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Datum objave: 13.03.2017

Riccardo Massi

Massi was born in Sarnano and initially trained as an actor.

Riccardo Massi

Riccardo Massi

Massi was born in Sarnano and initially trained as an actor. He is a specialist in the handling of ancient and medieval weapons, and financed his vocal studies with appearances as a stuntman in several films, including Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. He was invited to join the Accademia della Scala, Milan, and made his operatic debut in 2009 as Radames (Aida) in Salerno under Daniel Oren. He has since performed for the world’s major opera companies, including La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Berlin State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris Opéra, Opera Australia, Canadian Opera Company and Royal Swedish Opera. Massi’s repertory includes Cavaradossi (Tosca), Pollione (Norma), Jacopo Foscari (I due Foscari), Arrigo (La battaglia di Legnano), Enzo Grimaldo (La Giaconda), Riccardo (Un ballo in maschera) and Calaf (Turandot).

Riccardo Massi - "Cielo e Mar"

RICCARDO MASSI "Di quella pira" IL TROVATORE (2014)

Riccardo Massi singing "Di quella pira" from Verdi's IL TROVATORE

Hermitage Museum St Petersburg, 26 November 2014

Riccardo Massi -Celeste Aida -Metropolitan 2012

Riccardo Massi in Puccini's Tosca: "E lucevan le stelle"

Riccardo Massi "Nessun dorma" Bregenzer Festspiele 2016

photos Riccardo Massi

Riccardo Massi on Turandot, martial arts and taking on that aria‘that’-aria

Have you ever stopped to imagine the pressure on the actor who has to open a scene with the immortal words “To be or not to be,” or “Now is the winter of our discontent”? If so, spare a thought for the operatic tenor having to open Act III of Puccini’s Turandot with the dreaded and ubiquitous Nessun Dorma. “It’s absolutely the most famous tenor aria ever – ever! And everybody knows every single word,” laments Riccardo Massi, the star Italian tenor employed by Opera Australia to sing the role of Calaf in this year's production for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. “People have in their minds the interpretation of the great singers of the past – Pavarotti, Coreli, Gigli, Fillipeschi – so you just can’t go 'Alright, let’s do our thing'. It’s tough to sing, there is a long note to hold – and people wait for that.”

Not that Massi is likely to go unnoticed. At a hulking 6’4” he has quite a presence with chiseled features and with an impressive physique developed over years of training as a professional stuntman. And that’s before you start discussing the voice. Looking back at my review of his Cavaradossi in OA’s Tosca last year, I recall clean tone, a secure top and an E Lucevan le Stelle delivered with perfect control of line and plenty of emotional engagement.

A late joiner to the profession, Massi grew up in the little town of Sarnano (population 3,000), nestling in a valley at the foot of the Sibillini mountains in Italy’s Marche region. A keen martial arts practitioner since he was eight years-old, he moved to Rome at the age of 16 and really only started singing around the age of 20 after he had already began work as a trained stuntman. “You’ve got to pay the bills,” he laughs. “I also was in security, you know, nightclubs.”

Clearly not a chap to mess with then, Massi admits to an early obsession with armi bianche, an Italian term meaning white weapons. “I was into swords, knives, spears, short swords, long swords, throwing knives – the European equivalent of martial arts around the year 1100,” he explains. “I found a teacher in Rome, a very good one, and I started to practise with him when I was 18. After a few years he introduced me to the Cinecittà in Rome where I met a guy who taught me the art of being a stuntman for the movies. I was mainly using weapons and bare-hand fights. Once I had to fight while I was on fire! It was like bam, bam, bam, boom... Then I fell and they turned me off with a fire extinguisher. It was crazy. Very dangerous, but fun.”

Appearances in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and HBO’s Rome notwithstanding, during his stuntman period Massi discovered another talent – singing opera. “I always had this passion since I was a teenager and my father took me to Lorenzo Bavaj. He was a very famous pianist and the guy that used to play the piano for José Carreras. He said to my father, ‘this guy can do something, but wait until he’s 19 or 20 years old because you cannot start before that, it will be harmful for the voice.’ So I started with my singing teacher at the same time as I was doing these other strange jobs.”

Having once decided to become an opera singer, Massi hit the ground running, and was into the taxing roles pretty much immediately, a decision he’s fairly outspoken about. “That’s what all singers should do!” he tells me. “If you have a voice of a lirico spinto, it’s harmful and useless to try to sing something that’s for a lirico leggiero. This myth about starting with light things and going on to heavy things, it’s bullshit. It’s absolutely bullshit!” “To make an example," he elaborates, "you don’t begin with a marathon so you can end up on a hundred-metres sprint. Both are running, but it’s two completely different disciplines. The great singers of the past used to know that. It’s much easier for me to sing Aida than Traviata. I can’t sing Traviata. I choke myself, it’s too high.”

Young for his repertoire (he’s still only 37), Massi has been singing seriously for just six years. He started out with Tosca before tackling Pollione in Norma and then Tosca again, before doing an Aida and later a Forza del Destino. Cavaradossi was the role that started to get him noticed, and remains one of the few where his stuntman training has ever come in handy. “It’s useful for the falling when they shoot me and when they bring me back from the torture and I go ‘boom’. Directors say, ‘Oh, that was good!’ and I say, ‘Thanks for that.’” Growing up with a father who had a passion for Pavarotti, Massi was also exposed to Aureliano Pertile and Enrico Caruso – “all these glorious and big, big names of the Golden Age of opera” –  but the singer who has always fired him the most is Franco Corelli. “I think he’s the greatest,” Massi gushes, personable eyes flashing with enthusiasm. “He has the most perfect technique for a tenor. And also he had a lot of expression in his singing, you know, all the colours. And the ladies were crazy for him, so, the idea of being a tenor, for me”

Corelli, of course, was a notable Calaf, a role that Massi has sung in Stockholm, Bregenz and Zürich. Oddly enough, Turandot was not a popular opera on record before the likes of Corelli and Birgit Nilsson got stuck into it in the early 1960s. “There’s not so many recordings before them, and afterwards ‘pom’,” he slaps his hand for emphasis. “They sang it like gods. Nobody better than Corelli, nobody better than Nilsson. I was fortunate to have Mirella Freni as a teacher in the La Scala young artists programme and she very often sang Liù with Corelli and Nilsson. All the time I was bothering her, like ‘Signora, Signora, please tell me how it was.’ She once told me the sound wave when they were singing together was something humongous. You have no idea. They were like ‘bhrrrrrrggggg’ and people were blown away. The others on stage were like ‘Oh my God, oh my God, it’s so big.’”

Like La Fanciulla del West and Il Trittico, Turandot revels in the bigger and more colourful orchestrations typical of late Puccini. And although it's not his most overtly romantic opera, there’s no sense of any decline in the composer’s ability to invent a good melody. “You know why?” Massi interrupts. “Once a very good director told me – and I think that he was right – that Puccini used to compose operas only when he was in love. If you look at the number of operas that he composed compared to Verdi, Puccini composes, much less, and that’s why. But when he was truly inspired, like Bohème, Manon Lescaut, Fanciulla – phew, Jesus...”

Immediately after this year’s opera on the harbour, Massi will make his role debut opposite Nicole Car in Luisa Miller for Opera Australia in Melbourne. A voracious student who is always looking to be bigger and better, he’s clearly looking forward to it. “You always learn something from your colleagues, you always do,” he explains. “Of course you learn more from the great ones. When you see these people moving on the stage – people like Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu, Nina Stemme, I’m talking about the ladies of course – you see how they give everything. It’s not just singing, they put out their soul. And that is what I’m trying to reach over time and through experience. When you’re up there, you always have to give a hundred per cent. But I have to say it’s easier when you have a great Tosca because she gives you a lot of energy and by reflex you give a lot more. You know, there is the ‘vicious circle’ and the ‘virtuous circle’? Well, we call the second one circolo virtuoso. When people get that, it's like 'wow!'. And then it only gets better and better and better".

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