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Interview with Ferruccio Furlanetto

ConcertoNet interviews Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto on his operatic career and the upcoming San Diego Opera production of Jules Massenet's Don Quichotte
February 10, 2009

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte
(© San Diego Opera)

Brief Background and Introduction

Christie Grimstad: “With us today is internationally acclaimed operatic bass Ferruccio Furlanetto who is in San Diego, California to perform the title role of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte, or, in English, Don Quixote, in a limited engagement of four performances. This seldom State-Side performed comédie heroïque of mature Massenet is an exclusive privilege for San Diego Opera goers. Frequenting California’s West Coast since 1985, Mr. Furlanetto returned to sing the title role of Boris Godunov in 2007. In 2011 San Diego will be the first to see Mr. Furlanetto debut as Baron Ochs in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier.”

“Mr. Furlanetto’s introduction to the stage began with Sparafucile in Verdi’s Rigoletto soon to follow with his 1979 La Scala debut as Banquo under Claudio Abbado. Today, Ferruccio Furlanetto’s accolades reads like a novel, including a repertory of around fifty operas, numerous CD and DVD recordings and 159 performances at the venerable Metropolitan Opera alone! Crowning these accomplishments Mr. Furlanetto is an Honorary Ambassador to the United Nations and was recently nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award in London in the category for “Most Outstanding Achieve-
ment in Opera”.”

Christie Grimstad: “It’s an honor to speak with Mr. Ferruccio Furlanetto. Welcome.”

Ferruccio Furlanetto: “My pleasure, my pleasure.”

How it all began

Christie Grimstad: “When you started your career in singing, you took an unconventional path that lead into your operatic career. Can you tell us how that actually started?”

Ferruccio Furlanetto: “When you are born with a voice, you start to sing even when you are a little kid, so I developed like that. When I was a teenager, it was a most beautiful and interesting time for Pop (music), the second half of the 60’s. Although I loved it, it wasn’t in a field I really loved so much. I continued with the University which was completely different because I was studying agriculture and forestry, but of course I knew I had this voice and I was advised to try opera. At that time opera was far, far from my mind, but, nevertheless, I knew I had to try do something with this voice because I felt that I must.”

“I was lucky because I started from the very beginning with the greatest teacher that we had even in those times, Ettore Campogalliani, in Mantua. It was very important to start from scratch with somebody like that because it was really addressing a young man in the right direction that would benefit and develop in the proper way. And so I found myself quite soon on an operatic stage. It was Sparafucile in a very small theater in the area of Vicenza and Veneto, and after a few months and audition, I had my serious debut in Trieste in a beautiful La Bohème where there was a young (José) Carreras and Katia Ricciarelli. It was an impressive La Bohème and an impressive way to start.”

The Mozart Repertoire

Christie Grimstad: “You initially began singing Italian repertoire like Sparafucile, Colline and The Grand Inquisitor, but later you moved into singing Mozart. Why was that?”

Ferruccio Furlanetto: “When I started my career I was lucky because we were not thrown big roles. I had to start with smaller roles which was very comfortable, so as a young man, it provided (me) an opportunity to grow, to build experience and make money without being exposed. I grew up with this routine of little roles. Then I won a competition in Treviso where I debuted in Don Giovanni. I was hired to do Don Giovanni in a bigger house in Torino and I started a good leveled career.”

“I did major roles until I met two personalities who really drastically changed my career. From the staging point of view Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and Herbert von Karajan. In those years I had the right age for these kind of roles because the Italian Mozart roles are very good until you are a young man, ideally between late twenties to forty-five.”

“I really loved the Mozart repertoire. When you’re young and you start to sing, you have a sort of model, an idol. Cesare Siepi became extremely famous singing Figaro, singing Don Giovanni, so I just wanted to emulate these incredible artists. Therefore, I started to go into the direction where I met Ponnelle and after, Karajan. Those fifteen years of (singing) Mozart was pure happiness. It was really valuable singing in all the big houses and all the recordings.”

Italian and Russian Repertoire

“When it came time to go into another repertoire because of the physical fatigue (from singing the Mozart roles), I went back to my original which was Verdi (all the big Verdi roles) with an excursion into the French, such as Faust, and the Russian, a huge repertoire that, for a bass, is absolutely glorious.
Now when I’m doing King Philip, Boris Godunov, Don Quichotte, I find pure happiness in these roles.”

Christie Grimstad: “You also sang Prince Gremin?”
Ferruccio Furlanetto: “Yes.”

Landmark Role in Verdi’s Don Carlo

Christie Grimstad: “A role that is closely associated with your name is King Philip II for which you have been nominated for the Lawrence Olivier Award. Personally, I have seen you in the 2004 San Diego production, the 2006 Los Angeles production and La Scala season opener of December 2008. Every time you tend to electrify your audiences in this role, particularly during your famous aria, ‘Ella giammai m’amò’. What is your secret?”

Ferruccio Furlanetto: “There is no secret. I did Don Carlos with von Karajan and it really changed my life. I have been doing King Philip since 1981, so I’ve had the chance in twenty-eight years to develop, to filter, and to change because I grew. I had other experiences. I became a man. And so these kind of dramatic feelings that I am involving in the third act of Philip are coming basically from experiencing life. I had a chance in all those years to grow up with this character.”

“The secret is to live the character through music but also (through) words. In King Philip the text is beautiful, and to live every single moment of this character under your own skin. If you feel, if you mean and if you live what you say, it is captured, then the sufferance is real, the joy is real, the inspiration is real. This is the artist’s secret. I think it is the only way to approach a character."

The Inspiration in Don Quichotte

Christie Grimstad: “What initially drew you to Don Quichotte?”

Ferruccio Furlanetto: “A long time ago I found the piece heroic, magnificent, full of humanity. Don Quichotte is the story of human life, or, at least, how it should be. Don Quichotte is a myth, Don Quichotte is a man who is able to love, to love nature, to love stars, to love people, to love situations, human weaknesses. It’s a role where the fact of living, words and music can be absolutely fascinating because for three hours you are impersonating the sensation of a human being with no affects. It’s amazing. The music is wonderful. Sometimes they say that he’s (Massenet) simple. Sometimes, especially in Europe, artistic directors do not program (Massenet) very often because they think Massenet is some kind of second rate composer which is not true. He is a kind of forgotten composer somehow.”

Richard Strauss and Der Rosenkavalier

Christie Grimstad: “In 2011 you are planning to return to San Diego in a new role as Baron Ochs. Have you done any other Strauss (opera) before?”

Ferruccio Furlanetto: Yes, I did Oreste with Abbado and the Polizeicommissar in Der Rosenkavalier. It (Baron Ochs) is quite a challenge, and the role is huge. It is an enormous amount of work. If I do it, I have to do it properly, and I have some good people who are really helping me achieve the text. It is the only role that has been in my secret plans.”

Opera Reminiscing

Christie Grimstad: “Can you tell us a few of the operas you especially enjoy singing?”

Ferruccio Furlanetto: “I love all of Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani, Ernani, Simon Boccanegra, Jérusalem, I Lombardi and many of the Russian operas including Khovanshchina. The Russian repertoire has been basically written for basses.”

Future Recordings

Christie Grimstad: “Do you have any future recordings you are planning to release?”

Ferruccio Furlanetto: “There is a recording that will be done in Vienna next January (2010), a recital of Russian music by Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky, accompanied by a very young talented Ukranian pianist (Igor Tchetuev).”

Christie Grimstad



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