisell, Benois

--  Names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

BD:    What about some of the operas that we know very little about, such as Alzira, Aroldo, etc.?

PC:    Alzira, I will never sing, nor Aroldo.  They are not very important operas.

BD:    Are they weak?

PC:    They have weaknesses, and they have empty spaces at some points.  In order to do these operas, you have to have a very big cast.  The singers are important, as is an enormous physical production and set.  In Traviata, for instance, you need the female character, but the music is so important that it’s not so important to have an enormous and important singer to do Violetta.

BD:    Here’s the fatal question.  Which is more important, the music or the drama?

cappuccilli PC:    One always needs to have a very important cast to be happy with an opera, but today, in many cases, you can’t always have all big names in a cast.

BD:    You enjoy singing Verdi especially?

PC:    Yes.  He’s my spiritual father.

BD:    Have you sung all of the Verdi roles that you want to sing?

PC:    Yes, all of them.  My record of Nabucco is coming out next year.  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my Interviews with Ghena Dimitrova, Lucia Valentini Terrani, and Giuseppe Sinopoli.]

BD:    Verdi
s creative output is divided into three periods.  Do you find that his development of the baritone voice specifically follows these three periods, or is that more of a dramatic thing?

PC:    As far as the baritone voice is concerned, Verdi has always been at his best in writing for the baritone voice.  But one has to have a true Verdian baritone voice in order to sing Verdi.  Perhaps Verdi is the most difficult when seen on the page.  It looks like the easiest music to sing, but he’s the most difficult one.

BD:    [Surprised]  More than Bellini and Donizetti?  More than Giordano or Mascagni?

PC:    Yes, because as far as the orchestra conductor is concerned, some of the Verdi parts seem, on the surface, to be very easy.  But what looks easiest is the most difficult thing to do well.

BD:    Is this because you need to do it from the heart?

PC:    Yes.  No one succeeded as much as Verdi.  No one achieved as much as Verdi has achieved.  

BD:    Did they try?

PC:    Actually there isn’t anyone.  Today, in contemporary music there is no one that has taken or learned from Verdi.  But by the same token, who has learned from, or who has had the same achievement after Wagner?

BD:    Have you sung any Wagner at all?

PC:    No.  Maybe in the future.  I would like to...

BD:    The Flying Dutchman?

PC:    Yes, just this one.

BD:    Is The Flying Dutchman more like a Verdi opera than other Wagner operas?

PC:    Yes, it’s near to Verdi’s operas.

BD:    Would you sing that in German or Italian?

PC:    I want to sing it in German.

BD:    Do you sing any of your roles in translation? 

PC:    No, no, no.  Operas must be sung in the original language.  

BD:    Always?

PC:    Yes, always because of the expression.

cappuccilli BD:    Do you feel that an audience that understands every word gets more out of it?

PC:    The true music lover knows not only the music very well, but also the words.

BD:    Would you ever sing the role of Rodrigo in French?

PC:    No, never!

BD:    [Gently protesting]  Why???  Don Carlos was originally written in French

PC:    But before he died, Verdi wrote that the only Don Carlo is the one in Italian, and in four acts.

BD:    [Lamenting]  No Fontainebleau scene at all.

PC:    With no Fontainebleau at all.  Verdi wrote it in a letter just before he died, but today some of the conductors who had not learned anything from the old
and by now, deadconductors, decide to do what Verdi himself rejected at some point in his life.  So they go back to the French version in order to do something different just for effect, to be shocking.  The French Don Carlos is not important.  It’s not very good.  The same holds for Trovatore.  There’s also a French version that had the ballet which was written for the Paris Opéra.  But it was only written for Paris for that specific occasion, and then was dropped.

BD:    But that was the second version, a revision.  The Don Carlos was first in French, and then in Italian.

PC:    Yes, but whether it was first or second, first in Italian and then French, it comes to the same thing, and Verdi’s intention was the same
doing it in Italian.  Just one.

BD:    I see.  Same question for I Vespri Siciliani?

PC:    Oh yes, the same question and the same answer.

BD:    Same question for Donizetti’s La Favorita?

PC:    Yes, the same question and the same answer.  Some of the elaborations of certain operas have been done in answer to certain specific needs and specific theaters, or as an end to certain pressures put on the composers, but not necessarily because the composer thought of it that way first.

BD:    What about Rossini’s William Tell?

PC:    William Tell is sort of a peculiar case, a different case.  It is an opera which is not done very often.  It remains isolated in a category of its own, and it doesn’t have a great importance.

BD:    Have you sung Tell?

PC:    No.

BD:    [With eager anticipation]  Would you?  
 [He would sing it in November of 1984 with the Opera Orchestra of New York, conducted by Eve Queler.  The review by Donal Henahan in The New York Times included this... Piero Cappuccilli, in the title role, made Tell a three-dimensional character, though a rather glum sort of hero.  He gave out his Act Three aria, Resta immobile, so ardently and so sonorously that an encore was demanded and granted.]

PC:    Yes, I was asked to do it.  I’ve studied the role, but I don’t think it’s as good as a role as the Verdi roles.  It’s a nice role, but it’s not a role that has overriding importance over other operas.  It’s a good role.  It is something you can hear once, but it’s not something that you can hear all the time.  Aïda you can hear every day.  With William Tell, when you’ve heard it once, it’s done.

BD:    Is it the genius of Verdi that makes Aïda possible to be heard every day, as opposed to the lack of genius in Rossini?

PC:    [Somewhat sternly]  I didn’t mean to say that Rossini lacked any genius, but I feel that Verdi was much closer to the soul of every one of the characters, and therefore could express something more universal.  In fact, in Italy we have the face of Giuseppe Verdi on the one thousand lire bank notes, which is not because we put it on a bank note which is not worth anything.  We put it on the bank note which has the wider circulation, and which everyone has, because it is to say that he’s closer to our soul.  If we’re thinking of Rossini, Cenerentola and Barber can be heard all the time, just like Aïda.


BD:    So the same question would be in reverse if we were to compare Alzira with Aïda?

PC:    Yes, it has something to do with inspiration, with the feelings that were there at the time of the composition.

BD:    Is this what the composers are lacking today
the inspiration?  [Both laugh]

PC:    I, too, can write seven notes arranged a different way, but I wouldn’t be able to give any overall musical design with any construction, or any arrangement that would be able to touch our feelings.  The only two modern composers I like are Britten and Gershwin.

BD:    [Seizing the opportunity]  Would you sing Porgy?

PC:    No!  I like Gershwin’s music very much, but I have no desire to sing it.  Although the music is very modern, it does have a lot of feelings about it, and it’s very intelligently and beautifully written. 

BD:    Have you sung some Britten?  

PC:    No.  I’ve only heard things on recordings, but I’ve never sung any.  I always go and see anything by Britten or Gershwin when they’re done.

BD:    Now we come full-circle.  I asked you before about translating Italian operas.  If Peter Grimes were done at La Scala, would it be done in English or Italian?

PC:    In English.  At La Scala all the operas are done in the original language.  Even in the smaller theaters in Naples and Florence and Venice, they do operas in the original language, especially Wagner and Strauss.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask you about your recordings.  Do you enjoy making them?

PC:    Yes, because a recording is something that is left, that remains, but it’s not very satisfactory.  It’s not very fulfilling because it involves a lot of technology.

BD:    So is a recording more like singing in the studio than on the stage?

PC:    On the stage it is a much more spontaneous process, and it’s much more interesting on the stage.

BD:    How much affect do the different conductors have upon your work?

PC:    It all depends on the individual conductor.

cappuccilli BD:    Do you ever disagree?

PC:    Sometimes.

BD:    Then who wins?

PC:    We tend to compromise.  We are able to find it.

BD:    Is it the same for stage directors and productions?

PC:    Also they try to find a compromise.  After twenty-five years of being a singer, I have found that I sometimes know more about the opera than a young stage director or a young conductor.  So I feel that I can make some of the arguments because I have sung with the major conductors, and worked with the major stage directors.  So when I have to work with some of these young stage directors that believe they are the greatest thing, they don’t understand anything about the voice and the vocal needs.  They don’t even have any knowledge of music, so then we can have some conflicts and we have to discuss things.

BD:    Do the stage directors today ignore the voice?

PC:    Yes, nearly always they tend to.  They’re used to TV; they’re used to cinematography, and they always want to do a movie-kind of show, or a TV-kind of show.  The stage has only two dimensions, so they have to work within that.

BD:    In the case of von Karajan [shown with Cappuccilli in photo at left], he is both conductor and stage director.   Do you think this works especially well?

PC:    For sure.  This combination works very well because from the start you have the orchestra conductor who is also the stage director.  Karajan the conductor knows the music, he knows the singers very well, and he also knows the plot of the opera and what’s happened.  Also, the staging indications are generally written on every score, so you don’t need to search.  The strength of using very big named stage directors who, in opera, do not necessarily know the music, seems to me to be a way of spending money without any justification.  Giorgio Strehler, Visconti and Zeffirelli are the biggest stage directors existing today because the three of them know the music, and they love singers, and they understand the singers’ needs.  Always one has a perfect collaboration with them, and they have done the most spectacular productions in the world.  They are the best, and what they direct have been or are the best operas that one can see.  I’ve worked with all of them.  I also like Ponnelle for operas of the eighteenth century, but when he does Mozart, Rossini and Verdi, I don’t agree with his interpretations.  I don’t like him when he does Puccini, either.  Ponnelle can be very good in the operas in which he’s very good, and he can be very bad in some other operas, so he should be careful in selecting works.

BD:    So some are very good and some are very bad?

PC:    Yes, and the same is true for singers who sing certain repertoire well, and others not so well.  Then the same is again true for conductors who can conduct a certain repertoire very well.  Each and every one has his specific field in which he or she accepts.

BD:    So you’ve been careful to stay away from certain roles?

PC:    For sure.  The first things I refused were Tosca, Fanciulla del West, and Francesca da Rimini.  I said no immediately because I knew that if I accepted those roles, I would sing them just like anyone else.  Those operas can be sung by many baritones.  Verdi baritone roles can be sung by very few baritones.

BD:    Where does Rossini fit into all of this?

PC:    Rossini is magnificent, wonderful for certain voices.

BD:    Do you sing the Barber?

PC:    Yes.  I’ve sung more than a hundred Barbers because in my opinion, Figaro is to be sung by a great baritone voice, and not by a light, tenor-baritone-kind of voice.  Once the role of Figaro was sung by the big baritone voices.  Now it is done by all those very light baritones that one can’t even hear.  [Laughs]

cappuccilli BD:    Who’s responsible for putting the wrong singer in the wrong role?

PC:    The theaters.  

BD:    Not the agent?

PC:    No, the agent is only responsible for selling the goods.  If they don’t find a buyer, they won’t do anything.  The buyers are theaters and artistic directors, those that do not understand those things. 

BD:    Why would a theater want the wrong singer for the role?

PC:    The first thing is that today, unfortunately, we do not have so many good singers.  Today you can count the big singers on two hands only.  In the past we could count sixty or seventy really big ones.

BD:    [Somewhat surprised]  Why do we not have so many good singers today?

PC:    Because they don’t have the patience.  They don’t want to study for many years, or because they study badly with teachers that do not understand them, or don’t understand anything.

BD:    Are we losing the tradition?

PC:    Yes, we are losing the tradition, and the most important is they want to earn a lot of money right away.  They want to sing roles that are not right for them in order to make more money.

BD:    So it’s so difficult to teach the young singer to want a long career?

PC:    It is very difficult.  In the beginning, in order not to ruin my voice, I refused a lot of roles, even at the cost of making very little money and going hungry.  Now, after twenty-five years of career, I’m finding myself in a situation of being much better off financially than when I started.  If you work at it, you can pick and choose roles and do very well.

BD:    Are there some roles that you would like to sing that, for some reason, you haven’t been asked to sing?

PC:    No, because if there is a role that I’d like to do, I can study and decide to sing it.

BD:    Let me ask you perhaps another fatal question.  You’ve recorded with both Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi.  Can you compare those two voices?

PC:    No, because the two voices so different they cannot be compared.  They are totally different.  Not only the voices, but also the personalities were so completely different.  They’re both very great singers.  

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let us go back for a moment to versions.   Would you ever sing the original version of Boccanegra?

PC:    No, because the one that we sing now, which is the revised version, I feel is better than the original.  The second version of Verdi’s operas were always done in order to make them better.  It is the same with Rigoletto.  The second version is what is done now, and which is really beautiful.  Nowadays there is the mania of going back to the first versions, which, in the case of Rigoletto, is not accepted by the public because the first version is much less interesting.  I wouldn’t accept to sing the first version of Rigoletto.

BD:    What about the additional aria for Maddalena in the third act?

PC:    Usually all that has been added or taken away has been done for a good reason, so I accept the editions and the cuts of the tradition or version.

BD:    Regarding cuts, should the operas be shortened?

PC:    I go with the cuts.  I think some operas should be shortened because it’s impossible for the public to sit in the theater for more than three and half hours.  If one wants to hear a complete opera, it is much better to sit at home and listen to it on the record in his own comfort.  It’s not logical that two thousand people in a theater have to listen to all that only ten people would like to hear, or to a complete version that is only designed for, say, ten people.  [Pauses a moment and then continues]  
Also Macbeth was revised.  There are many expressions and many words, and the poetic construction of the libretto is very modern, so it is not coherent with what Verdi originally intended to do.  It’s like Otello and Simon.  It is a revision that is easier and more beautiful, and the words are perfect.  They are not stupid words meant to be for the music, but the music always truly matches the poetic side.  The words have a poetic construction and validity of their own, and were not necessarily written to accompany the music.  The fact that even the chorus has a poetic validity of its own, which was very repetitive in early Verdi.  These are the things that one should cut in certain operas when the same thing is repeated over and over again.  In these operas like Macbeth, like Simon, like Otello, like Falstaff, there are no repetitions.  In the major Verdi operas there are no repetition of this kind.  Even in Trovatore, it’s the same, and you can see that.


See my Interview with Kurt Moll

BD:    There are repetitions, but there often seems to be more cut than just the repetitions.

PC:    There are many operas of Verdi in which you have lots of duets and trios and choruses.  When they all go on about the same thing they slow down the action, and I feel some of that should be cut out of the opera.  These operas can then become much closer to the modern sensitivity if all the repetitions were cut out, and the action becomes more dramatic and more immediate.

BD:    How about cutting a verse of a cabaletta

PC:    When the cabaletta repeats the same line, one could be cut.

BD:    It can be cut, but should it be done?

cappuccilli PC:    It’s a decision that should be taken by the conductor and the singer, by these people together.  If the cabaletta is well-sung, and if there are repetitions, and if the singer sings it well the first time and even better the second time, then one can leave it.  But if the singer already has problems in singing it the first time, why insist on something that is faithful to the score?  They use the repetition when they have big singers who can do it well, but today when we have so few singers, it’s much better to cut.  [Laughter all around]

BD:    What about an extra high note, such as the A-flat in the Prologue of Pagliacci?

PC:    It’s not written but one that should be written.  [More laughter]  It is much better to hear the aria with the A-flat than without it.

BD:    Is this a case when the tradition knows more than the composer?

[Vis-à-vis the recording of Carmen shown at right, see my
Interviews with Arleen Augér, Helen Donath, Anna Moffo, and Lorin Maazel

PC:    The traditions were born with the composer, and the composers have validated the traditions.  We’re talking always when the good singers were there that could do that.  So if you don’t have the A-flat, of course you can’t do it, and then you sing it as it is written.

BD:    What about the last line of the opera?

PC:    If they would let me, I would do it!  [More laughter] 

BD:    Do you ever perform Alfio (Cavalleria) and Tonio (Pagliacci) on the same evening?

PC:    Yes.

BD:    Is that too much for you?

PC:    No, no, no, absolutely not.

BD:    Would you rather do both than just one?

PC:    I prefer Pagliacci.

BD:    Would you rather do both of them than just Pagliacci?

PC:    They are so diverse, but I prefer to do Pagliacci only.  

BD:    How do you feel about encores?

PC:    If it is insisted and called for spontaneously, then it’s valid and I willingly volunteer one.  [With a wink]  In that case I would repeat things four times instead of two!  [Gales of laughter]  So much for the cuts!  [Even more laughter]

BD:    It is obvious that you enjoy singing.

PC:    [Laughs]  Yes, too much!  It’s my joy.

BD:    You share this joy with the audience.

PC:    Thank you. 

[After we had finished and were walking out of the room, I noticed he was carrying a score to the Verdi Requiem.  I asked him if it was another opera, and he replied that it was the best opera by Verdi!]


© 1981 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago in November of 1981.  My thanks for Marina Vecci of Lyric Opera of Chicago for providing the translation during the interview.  Spoken quotations from the conversation were used on WNIB in 1985, 1986, 1989, 1994 and 1999.  This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.