Arthur Espiritu, the first Filipino tenor to sing at La Scala di Milan, is all set for his debut at the Sydney Opera House as Rodolfo in La Boheme mounted by Opera Australia.
The glittering production by Gale Edwards set in the bohemian streets of 1930s Berlin offers a perfect showcase for Greta Bradman who is Espiritu’s Mimi with the Marcello of Andrew Jones to be accompanied by Opera Australia Orchestra under the baton of Pietro Rizzo.
The Filipino tenor has done the role of Rodolfo at Theater Magdeburg in Germany and finds the role vocally challenging.
The role of Rodolfo is his first Puccini opera with the second one in Gianni Schicchi in which he debuted at Frankfurt Opera last year.
Said the tenor, “I love singing Rodolfo. I can truly relate to it and it has a special place in my heart. Not so much Rinuccio (Gianni Schicchi) because I don’t really relate to the character as much. Of course, it has beautiful music. But nothing about the role touches me. It is a vocal feat and a lot of fun to sing, but it is not substantive enough for me.”
The tenor cites the third act as the most difficult part of La Boheme for him. “Not only it is vocally taxing, it is so emotionally charged. Plus, the orchestra is playing at full tutti mode along with your held high notes. Act 1 finale is also tough. My most memorable moment was when we opened Boheme in Magdeburg. I had no expectations but to do the best I could. That finale always gets me. It’s so emotional that the drama grips you and takes you there.”
How the tenor got the role is another story by itself.
He was singing Ferrando in a controversial Calixto Bieito version of Cosi fan tutti in Basel when Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini heard him.
He was invited to dinner after his performance along with his Fiordiligi (Anna Princeva).
Recalled the tenor, “Mr. Terracini said he was impressed with our voices and said he will cast us in his upcoming productions in Sydney and Melbourne, basically with Opera Australia. So, that was quite awesome to experience. And he paid for the restaurant bill. What a great guy! He is one of the nicest artistic directors I have ever met. So, in that dinner, I got two roles—Rodolfo in Boheme and a role debut as The Shepherd in Szymanowski’s King Roger.”
Before Espiritu’s debut, Lea Salonga also debuted at the Sydney Opera House when she sang with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the baton of her brother, Gerard Salonga.
In the 80s, Cecile Licad performed in the same opera house with Sir Neville Mariner conducting the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
A father of one and with a second one coming, Espiritu said last year’s most memorable engagement for him is singing Rinucio in Gianni Schicchi which was a part of Il Trittico presented by Frankfurt Opera. “It was my debut with the company and my role debut as Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi. It was amazing working with Maestro Jakub Hrusa, baritone Zeljko Lucic, and the wonderful orchestra. The company liked me very much so that was a very positive experience.”
The year 2016 also saw him singing the Duke in Rigoletto in one notice. “I only had one day to rehearse the entire production with the assistant stage director. It was a lot of stress and lots of watching. I only got one hour to see the stage and walk around it. They have all these maze-like passages backstage. I was lucky I did not miss any cue. It was so exciting with all those things in front of you with people you never saw before and acted with on any rehearsals. It was like walking into a pit filled with lots of wolves. It was scary at first but when I started thinking I’m the Duke and I have done this role many times, it just sort of clicked in and it was smooth sailing after that.”
The good news is that he is also doing La Boheme with Israel Opera in Tel Aviv where he earlier sang Tamino in Mozart’s Magic Flute. “I absolutely love working for the company. They have treated me so well and have been so good and supportive to me. The audience is quite tough like in Milan. If they don’t like it, they will let you know. But most of them are very civil. Fortunately, they appreciate me and I’m very happy about that. I got the part when they asked my agency if I could come over and travel to Tel-Aviv after doing La Sonnambula in Munich. They were interested in me to do Rodolfo in Boheme, so I flew over and sang Che gelida manina for Mr. Michael Ajzenstadt. We had a long conversation after, then he offered me the contract on the spot!”
Opera lovers in Manila had a preview of Espiritu’s La Boheme when he sang Che gelida manina in the opera gala at the Maybank Performing Arts Center and a duet from the same opera with Anna Migallos.
To be sure, the aria is one of the most feared with opera specialists comparing it to climbing the highest pyramid.
The tenor’s performance made it so relaxing to watch with not a trace of fright or fear on his face. He hit the highest note with such grace and power one could hear a pin drop in the concert hall.
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