Frank Porretta: A tenor talks (2 of 2)

Part two of an interview with San Diego star Frank Porretta.

Past Event

San Diego Opera: Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

San Diego Opera's production of Pagliacci opens on Saturday, January 26th. The show starts at 7:00 pm at The Civic Theater. There are only four performances: January 26th, 28th, 31st and February 2nd.

Read part one of this interview.

FP: Technique is always, I don’t know...again, it’s opinions. We’re talking about sensations. We’re talking about using language to convey what something feels like. Wouldn’t it be great if you could say, “just turn that dial one centimeter tighter and you’re in”? But you can’t, technique is about sensations. We can talk about technique but the person who really figures it out is the person who is singing. If you have a teacher who is teaching A technique, I might buy part of that but the teacher is still just talking — they’re trying to convey an idea. When someone says, “bring that more forward” you might try it but it keeps getting worse.Then you might stop and try something else and the teacher says, “that’s it!” it might be that the sensation was to let the voice go really far back. You can end up describing “the correct” thing in completely opposite ways. There’s no standardization in it. Therefor, I find it very difficult to talk about technique in general as opposed to technique specifically, as in your technique. I can talk about what your singing sounds like to me and then give you my opinion. I could say that if you’re going for more of what I do, which is the only thing I’m an authority on, then you might want to try this and this. It’s all just suggestions.

SDR: Would you say that the most important skill a teacher has is their ear as opposed to their ability to tell you what to do?

FP: No, no, It’s both. There is no accreditation process for voice teachers. I’ve always felt that if you want to study voice, study with someone who has had a career. Find someone who understands a little about what it takes to be working. There’s more to being a singer than just a good technique. A good technique is going to get things started but if you’re with someone who has been in the business, they’ve heard a lot of different kinds of singing and they nudge you in different ways than someone who just went to school to become a voice teacher. I’m not saying those teacher have nothing to give. Everyone who teaches voice has something to give. None of them are walking around being completely wrong but not every teacher is right for every student. You have to be able to communicate with each other and that’s hard. Learning how to sing is really about two individuals seeking something for one individual. You want to talk about vocal technique? I think that’s a big, messy subject and the second you say something, everyone else starts trying to say something different —which is why I don’t talk technique in interviews. If you want to sit down at a piano and talk about your singing — anytime — I’m easy that way but when it comes to technique in general, I really don’t have that much to say.

SDR: How often have you sung Canio?

FP: I think this is the fifth time.

SDR: Have you set the character or are you still exploring?

FP: Every role is different every time you do it and if it isn’t, then you’re way too big for your own britches. You’re making everybody change to your show.

SDR: You're talking about the rest of the cast?

FP: I’m talking about everybody. The conductor has to do what you do, Nedda has to do what you want. I think it’s important that these things be collaborative. That’s what makes it different than watching a DVD. It’s different each time you perform it. You can play characters in lots of different ways. This one, Canio, is an extremely dark character. What we’re doing with Canio for this production is probably the darkest depiction I’ve done. He’s tormented in this one from a lot of different directions. His ire and anger is about a man coming unglued and not just because of Nedda. It’s also because of his company falling apart, because of his career never going where he wanted it to, there is a falling and failing sense to the character in this production which isn’t like what I’ve done in any of the others. That’s [director] Andrew. He said, “I’d like to go really dark,” and I said, "okey-doke. How evil shall I be?"

SDR: I like that. It gives us a greater perspective. Canio isn’t just jealous. His entire life is failing. I’m not sure about portraying him as drunk throughout the entire show.

FP: This is the first production I’ve been in where he’s busy drinking the whole way through. In a sense he’s not sober for the entire show. He’s either coming down off a great big binge and having a few belts to get himself up and running or he’s just come back from the tavern but he’s always taking little snorts off the flask. While I’ve never done it before, we do these operas more than once so I have no problem exploring this so long as we stay within the parameters of the show. You know, in Germany they have a propensity for going way outside what the story is. Sometimes you have the music of the opera and a story that is from some other place. That, to me, is a little depressing. But as long as you keep the relationships between the characters and tell the story, in one way or another, that the composer wanted then I’m good with it and we’ll see what it yields.

SDR: A man coming unglued is certainly the story of Pagliacci.

FP: The idea of this Canio is that everything is spiraling on him and again, that’s new for me. It lends the darkest of the dark to this Canio. So, we’ll see because I’m not a dark person by nature. I’m more of a jovialonni.

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