Cher Public

Bass-baritone instinct

Next, I asked Marko Mimica which basses he prefers to listen to on recordings. (Then I just sat back and listened!)

MM: Cesare Siepi’s recordings are the best possible “school” not only for basses and baritones, but for every young singer out there seeking for beauty and elegance in singing. His phrasing and impeccable legato alongside a voice of pure beauty and personality in all recording history among basses are not exceeded, in my opinion. And we’re talking about someone who made his debut at 18, as you surely know, sung his first Filippo and Zaccaria in mid-twenties and gave a most touching concert in his 80s!!!

Nicolai Ghiaurov – it took me many years to start to become an admirer. Whenever I’d hear him at the first time, so was the case, I wouldn’t fully recognize the huge vocal talent he had. Only later on I got interested more and was blown away getting to know the young Ghiaurov. It also takes a bit of experience and knowledge to be able to fully “hear” a recording.

For example, I never used to like Domingo in recordings, and never really understood what was about him that drove people crazy until I heard him live as Simon Boccanegra in Berlin. And he was not trying to create a baritone out of himself, nor did I care not having one. The primal quality of his voice was amazing, never heard anything like that.

Then when I went back to listen to his Radames from the 80s from the MET I could finally realize what it was. The same thing happened to me with Dolora Zajick whom I only heard in recording, until I stood on a same stage with her and almost fell off the stage…

Ezio Flagello I found AMAZING, a wonderful voice, even from the low E-flat all the way to the top A-flat. Samuel Ramey I appreciate a lot, never heard a technically wrong sound coming from him… admiration also goes to Tancredi Pasero, Ezio Pinza, Plinio Clabassi…

And then there are the really old recordings, from the first quarter of the 20thcentury. At first, I was thinking, why do people say this was the golden age of opera?! These recordings sounded like a joke to me, even Caruso. Somewhere I read that Birgit Nilsson said she could never listen to these recordings as well until she recorded herself in the same way those singers were recorded. Then she said she would never judge them anymore.

I finally was able to understand why did people wait in line for hours in order to get tickets for Caruso’s performances. And what a joy it has been to listen to Rosa Ponselle, Claudia Muzio and many many others from the time…

The singer whose singing I probably enjoyed the most was Montserrat Caballé, and from 1965 till more or less 1975. Of course, from the beginning I was obsessed with La Callas and even now her artistry I find extraordinary.

When I started to listen to the recordings (and I’m talking about hours and hours of listening every day during my studies!), I was not very much interested in basses. Only later on I started to study them to be able to understand my own voice better. Still today I think that the least interesting music has been written for basses, and for me characters usually entrusted to basses are not of my personal interest.

But, one can’t change one’s own voice, so I had no choice but to accept who I am and limitations a bass voice has and try to bring the best I can to it. And of course, for a bass, older he is the better, so I am looking forward to the future when I’ll be able to sing and portray great roles like Filippo II, Fiesco, Boris Godunov, Don Quichotte, hopefully Wotan…

I am interested in singing all the belcanto parts written for a bass and luckily in the next few years I’ll have many opportunities to sing them. But for me, they are a bit one-dimensional. Like Oroveso, for example (although Giorgio in IPuritani is musically speaking a much better role). There’s this nice music to sing, and it’s really nice, but to be a father of another character at my age is not really exciting.

And these roles (Oroveso, Giorgio, Rodolfo) don’t give enough space to express oneself on stage as I would like to. Enrico in Anna Bolenais much better, althoughis still one-dimensional: he practically shouts the whole time. Assur in Semiramide is a true “prima donna” role and I’ll be looking forward to sing it some day (it’s probably the most difficult one!).  I’d like to sing more Figaro and Leporello and Selim (Il Turco in Italia)…

I am a big fan of Rossini, and was lucky enough to do the “Accademia Rossiniana” in Pesaro in 2014 and be invited to go back every summer since (including 2017 and 2018, much to look forward to). I think his music is just perfectly suitable for comic pieces, but also I am an admirer of “serious” Rossini: Moïse et Pharaon, Guillaume Tell and maybe my favorite, Semiramide (Assur being my favorite belcanto role by far).

I enjoyed a lot doing Mustafà in L’Italiana in Algeri and Selim in Il Turco in Italia, although the latter is not as funny (in my opinion). The big scene of Lord Sydney in Il viaggio a Reimsis pure fun, and finally I got to sing about love. There’s one small problem with Rossini however: it’s just so bloody difficult to sing!

What I’m desperately looking for are roles in which I get to express various states of mind and emotional journeys together with a great music. I like characters going crazy, like Assur. Sadly I had to accept that for my voice type I’ll have to be patient enough and wait to mature as an artist and a person for, as you know, most of these roles that combine great music and drama require a much older singer.

In the meantime I have no choice but to accept whatever I get offered and work my way through it constantly growing and getting better in what I do. For now I’m perfectly happy doing belcanto roles like Don Alfonso in Lucrezia Borgia(and although a husband of Lucrezia who has an elder son-Gennaro, it’s not that important that Alfonso is of a certain age and it can be convincing even when I do it, at least I hope..), any Rossini, some “easier” Verdi (like Banco in Macbeth), but I would also like to do more Mozart.

I did Figaro on a few occasions and I’ll do it again next season. Leporello, however, I did only once, in Croatia. Ideally, I’d like to have at least one production of Le nozzeand one of Don Giovanniper season, for now singing Leporello, and one day hopefully the Don himself, although it’d have to be a “different’, perhaps “crazier” production for I don’t see myself doing a traditional version of Don. Figaro is fine, not as fun as Leporello though.

The Count I find much more interesting, as a character and his music. I dunno why, I enjoy a lot 2nd act finale, and “Tutto è disposto’, the rest of it I’m afraid I’ll have to work a lot to make it work for me, and therefore for the audience as well. I guess I’d need a fantastic director and a new production with many rehearsals…

I absolutely don’t want to sing Escamillo although I’m booked to do a few (pays rent). I looooved Frère Laurent in Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliette. The four villains in Les contes d’Hoffmann I’ll do sooner or later even if I had to bribe someone! If I could arrange my own farewell from the stage, it’d be with Massenet’s Don Quichotte. Is there a role more beautiful and suitable for an older bass?

Méphistophélès is of course one of the dream roles of any bass in bass-baritone, and so is mine. Luckily there are quite a few versions one get to choose from. Gounod’s one I personally find the best, then there’s Nick Shadow, Berlioz’s Méphisto and Boito’s, whose opera on the whole I find weakest but the title role of Mefistofeleis a good one.

One of my dream roles would be Wotan in Der Ring von Nibelungen. Now, I might never develop into that stuff, but I do hope it just might be the case. What I know for sure is that I’ll never sing really low stuff like Osmin in Die Entführung aus dem Serailnor Verdi (high) baritone. If my voice is gonna become more suitable for Verdi basso cantante repertoire or German in French bass-baritone the time will tell. Or (what I hope the most) BOTH, of course everything at its time.

Having a Slavic soul, I do get excited about the Russian music too, and although there are plenty of Russian basses I hope I’ll have the chance to sing at least these three roles: Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Shostakovich’s Boris (Katerina Izmailova; what a great opera!!) and Tchaikovsky’s Kochubey (Mazeppa).

John Claggart in Billy Buddwill be a MUST! I even think my accent might bring something particular to it . Bartók’s Bluebeardas well, and that one I’d love to do in Hungarian!

I think it would make me extremely happy to be able to make a name for myself with Wagner’s operas. As I wrote earlier, am still not sure in what direction I’m gonna be developing, to make it simple: higher or lower. Holländer, Jochanaan in Salome(Strauss, ok! but similar stuff), Hans Sachs and Amfortas on one side or Hagen, King Marke (one of the most beautiful roles ever written for a bass) and Gurnemanz on the other side. In both scenarios King Heinrich in Lohengrinand (hopefully) Wotan.

It took me quite a long time to get into Wagner, but once I started to discover his world it became like a drug…

The composer who absolutely takes the first place in my heart is Giuseppe Verdi (Joseph Green, Joseph Grün, Josip Zeli?.)

What I’ll regret probably till the end of my days is not to be born as a Verdi baritone, the most beautiful of all voice types, for me. As a bass I can still be very pleased with Don Carlos, Simon Boccanegra and La Forza del destino, where drama and music of unsurpassed beauty became one. And these are technically very well written and paced. I think to be able to sing this repertoire is pure joy and beauty.

Having a “hybrid” voice, I find early Verdi operas (Nabucco, Ernani, Lombardi and Attila) suit me like a glove. In Ernani I found some of the most beautiful and original (yes! original) music Verdi ever wrote. Shame the plot is really silly, but in a concert it works perfectly. Lombard iis much fun to do, and Pagano goes through quite an interesting journey in it, but it’s not Verdi at his best.

Attila is a cool guy (and doesn’t have to be old!) and NabuccoI probably won’t be able to escape since in Europe almost every theater is doing it. Zaccaria’s music is truly wonderful (and the most difficult Verdi wrote for a bass), and although there are some torments he as a character has, again he’s not as profound as Nabucco is, shame…

NR: What are your thoughts about Regietheater?

MM: I’m definitely for Regietheater. Crazy, modern, shocking, bizarre, yes – all that! I’m for traditional as well. There’s no rule. A good theater is a good theater. Me personally, I prefer to work on acting and psychology of a character, situations between two or more characters, what happens to them and how do they react, their suffering or joy. But sometimes I’d like to do something crazy and completely without any common sense as well.

I can tell you it’s painful to spend six weeks working with somebody who just has no ideas or doesn’t know how to bring them to life. But if the director is talented and creative, and has good ideas I’m in. And if he’s organized as well, knows about acting, and about music, then it’s a million dollar thing!

It’s hard to find all these qualities in one person and there are probably only a few of those in the business today. I couldn’t tell how we could change that, perhaps talent scouts? Spot young talented people early on, give them scholarships, encourage them and provide them with the best possible schooling.

Opera also reflects the times we’re living in, and we shouldn’t try to forcefully change that. Good times – good opera, bad times – bad opera, it goes in a circle but I truly believe that with every generation we, humans, as a species get one step closer to wherever we’re going…

In opera, this is what I feel: Ever since it was invented, opera was never what it was supposed to be. During first years people used to eat and drink, gamble, talk etc during a show.. Then Italian divas and divos were tormenting everyone around themselves and sacrificing the art form for their own sake. The golden age of singing, then the next (not as good but still very good) age of singing, and then today..

In the golden age it was all about singing, you’d come, you’d sing, you’d go. Today it’s more about staging, looks and being famous. Ok, let’s see what can directors do and how far it’s possible to go with opera.. The next step, inevitably will be music and theater, glorious singing and great acting truly becoming one, there’s no other way.


Marko Mimica talks about life on the road in the final part of this interview tomorrow.