The Twilight of Belcanto
by Leonardo Ciampa
Authorhouse, 260 pages, ISBN: 1418459569
Widely acclaimed organ recitalist, pianist and composer (Suite Siciliana, Masses, Sicilian Mazurkas, etc.) Leonardo Ciampa is also the author of The Twilight of Belcanto. This comprehensive and remarkable research brings us a well crafted, scholarly yet entertaining book. The data compiled by the author is impressive, as is his ability to dissect and clarify a commonly misunderstood concept. Although Ciampa’s approach is strictly technical, his work remains accessible to non-professionals. From Francesco Tamagno to Luciano Pavarotti; from Nellie Melba to Renée Fleming, no singer is left behind and Ciampa’s penetrating analysis is an exhaustive account of the conditions leading to the near-disappearance of the bel canto style of singing. Sprinkled with anecdotes and peppered with humor, the book also includes numerous illustrations and photos (which should have received a better printing treatment) and a delightful interview – the icing on the cake – with soprano Virginia Zeani. Any opera enthusiast, whether expert or novice, will find this book captivating.
leonardociampa.com, and The Twilight of Belcanto
Leonardo Ciampa has been kind enough to answer ConcertoNet.com questions. Here is his interview:
Christian Dalzon: Bonjour, Leonardo. Before we talk about your book The Twilight of Belcanto, do you mind telling us about your musical background?
Leonardo Ciampa: Sure. Thank you for asking. Let’s see, I started playing the piano at age 7. It was a very random decision; there are no musicians, per se, in my family. It was just a case of: my grandmother had an ancient upright piano in her basement, with a pool table nearby. My brothers were drawn to the pool table, and I was drawn to the piano.
LC: But it really was simple as that. One day I asked my mother, “Can I take piano lessons?” and she said, “Sure.”
CD: That’s all it was.
LC: Nothing more than that. But almost instantaneously, music was my life. Within a year I was studying at the conservatory, they called me a Wunderkind, and they were grooming me for the piano competition route.
CD: Evidently they saw great pianistic potential in you. But I take it you chose to detour from that route.
LC: Yes. I was an immature and naïve kid, but I had very good instincts, and I could feel something wasn’t right. I’m very proud of that; that’s why I mention it. My teacher thought I was talented, but she didn’t consider me or my family to be “cultured,” a fact that she intimated constantly. Yet despite that lack of what to her was “culture,” I had enough sense of self and, I guess, strength, to say, “Something isn’t right here. I’m not loving the piano like I used to.” But in the meantime I was starting to fall in love with the organ.
CD: The King of Instruments. How did that come about?
LC: Well, I have to say, that was almost as random as my decision to take piano lessons. There were no good organs or organists within a large radius of my house. I just by chance attended an organ recital in Boston in September of ‘85. I liked it, I bought my first organ record – “E. Power Biggs Greatest Hits” – and then I was hooked. My love for the organ grew, my love for the piano diminished, and at age 15 – this was 1986, one year after [attending] the organ recital – I decided to switch instruments.
CD: To the shock of your piano-competition-grooming teacher, I’m sure.
LC: Definitely! [Laughter]
CD: Is it true that you didn’t touch a piano for three years?
LC : It’s true that I didn’t practice the piano for three years. But I certainly touched it. I was accompanying the chorus at my high school, so I still touched the instrument. But my technique was in wretched condition.
CD : But they say that by age 18, one’s piano technique should be already « formed ; » after that it’s « too late. »
LC : Yes, that’s precisely what my teacher had predicted. Well, she was wrong. At age 18 I entered the conservatory – this time time at the college level – as an organ major, but I started practicing the piano again. For a few years my piano technique was pretty rocky. And I had no teacher ; my only teacher was the concert stage. I was 18, still in high school, when I became Music Director of the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, a section of Boston. I immediately started a monthly recital series, on both organ and piano. For two years I continued the series, rarely repeating a work.
CD : So you played the whole series yourself?
LC : Yes, every concert! Sometimes there were guest instrumentalists and singers, but it was always me at the keyboard. It was a long, slow process. But it was a very honest way of learning both how to perform and how to play the organ and the piano.
CD : That’s an impressive undertaking, especially considering that you didn’t have a teacher during this time.
LC : No teacher would have let me play all those recitals.
CD : [Laughter] That is true !
LC : I forged ahead on my own. Later I did take a couple of piano lessons from Jacob Maxin, and slowly, slowly, over the next decade, I perfected my technique on both instruments.
CD : Again, without teachers.
LC : Without teachers. I stayed at that church in Jamaica Plain for 12 years. 12 years of concerts and learning. And you know what happened, not even one month ago ? The church burned down !
CD : Yes, I heard about that sad story…
LC : Both piano and organ were completely destroyed. The organ was absolutely irreplaceable, an 1859 organ by E. & G. G. Hook, the greatest organbuilders of their time. Three keyboards. One of the most beautiful organs in the United States. Completely destroyed. And the piano was nothing to sneeze at, either : an 1897 Chickering concert grand, rosewood !
CD : Remarkable ! What a loss !
LC : Especially considering that those twelve years were my twelve formative years. When I started at the church I was 18 and still in high school. When I left I was 30 and dating my current wife. Those instruments, the 19th-century sounds that came from those instruments, are woven into the fabric of who I am today as a musician.
CD : An incredible story. You are also a composer – a rather prolific one.
LC : Yes, I’m up to Opus 170-something.
CD : Your best known work is Suite Siciliana, Op. 145. What can you tell us about this work ?
LC : Well, my dear friend Kristina Nilsson, one of the best-known freelance violinists in Boston, said to me one day, « I want you to write a piece for me and Arturo. » Arturo is Arturo Delmoni, who is Kristina’s and my favorite violinist. He really plays in the old style – it’s as if you’re listening to Kreisler or Elman. So Kristina got the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston to commission me to write Suite Siciliana, for two violins and chamber orchestra. Now, this orchestra contains some of the finest players in Boston, so it’s safe to say it’s one of the finest orchestras in Boston. However, it is a « cooperative orchestra. » The musicians themselves are the board. They hire and fire the conductors and soloists. It’s an unusual arrangement. And consequently, their budget is not unlimited. For instance, they wanted me to eliminate the bass clarinet part, because they didn’t want to pay the clarinettist a « doubling fee. » Can you imagine ? And when I wanted a harp, they said absolutely, « No, » even though they had a harpist playing another piece on that same program ! So I thought it over and said, « OK, I’m writing in a piano part instead, and I’ll play it myself for free. » They couldn’t say no to that. So it became a piece for two violins, piano, and chamber orchestra.
CD : Sort of a « triple concerto. »
LC : Yes, a « concerto grosso » type of piece. And I’m very proud to say that I am the first composer, in this country or in Italy, or even in Sicily, to write a piece of Sicilian classical music that was commissioned and performed at a major musical institution. The premiere took place at Sanders Theatre, at Harvard University. So it was a big coup for the cause of Sicilian culture.
CD : Sicily has a rich history. It’s much more than just the Mafia.
LC : Exactly. I am very active in the movement to promote Sicilian culture and to dispel these terrible prejudices. But I’ve babbled enough about myself. Maybe you want to talk more about my book and singers.
CD: Sure. The Twilight of Belcanto. What, would you say, is the main theme of the book?
LC: That’s a question that I’m glad that you asked. There was a lot of misunderstanding about my criticism of certain popular singers. However, the book has one and only one main theme: the Belcanto technique and its, well, twilight.
CD: Meaning that it’s waning, but it’s not quite extinguished yet.
LC: Exactly. It’s actually less extinguished that I thought when I started the book. There is hope out there.
CD: You mentioned “misunderstandings.” Right off the bat, the term “Belcanto” is apt to cause all sorts of misunderstandings.
LC: Yes, especially because there are two very distinct things: the Belcanto TECHNIQUE and the Belcanto REPERTOIRE. Marilyn Horne, for instance, is one of the undisputed, and undisputable, queens of the Belcanto repertoire. As far as her technique, it is very idiosyncratic.
CD: But when you speak of this “Belcanto technique,” is that not virtually impossible to define? That is, are there any two people who would give it the same definition?
LC: I actually do give a definition of it rather early on in the book. I’m not arrogant enough to call it the definition. However, I stand by it as a pretty damn accurate description of the technique, which you’ll notice I use in the singular. I believe there is one correct voice technique, and there are many who agree with that.
CD: I was impressed that after you defined “Belcanto,” the first person you named as an archetype of the technique was Melchior.
LC: Whose name doesn’t even end in a vowel.
LC: But that should establish, once and for all, that I believe there is one healthy technique for all voice types of all countries. I never once – not once – use the term “Italian technique” or “Italian method” in my mood.
CD: I was also impressed that you very humbly included a chapter, early on, in which you yourself posed the question, “Who am I to be talking about singing?” So who are you to be talking about it? What qualifies you to be the definer of “the technique”?
LC: Well, you know that I’m very proud of how opera came to me. My [maternal] grandmother gave me her opera records. Her father had a graphophone and listened to opera – and he was born in 1882, so he knew something about it. My father’s father also was an opera appreciator. He was born in 1890, and HIS father was born in 1843! So I genuinely have opera “in my blood.”
CD: Mostly Italian opera?
LC: Yes, alas. My grandmother didn’t give me any Strauss or Wagner. However, I mention in my book that I’ve accompanied a four-digit number of voice students, and their teachers had all different approaches – German, American, Italian, what have you. Also, playing for entire studios of the same teacher, I learned about a lot of approaches, sometimes from the very same teacher.
CD: You yourself don’t sing.
LC: No. But sports commentators aren’t on the field sacking quarterbacks. I can’t imagine Howard Cosell ever played a sport. I’m simply a commentator who, I hope, has an ear for what is good in singing. From all those voice teachers that I worked intensely with, some of them true masters of the art of singing, I – how do I say it? – I picked up something. I noticed things, things that even the students didn’t get. Newton wasn’t the first person to notice an apple falling from a tree. But he was the first person to realize what it meant. For reasons that even I don’t know, I have always had a healthy obsession with those ringing tones that make my ears ring a certain way. It’s not volume; it’s the spin or squillo. My ear reacts when it hears that. And so I guess my definition of the technique is that which makes my ear ring in that way.
CD: Why did you choose to go back in time?
LC : You mean, why did I start from the singers of the present day and work backwards ? Because I was so sick and tired of people saying they couldn’t really hear what the old-time singers sounded like, because there was too much surface noise [on the records]. So I started, right off the bat, with singers who, in beautiful modern stereo, give you the technique, the authentic, ancient technique of Belcanto.
CD : Not to interrupt your train of thought, but can I play the devil’s advocate for just one moment ?
LC : Sure.
CD : How can you or anyone really compare the voice on a digital recording with the voice on a scratchy 78 ? I mean, how can you really make a comparison ?
LC : Here’s what I’d LOVE to do, Christian. And this would dispel all the myths in about two seconds. Find a recording apparatus from 1910. Record Bocelli on a shellac disk identical to what Caruso would have made. Then play those two disks, on the same Victrola, back-to-back. You’d find out real fast that to mention the singers of today in the same breath as those of yesteryear is nothing less than a sacrilege. That Pavarotti sounds quote-unquote « good » on a modern CD says little. That Caruso sounded good on those primitive 78s says volumes. Encyclopedias !
But your original question was why I chose to go back in time in my book. It is an absolutely legitimate statement to say, « It’s hard to hear the voices on those old, scratchy disks. » Even for a musician with a good ear, this takes training, absolutely it does. But by starting with new recordings and gradually working backwards, you start to ignore the surface noise altogether and really get a picture of the voice.
Once you do that, there really is no argument that singing has declined badly. In my book I mention the example of Fuggiam gli ardori inospiti with Celestina Boninsegna and Giovanni Valls, recorded in 1904. If singing hasn’t declined, you find me two singers today who can sing half that well ! I heard another example recently that gave me a similar reaction. It was the love duet from Boris – sung in Italian, of course ! – sung by Paul Althouse and Margarete Ober, recorded in 1915. I just was floored. Where is singing that is even one fifth that good today ?
CD : Let’s take the reverse approach. Singing technique has gradually declined in the course of the past century ; no one is arguing with that. From the early 20th century to now, the proportion of Belcanto singers has dwindled.
LC : The proportion of singers who sing with « the technique » has dwindled, yes.
CD : We start with Caruso, your idol, I believe.
LC : Well, he was the King. And I love him very much. Gigli is probably my favorite, which is a very personal thing. But sure, let’s start with Caruso, whom Pavarotti called « the foundation. »
CD : Do you feel that singing was irreproachable then ?
LC : Absolutely not. And Caruso’s singing was not irreproachable, either. Rossini in 1820 was saying that singing was already in decline ! What we do know is that repertoire got heavier, so vocal requirements changed, and singers with more belt and less line came into being. But I want to say something about Caruso. Much has been exaggerated about him, and I want to set the record straight. First, he was not a tenorino at the beginning, and he was not a baritone at the end. The smoking didn’t lower or darken his voice that much. And although his voice certainly got more powerful, more « dramatic » if you will, I want to say very emphatically – I really want to make this point crystal clear – despite the emotions and, let’s say, individualisms that he allowed to creep into his singing, the sort of things that drove conductors and critics crazy, despite all that, Caruso’s 19th-century, Belcanto, seamless legato was UN-IM-PAIRED [said slowly and with great emphasis] in 1920, in his last recordings. You might not like his Vaghissima sembianza, but that legato, or the legato of Bartlett’s Dream, sung in English – THIS is what is missing today. People say, « Ha ha, listen to all those portamentos. » Sure, but let’s hear you do one as perfectly. Caruso absolutely positively never abandoned his Belcanto technique. Fame, riches, cigarettes, time – not one of these things took his eye away from the ball.
DC : Tell us about the 2000 Vienna experiment.
LC : Well, I talk about it in the book. It’s very interesting, really. They took a computer, isolated Caruso’s voice from the orchestral accompaniment – how, I have no idea – and had a modern orchestra accompany this computer-enhanced voice. It’s interesting really for one reason : it gives you a sense of how Caruso’s voice must have soared over the strings. That is what the old 78s don’t paint for us : the sound of the Caruso voice, and all those great voices, soaring over the orchestra in the beautiful acoustics of the theatre.
But I have to tell you Christian : ultimately, Caruso sounds better on the old Victrolas.
CD : You really feel that way ?
LC : Yes, I do. You can’t believe how smart those original engineers were. On modern CDs [remastered from the 78s] the orchestras sound so strange. But on a Victrola, the voice is in the foreground, and the orchestra is in the background, in perfect balance. The modified orchestrations, with reduced violins, tubas, etc. – the sound coming out of the horn isn’t strange at all. So in one sense, yes the three disks from the Vienna experiment give a vantage point of what Caruso really sounded like. But in another sense, the best vantage point are the original disks themselves, played on a good Victrola.
CD : If singing was so great, what do you suppose caused the situation to deteriorate over time ? Agents ? The recording industry ? Voice teachers ? Stardom ?
LC : I blame the microphone, pure and simple. Before microphones, halls couldn’t have acoustic tiling and heavy carpeting. They had to have live acoustics. Consequently, a singer had to have technique in order to be heard. A manager might have had a tin ear, but he could hear volume. Either he could hear the singer, or he couldn’t. And only the technique makes a voice heard in the far reaches of a hall.
CD : What about the schism between classical and popular music ?
LC : Well it’s really interesting that you mention that. Al Jolson was the last popular singer – « popular » meaning « non-classical » – to sing with «technique », that is, a technique that enabled one to be heard in a hall without a microphone. In fact, I will go so far as to say that he sang with the technique – legato, round vowels, the cords together – certain hallmarks of the Belcanto. But I mean, otherwise, you wouldn’t be heard in the hall ! It was just a question of decibels. Jolson wasn’t trying to be a Belcantist.
CD : He was trying to be audible.
LC : Exactly.
CD : And then they invented microphones.
LC : Exactly. Now all of a sudden you didn’t have to be audible. Someone with a puny voice can give a concert, or make records. In the case of Al Jolson, he died in 1950. But his voice in 1950 was, well, unique. It was a peculiar voice – one that I happen to love but I would understand perfectly if others didn’t. So unfortunately, Jolson didn’t open anyone’s eyes or ears. People didn’t wake up and say, « Hey, I want to sing with a technique like that ! » So after 1950 the schism only widened. Popular singers got worse and worse, to the point that … God, I don’t even want to finish that sentence.
CD : Yes, the popular music of today …
LC : Parliamo delle patate, as we say in Italian. Let’s change the topic.
CD : The last singers who sang with the Belcanto technique were Jussi Björling, Carlo Bergonzi, Fiorenza Cossotto, Maria Chiara, Virginia Zeani, maybe a couple of others?
LC : Well, Bergonzi for sure. Björling for sure. Certainly I would add Araiza to that list – a tremendous artist. Virginia Zeani, absolutely her work from the ‘50s and ‘60s represents a quality of singing that has long vanished from the face of the earth. I hope that her best singing becomes commercially available soon. Her best singing is on « pirates » that I have heard but that have not yet made it to the stores. Most of the commercial recordings of her that are out there do not do her justice, like those cheap Rumanian disks.
CD : In your book you are, of course, kind to these upholders of the Belcanto tradition. You are less kind to huge singers like Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland – after all, what we have here is a divina, an angelo, and a stupenda – not to mention Marilyn Horne, Plácido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti whom you trash pretty mercilessly. You can’t deny that they all had a wonderful instrument. What did the first ones do right that the others did not ?
LC : Well, each case is very different. Did every one of those people you mention have wonderful instruments ? Initially, yes. But that’s not what my book is about. Giacomini and Martinucci had two of the greatest – I mean THE greatest – tenor instruments that the world has ever heard. Put together those two don’t have half a brain between them. A wonderful instrument in itself is just that. But what good is a wonderful Bösendorfer Imperial Grand if you don’t have someone who knows how to play it ?
Now, in the case of Callas and Tebaldi, you have two of the greatest soprani who ever set foot on a palcoscenico. I am only beginning to learn how much greater Tebaldi was live than on her recordings. I recently heard some live Met broadcasts of her and was astonished. Not only was her high range much freer, but she was warmer and more communicative. So Tebaldi I will have to reassess slightly. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Callas and Tebaldi both had flaws in their technique, punto e basta. Callas especially – this is not breaking news. There are reams of literature out there on Callas’ technical flaws. I think bad repertoire choices, especially in her youth, contributed to her vocal demise. Not only singing the wrong things, but singing things in the wrong succession. A tenor can’t sing Otello on Monday and Nemorino on Tuesday. Callas was doing things like that. And as far as Horne, her repertoire choices have at times bordered on the absurd. She should have stuck with the Belcanto repertoire and sung it with a simple, Belcanto technique. Being American, she wanted to « do it all. » But I can bash her all I want – I recently did a poll, and Marilyn Horne came up as one of the most beloved opera singers in America today. I conducted the same poll on an Italian message group. She won there, too ! That is not an accident. It means that she got up on stage and wowed her public. But my book is not about wow. For instance, I knew people would get mad at me that I didn’t rave more about Corelli, especially since he died shortly before the book went to press. But the question of Corelli as a supreme artist and the question of his technique – these are two completely different questions. This is what many people didn’t understand about my book. My book is not a popularity contest. Pavarotti is world-famous. Again, this is no accident. However, if you want to have a conversation about the lineage of Belcanto singing, going back to Battistini and before, post-1970 Pavarotti does not enter into the conversation. He was a diligent student with a glorious voice but a small artistic and musical conscience. What he had was Herbert Breslin, the greatest manager in the business. So Pavarotti became famous – not by his conscience, but by Breslin’s hard work. And then Pavarotti went and fired him, causing him to write a tell-all book. So it cannot be said that Pavarotti is known for his intelligent decision-making.
CD : Be that as it may : people love Pavarotti.
LC : Because thanks to Breslin, Pavarotti’s was the name and face that you saw everywhere you went. But notice that my book was not entitled The Most Loved, Famous, and Richest Opera Singers. There Pavarotti would receive a very thick chapter, as would Bocelli and half a dozen others who, shall we say, are not archetypes of technique.
CD : How, in your opinion, would singers such as Renée Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, and Rolando Villazón have fared in the Golden Age of Belcanto?
LC : I heard Villazón’s début album recently. I told my wife, « Honey, this guy has a voice on the level of a Caruso or a Gigli – really one of the great tenor voices of all time. » Now, this is just his début album ; where he goes from here is impossible to say. But Villazón has stunning potential. Renée Fleming – look, only an idiot would deny that her voice is one of the great ones of all time. During the Golden Age or any age, her instrument would have been one of the great ones. But again, an instrument is just an instrument. Rethberg had a great voice. But as a singer/artist, Fleming next to Rethberg is Lilliputian, she’s microscopic. What she does – or, more accurately, doesn’t do – with her voice, season after season, is an increasing disappointment. She had the potential to be a Rethberg or a Milanov – maybe she still does. But she isn’t tapping into very much of that technique. She’s pandering to the masses – which Caruso and Gigli also did. But Caruso and Gigli pandered AND used the full resources of their Old World technique. Fleming doesn’t. I’m not alone in that opinion. Bartoli is another one. One of the great instruments ever. There’s no era that would not have praised her instrument. But her technique ? God, help us !
CD : Your book mentions French baritone Ludovic Tézier. He belongs to the new generation.
LC : Yes. And he has technique to burn. I heard him sing Hamlet in Torino in January of 2001. It’s a terrible role for the baritone – he has to sing non-stop the whole opera. His voice was still fresh at the end of the opera. I felt as though he could have sung the whole opera as an encore. That is technique !
CD : Your book also includes an interview with soprano Virginia Zeani. I knew she was an exceptional singer, but she also sounds like a wonderful person, and so knowledgeable.
LC : Well, there are two kinds of « knowledgeable. » People used to quiz Artur Rubinstein on the royal families of various countries – who was married to whom, who succeeded whom, etc. People were always so impressed that he would always pass this quiz with flying colors. Rubinstein couldn’t understand the fuss. « Don’t you don’t understand : I knew these royals. I played for them. » So there is the « knowledgeable » that comes from reading a book. Then there is the « knowledgeable » of a Virginia Zeani, who sang with everybody. Plus her husband, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, was one of the most famous bassi of his time. So between the two of them, there probably wasn’t one singer whom one or the other didn’t either sing with or know socially. For instance, you mentioned Callas and Tebaldi as being two of the greatest of the greats. Well, Callas probably owes her American career to Rossi-Lemeni. And Tebaldi ? She was in love with Rossi-Lemeni, but he broke her heart and married Zeani instead ! So yes, Ms. Zeani is « knowledgeable, » but don’t you see, she lived with these people ! I mean, I know about Gigli from his records and his memoirs. Zeani sang with Gigli !
CD : You reserve a special place in this book to Iride Pilla and Vittorio Marciano…
LC : … and Mary Davenport, and several others who, in different ways, showed me the pathway towards the Belcanto technique. Davenport actually studied with a Garcia – isn’t that wild ? She studied with the last Garcia, in London. They pronounced his name « Garsha. » Miss Pilla had a respectable career, though it was shortened due to illness and other factors beyond her control. Her diminutive height … the fact that Gatti-Casazza died a year or two too early …
CD : Bad luck.
LC : Unfortunately, yes. But she had genuine successes in what I call « Opera Country, » the region of Parma, Piacenza, and Reggio-Emilia. Anyone who had even a modest success there [in the 1930s], you know was great. Then it turns out she sang between 100 and 150 Santuzzas for Salmaggi’s opera company in New York.
CD : Really ?
LC : Yes. I didn’t mention that in my book because I didn’t know Salmaggi was anyone special. Well, turns out Richard Tucker, Herva Nelli, and other greats got their start with Salmaggi.
CD : So Miss Pilla had what you would call the « Belcanto technique. »
LC : But see everyone did at that time. If you were Italian and born in 1904, what other way was there for you to sing ? If you sang another way, you would not have been hired.
CD : But the tenor Vittorio Marciano, with whom you’ve had a close personal association, was born much later, in 1942.
LC : He is a very special case. It is said that a person’s best trait is also their worst trait. For instance, a woman says, « I married him because he was gentle. I divorced him because he was a wimp. » Or, « I married him because he had financial means. I divorced him because all he did was work and make money. » Vittorio was a provincial. He grew up in an orphanage and then was adopted – not even adopted, « affiliated » – by an illiterate family of farmers. But because of this provincial upbringing, he found this voice teacher, a practical unknown, whose gods were Caruso and Gigli and, most especially, Pertile.
CD : I assume this was the 1960s. Those three singers were already dead and démodé in the ‘60s. So this teacher was obviously démodé himself.
LC : Ah, you’re catching my drift. That’s exactly my point. Marciano learned an outmoded technique from an outmoded teacher. Imagine how outmoded this technique is today ! So I got to work with a man, face-to-face, who – live, right into my own ears – sang the technique that I had only previously heard on the old, scratchy 78 records. This was what changed my life and, eventually, caused me to write The Twilight of Belcanto. This orphan from Naples … look at the world he opened up to me.
CD : A truly amazing story. So what’s next for Leonardo Ciampa ? Recitals ? Any new compositions in the making ?
LC : Yes, all of that. At the moment I’m working hard at starting my own chorus, which is called « Coro Polifonico of Boston. » I adore working with choirs.
CD : And of course you vocalize them with the Belcanto technique !
LC : Come no ? But the reason I adore choruses, I think, is because with orchestras it’s different ; they’re all paid. In choruses, you have amateurs in the literal French meaning of the word. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and real-estate salesmen – all of whom would DIE without that weekly fix of music. My wife was just such a person. She is a lawyer, and singing in a particular chorus on Tuesday nights was her raison d’être.
CD : Her ragion di essere.
LC : Ah, we’re trading languages ! [Hearty laughter] In any case, that is how I met my wife. I happened to be accompanying that chorus, and so the rest is history. I just love choruses. I love being around amateurs, lovers of music. I spent a brief time at the conservatory, and I met very few true amateurs there – few among the students, even fewer among the teachers, and none at all among the administrators.
CD : But you’ve found love in your chorus, the chorus of your own formation. It’s clear that you’re someone who doesn’t wait for a hospitable environment to appear – you create it.
LC : If I’m anything, I’m a creator.
CD : Leonardo Ciampa, thank you. It has truly been a pleasure chatting with you.
LC : The pleasure was 100% mine. From my heart I wish you all the success in the world.
CD : Également.
© Christian Dalzon