From a recent interview by Serena Marotta about my musical beginnings, my origins, singing, conducting, Tavullia, Pesaro, G. Rossini, Vienna.
Today’s episode of “In Chiave di Sol” presents an interview with baritone and conductor Davide Damiani, born in 1965 in Tavullia near Pesaro [Italy]. We are pleased to introduce this internationally-renowned artist who will be curating the journal’s music column dedicated to transporting the reader into the extraordinary world of notes, voices and emotions…
Q: When was your passion for music born? Your passion for singing?
A: My passion for music began as spontaneously as possible, in an original way. I was about 7 years old when the local parish of my home town Tavullia organized a music course. All the children of the village between the ages of 6 and 10 years old were invited to participate, and each of us was given a musical instrument made of plastic that resembling the original instrument in no other way than generic appearance. I was given a saxophone. The sound of each of the instruments was more or less the same, but the purpose of the initiative was not so much to learn how to play a specific instrument but rather, to teach us the basics of music – notation, a sense of rhythm, how to play in public. The idea was to develop an increased interest in music both for us and our families. Although the initiative only lasted about a year, my uncle Gianni, well-aware of what we were doing with plastic instruments, decided to give me his “real” accordion, which he had not used for a long time. From that day on, my entire world revolved around that instrument. I played it every day, listening to my favourite songs on the radio and trying to reproduce them on the accordion. Sometimes when I heard themes on TV, I immediately went to play them. My parents responded to my enthusiasm by deciding to enrol me in the “Gioachino Rossini State Conservatory of Music“ in Pesaro when I was 11 years old – first in the saxophone class, then in the double bass class.
My passion for singing was born about ten years later. I had recently finished my diploma on the double bass (1986), and I was still studying composition because, a few years earlier, during the three years of the study of solfeggio, I decided to become a conductor.
At a certain point I realized that a good conductor must be well-acquainted with the characteristics of all of the instruments in the orchestra, including the techniques utilized in lyrical singing. At about the same time, a number of people at the music conservatory, noticing the nature of my speaking voice, suggested that I take up the serious study of singing. After a number of attempts with singing teachers in the conservatory, I decided it was time to contact someone with much more experience.
In the summer 1987, when Luciano Pavarotti was vacationing for a few days in Pesaro at his villa by the sea, I madly contacted him and asked if he would listen to me and deliver a judgement on my vocal potential. He told me to meet him at the villa in two hours. Within minutes of my arrival, he cordially welcomed me to the villa and asked me which aria I wanted to sing. Since I didn’t know any, he made me vocalize in an effort to ascertain the extent and quality of my voice, and after 5 minutes of vocalizations he declared: “If you do not study singing, you’re crazy!” Rather than happy though, I was confused. I had dreamed of becoming conductor, playing the double bass, the accordion, the bandoneon, the piano, the organ, and now out of the blue, I was faced with the idea that I might have a particular predisposition for singing – and that on the advice of Luciano Pavarotti himself. Nonetheless, I decided to put the study of singing on hold to finish my courses on composition and conducting.
In 1990 I left Pesaro and moved to Vienna.
Though I had moved to Vienna to refine my orchestral conducting skills in an effort to begin my career as a conductor, I decided to take singing lessons with Kammersänger Hilde Zadek. Each morning, from Monday to Friday, I studied German at the Goethe Institut and each afternoon I took 30 minutes of singing lessons with Zadek. I continued like that for 2 years until Tamar Rachum, the director of the vocal department of The Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv came to visit. Upon hearing me during a lesson, she asked if I was interested in going to Tel Aviv to debut the role of Don Giovanni. I wanted to be a conductor not a singer, but the idea peaked my curiosity, and I decided to try one production on the stage, after which I would return to Vienna and continue my dream of orchestral conducting. So I went to Tel Aviv in January of 1993, and in April I debuted in the role of Don Giovanni. It went exceptionally well – so well that I was offered the opportunity to remain at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music as a guest student taking part in other productions and concerts, and studying new roles day after day. I spent a year in Tel Aviv, until the St. Gallen Theater in Switzerland asked me to audition for them. I went, and they immediately offered me a spot in the ensemble for roles like Don Giovanni, Belcore (Elisir d’amore), Harlekin (Ariadne auf Naxos), etc. After few months at St. Gallen I auditioned for the Vienna State Opera, and the Opera Director, Ioan Holender, offered me a place in the ensemble there. My debut in the prestigious Viennese theatre took place on September 27, 1995 with the role of Sharpless (Madama Butterfly); that date marks the beginning of my international career as a baritone.
Q: You were determined. You took your dream and turned it into reality… what advice might you give to someone who wants to have a career in the world of the theater?
A: It seems to me that starting a career today is much more difficult than it was 30 years ago. It is one thing to have a dream quietly hidden away in a drawer, it is another to take it out and make it come true at whatever cost. Doing so requires a lot of determination, looking forward without turning back, and studying, studying, studying. I think that the fact that we find ourselves constantly immersed in the online world has not changed the fundamental requirements necessary for a young singer who dreams of entering into the world of opera. Talent alone has never been enough and it certainly isn’t today. It is essential to be committed to the meticulous study of the vocal score and the full score, to have a solid musical base, to know as many foreign languages as possible, and to be reasonably well-cultured – all of which are fundamentals necessary before one can even beginning to hope for a career in the world of lyrical theatre.
Q: You have lived in Vienna for 30 years – a culture different from ours [in Italy]. Has your way of perceiving music changed? How does your way of experiencing music and your outlook on life, differ from that of your Italian colleagues and musicians? Is there a difference?
A: Honestly, the dream that brought me to Vienna was to live in the city where almost all the greatest artists throughout history lived. There isn’t a street, a park, or a district in Vienna that doesn’t bear a commemorative plaque of some composer, opera singer, conductor, or any number of actors and directors. I couldn’t say right now if my way of perceiving music changed as a result of my move to Vienna in 1990, but I can certainly say that I have changed immensely, in my integrity. I have broadened my horizons. In those years, I lived in daily contact with some of the greatest conductors and singers in the world and because of that, I quickly developed the goal of taking the stage of the Vienna State Opera and the concert hall of the Musikverein. After 3-5 years, I attained those goals. In 1993, I sang in the Goldene Saal of the Musikverein under Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and a couple of years later I debuted at the Vienna State Opera in Madama Butterfly.
For me, living a life of music in Vienna is an existential necessity. Even today, though there are no more conductors like as H. von Karajan, L. Bernstein, C. Kleiber, C. M. Giulini, C. Abbado, and L. Maazel, the period from September to June offers me the opportunity to hear the greatest artists and best orchestras in the world (the Vienna Philharmonic in the first place).
I sense a profound need to embrace this reality – a need which, over the years, has not only not diminished, but increased.
Q: You have performed in the theaters of Naples, Palermo, Genoa, Turin, Bologna, Florence, Venice, Cagliari, Trieste, Verona, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Catania, Ancona, Bergamo. And more: Hamburg, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Basel, Bern, Wexford, Palm Beach, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Zurich, Aix-en-Provence Festival, Salzburg Festival, Wiener Festwochen. You have interpreted a variety of works and characters. What is the one work and character that you feel most attached to and why?
A: Guillaume Tell by Gioachino Rossini in the title role. Sometimes I jokingly wonder if Gioachino Rossini looked down on me from on high when I crossed the threshold of the Pesaro Conservatory of Music (which he himself bequeathed) and started my musical studies in 1976. Did he already know that one day I would sing the title role of his Guillaume Tell?
My intimate connection with opera is a direct result of Rossini’s works. The first opera I ever heard was La Gazza Ladra in 1981 at the Teatro Rossini during the first Rossini Opera Festival.
From 1981 to 1990, as a young and promising conductor, I spent all my summers at the R.O.F. watching rehearsals and performances of Rossini’s operas – many of which had never been heard before and been performed in full version with adequate attention to the smallest of details.
30 years have passed since then. In that time, I have become a baritone, and in autumn 2015 I was offered the opportunity to prepare the role of Guillaume Tell for the upcoming season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
I have found Guillaume Tell to be a work of incomparable completeness, grandeur and compositional perfection, both as a singer and as a conductor. The role of Guillaume Tell it is a role for life, and every time I sing it I am brought back to that very first moment when I walked through the door of the Rossini Conservatory so many years ago and where it all began. Thank you Maestro G. Rossini!