Following in the footsteps of Pavarotti, his first mentor, self-taught like him, Roberto Alagna has been living a miracle at the opera for nearly forty years. Verdi, Puccini, Gounod, Massenet… He took on the most coveted roles, sold millions of records. To make matters worse, the tenor star now offers a varied detour on the bill of a musical! Something to definitely stun the elitist, codified lyrical milieu. Especially because, scar, the evil eye with his white borsalino and his machine gun under his arm, Alagna will play the most famous and not the most friendly of gangsters, Al Capone. For the occasion, the guitarist Jean-Félix Lalanne, author and composer of the show, imagined a kind of Romeo and Juliet at the time of the ban with, around the tenor of Sicilian origin singing in French and Italian, the Quebecois singer Bruno Pelletier (Notre Dame de Paris, Starmania ) and the very pop rock Anggun.
How did this project come to you?
At the end of the first confinement, I was finishing my album of French songs, the singer. Jean-Félix Lalanne joined me in the studio in the south to participate in a title or two. Before he told me about his project, he told me that he had had a flash in the shower, a revelation of sorts… And when, naked, he told his wife that only I could play Al Capone, she take for a fool !
And you, how did you react?
At first I told myself that a musical was not for me. When someone offers me something new, my first reaction is often to refuse – it’s the shy kid who speaks first. But I had to listen to the proposal because Jean-Félix is a friend. Honestly, I found myself saying no: I had too many operas under my belt, it seemed too complicated to block six months in my schedule… This had also been the reason for my refusal to Pascal Obispo, at the time of his Ten Commandments. Right now, just at La Scala in Milan, I am offered four contracts. But I asked them to put them on hold Al Capone.
What made you decide?
I fell in love with the project. What I liked from the beginning about the models of Jean-Félix, whom I have known for a long time, is the mix. His work refers to the imagination of face of the scarffrom speakeasies, from Chicago in the 1920s, when boogie-woogie appeared… It combines fox-trot, charleston, pop rock, lyrical flights, Italian song, varied melody. All this in a magnificent environment where everything is connected. He convinced me. From there, we both worked like crazy on the libretto and the music. It was the year of Covid, my calendar was turned upside down, so I had some availability. Then blocking out six months was a bit of a mess, but it worked.
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In December, in Paris, you started rehearsalsAl Caponebut you also sang, for the Invalids, the stabat by Arvo Pärt…
I had a rich and constantly changing year in 2022. In New York I played Tosca with my wife, Aleksandra. At La Scala in Milan I sang with Sonya Yoncheva fedora. In the meantime, I returned to Poland to pick up my daughter, Malena, who will be 9 years old at the end of January. In the midst of all this, here I am again in Paris where Al Capone!
Last April, you were also in Berlin, a Lohengrin by Wagner, your first opera sung in German.
Yes, the Wagner has gone so well that I have been offered it again elsewhere and it includes an aria or two in my recitals. love it! I didn’t expect it, but now that I’ve tasted it, I’m going all out. Sing Stabat Materby Arvo Pärt at the Invalides last December, I didn’t expect that either. To be honest, I didn’t like it at all, I thought it was a work reserved for the white voices of castrati. When they told me that the orchestration had been completely redone and that it was on its way, I was hooked.
Wasn’t the form of the musical a problem for you?
The big problem was the spoken text – there was too much of it for my taste. First I told Jean-Félix to remove it, to do recitatives, like in opera, that is, dialogues sung and not spoken. In the end, we still cut some because they made the show too long. And we kept spoken moments useful for a good understanding of the story. I was able to add my touch to the libretto and the music, and I was the one who suggested Jean-Louis Grinda as director. We had already worked together Marius and Fannyby Vladimir Cosma, where Samson and Delilah. Above all, he has the double hat of opera and musical comedy; therefore, he was perfect for this position. Lalanne, like me, tackles something new by tackling musical comedy. Without being presumptuous, I think we are creating something new, a bit like López and Mariano. Before them, operettas were Offenbach, Lecocq, Strauss… And suddenly these two were able to create a special genre that did not exist before or after them, tailor-made for a truly capable tenor of being a crooner. I find it very stimulating. I think we are going to a long collaboration with Jean-Félix.
Where does your complicity come from?
We have a very close sensibility in music, in the taste for literature, in the way of being. We get along, we talk more about sharing than ego, and we both come from close siblings. I don’t know his brothers, but he has known mine for a long time. Also, I found out that they had done things together that I didn’t even know about!
You met Lalanne through your brother David Alagna, who also composed The last day of a convict, according to Victor Hugo. An opera that didn’t last long in Paris…
Maybe because he is Roberto Alagna’s brother, I don’t know. But it is not excluded that one day a Garnier director will want to do it, because it is a real opera, very powerful, that pays tribute to Boris Godunov , Mussorgsky’s masterpiece, and which was created under the direction of chef Michel Plasson. We have played it many times in Marseille, in Hungary, in Spain. Of all recent modern operas, it has had the longest life with a live disc, two stage recordings, two television versions and a DVD. While To fly by Howard Shore, based on Cronenberg’s film, with Placido Domingo, did not last. Stormby Thomas Adès it didn’t take off either.
With a musical, you take a different kind of risk.
The biggest risk, in my opinion, is that I don’t have a replacement or a replacement. I don’t know why they put it that way, but deep down it flatters me. They took out insurance in case I couldn’t, but really everyone is replaceable. If it works too well, they’ll have to return it without me.
With Anggun and Bruno Pelletier as partners at the Folies-Bergère, you will unseat part of your audience.
This is the game. With Jean-Félix we cross genres and put me in another world. I like it very much. This travesty is very important to me, it is the very nature of music. When we have received the gift of the voice, it is to share it with as many people as possible. Why leave people who don’t like opera? If you get friends who don’t like meat in the bourgeoisie, you prepare something else for them, right? If I take secondary paths, it is to touch other people who will be moved, and that move will fill me. At the Folies-Bergère and more! It is ideal to start here. It touches me more because this theater has history and has always made my mother dream. I hope he will come to see us despite his health problems.
Do your parents watch all your shows?
They followed my career very closely and for a long time they juggled planes to bring my daughter Ornella where I played because I was widowed very early. The first thing I did when this terrible tragedy happened was to allow my father to stop working so that I could take care of Ornella, who is now my age at the time, and two beautiful children who are almost same age like my second daughter, Malena. It’s like having three kids right now.
Singing into the microphone is not a problem for you?
Oh yeah, that’s bullshit! I have to keep the mic at a distance, and even taking that precaution, it’s hard to manage. For decades I have made sure that my voice is outside the body, and here, it is the opposite, it must be returned. Honestly, I take little pleasure in this endeavor. Typically, even for streaming or studio operas, sound is captured, not amplified. Because when I make a sound it is to project it beyond the wall of the orchestra. This is the famous turbo. But if I do it on a mic and the sound engineer cuts the power, I’m lost, like someone braking my car right when I’m trying to move forward. Shameful!
So you have to hold back?
Yes. I work to keep my voice that people know, while adding new colors and raspy sounds. It’s tough, but it’s also a breath of fresh air. Of course I can have lyrical flights, but I also must not be too far from Anggun and Pelletier. So I have to find a way to put a veil over my voice, something a little slurpy, even dirty. In opera we have Botticelli’s requirement: everything must be clean, patterned, shiny. And there, I meet Rodin who throws his thing, cares about matter everywhere. That’s what’s strong about variety and pop rock. Can you imagine a rocker singing with a pure tenor voice? It would be disgusting, it wouldn’t work. In Al Capone, I do baritone notes that I would never do in opera, where I never find low ground. Here, I have to create a vocal identity for myself with a grain and something that is not virtuosic, a less marked voice, more in the story. Find it all while remaining homogeneous, in the pleasure of living the role and without exceeding the limits of the voice. I feel like an alchemist looking for new resources with his instrument.
Is it a risk?
Yes, when you’ve worked fifteen years to place your voice and suddenly you have to deconstruct everything, it’s a little scary. The bel canto base is there, but phrasing with breathy sounds would be too monotonous Al Caponewhere there is swing, broken sounds within a word or even a syllable
Do you like playing the role of a criminal?
Bastards, there are a lot of them. Me, I always defend the characters. I am a hypertolerant person and I tell myself that everyone has their reasons, that we cannot judge without understanding the situations. This is what I especially felt playing Pinkerton Madame Butterfly.
This year you will be 60 years old. Are you sometimes afraid that everything will stop? Are you thinking about retirement?
I don’t consider it because I don’t think of my work as a profession, but as a state of mind. For everything to stop, I was afraid for a long time, but confinement healed me and made me realize that outside the theater there was life. I also like gardening, cooking. Of course, I would like to continue as long as possible, so that my daughter Malena can enjoy it a little as she grows up. I’ve always experienced my career as a miracle, a bonus, I never imagined I’d get this far. I’ve been living a dream at the opera for over thirty years. with Al CaponeI live a dream in a dream…
“Al Capone”, from January 28 at the Folies-Bergère (Paris 9). www.folliesbergere.com
Source : Le JDD