June 23, 1998

CitySearch Opera

Genoa native Fabio Armiliato became known to New York opera-goers in 1993, when he made his Met debut as Manrico, the hapless hero of Verdi's eternally popular "Il Trovatore." The lanky spinto tenor is currently reprising this role with the Met in the Parks' travelling concert version of Verdi's blood-and-thunder drama opposite June Anderson as Leonore and conducted by his brother, Marco.

On June 15, the afternoon before Armiliato's first performance in Central Park, CitySearch Opera Editor Paul J. Pelkonen sat down with the tenor at his agent's office to talk about critics, the death of Maria Callas, and the problems of website maintenance.

CitySearch: How did you become so interested in the Internet and computers?
Fabio Armiliato: I became interested in the computer as a hobby. When the personal computer came to Italy, it was a lemon--the [Commodore] VIC-20, with nothing--with the keyboard and the television.

CS: Oh God...
FA: But I didn't buy that machine, because already there was the Commodore 64, which was much better. I bought a Sinclair that was from England, a BASIC-language machine. I wrote my first program in BASIC, a program to make bingo numbers, to generate them in random sequences. I was also interested in audio and video development. Then, when the MIDI sequencer came out, and the portable computer became available, to have a little thing to drive my MIDI sequencer while I was on the road was fantastic. I bought my first 286 in New York. It had eight megabytes. Eight. I made my first experience online in my hometown, Genoa, and that was the first time I met the Internet world. I had arrived at something really important for communications, basically for communicating with a lot of people. I designed my own website, with all the information I put in my computer that I put on my website, pictures, what I did, where I did it, and some articles. Everyone who sees my website sees a part of myself, because I did it like I wanted to do it--there's no company doing it for me. I do it when I am bored on the road, and I update it once a week.

CS: Going from the Internet to the opera house, how is singing at the Met in the Parks different from being onstage in the opera house?
FA: Opera is physical, with stages, and sets, and everything. But someone who appreciates the voice, and the singing, and the music, can appreciate more in a concert setting, can concentrate more on the voice. It is a good experience, and it can bring more people closer to the opera in the winter season.

CS: Is being amplified a problem?
FA: Of course. To sing in open air is never easy. To sing in Verona or in other places in Italy that are known to have a very good acoustic, it is easier to sing but with microphones it's always a different approach.

CS: What's it like having your brother [Marco Armiliato, who is conducting "Trovatore"] on the podium?
FA: We have worked together only once. We have different careers. We worked together in Cincinnati when he conducted "Turandot." I was onstage singing "Nessun dorma." My family was in the audience. And my brother was in the pit doing an incredible job with a very difficult score. It was one of the most incredible evenings of my life.

CS: Among great singers, who do you consider influential?
FA: The one who is closest to my voice and to my feeling is Franco Corelli. I only saw him live once in Verona in 1972, and when I met him it was like a dream come true. Another great tenor was Benjamino Gigli. My father loved Gigli, we always had a record of Gigli playing in my house--he was like the soundtrack of my life. But he is completely away from my voice and my body structure.

CS: What do you listen to?
FA: I love all kinds of music. My wife says I am lying because I do not listen to it much. Some rock, some pop, no metal or disco. I like musicals--in musical theater it is closer to the relationship between opera and the audience. The thing I do not like with musicals is the amplification. The voices can sound all the same, like Karaoke.

CS: Are you on Opera-L [the opera mailing list]? There's been a whole discussion about singers on the list. Rodney Gilfry [Baritone] posted a few weeks back, and all of a sudden it's like "Oh, my God! The singers are out there! They're reading this...!"
FA: I have a link to Opera-L, but I do not receive it--although sometimes people will forward me email from it. Sometimes that can be very hard to read--it is very opinionated. We singers can have a very hard relationship with our reviewers. We're just trying to give a performance to do the best we can, and sometimes we get very fresh reviews, ironic, and this hurts. When you do a good job, maybe somebody is annoyed that you have had success and they don't give a report of that success. And that is not fair. When reviews are well done, they can help you to get better.

CS: I interviewed Deborah Voigt last year, and she said something to the effect that she, Jane Eaglen, Sharon Sweet, are the new divas. That's it, that's the end of the story...
FA: I love the singers of the recent past. But now the time is different. The expression is different, we are different people, with different body structure. We are other people, trying to make alive a business that is opera, that is our heritage, that we didn't create, that some genius in the past created. Callas was unique. But in the time Callas sang, she was the most heavily criticized singer in the world--until she died. And now everyone is like "ah, Callas! Callas!" When people die they become a myth. We are doing something in our time that is different, but our goal is to make opera alive.

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