A short interview with Giuseppe Sabbatini
Laurence Varga,, 1999

The italian tenor gives us an enlightning discussion of his career and future projects. Ever since his debut, twelve years ago, Giuseppe Sabbatini appeared, to many opera-lovers, to be the successor of Alfredo Kraus, because of his similar high register. His repertoire is composed mainly of 19th century Italian and French operas. Between two performances of Manon, this charming man was kind enough to answer some questions.

L.V. : Is Manon an important opera in your career ?

G.S. : The first time I sang the role of Des Grieux, it was in 1989 10 years ago !- with Raina Kabaivanska, in Bologna. Then we sang the opera again together also in Ravenna and Naples. Of course I now feel much more assured from a technical point of view and that allows me to concentrate more on the emotional aspect. Massenet has composed very beautiful and stirring arias for Des Grieux, such as the " dream song ", which ends the second act. I had made my debut in French opera, however, one year earlier in Rome, with Faust, when I stood in for one of my colleagues. I started studying voice in 1985, because my family and friends encouraged me to do so : I was about to obtain my diploma in double bass, I intended to study conducting and had never even thought about singing. Then I studied with Silvana Ferraro, in Rome, and won the international competition in Spoleto in 1987 with Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti), and you know what happened after that..

L.V. : Who advised you at that time ? I mean it is often difficult for young singers, especially tenors, to choose the right part at the right time.

G.S. : Yes, it is. In fact, I think I have the advantage being aware of what I can sing and what I cannot. I always have been. For instance, in 1988, I was asked to sing the role of Florindo in Maschere by Mascagni, but I held out for the part of Arlecchino, which was better for me at this time. It is important to be able to answer " no " at times, you just have to do it.

L.V. : In november 1998, You made your debut as Arnold (Guillaume Tell by Rossini ; the production was repeated in May 1999 during the WienerFestwochen. See the article 1st May), a very famous part with numerous top C's. Nourrit sang these high notes with a head voice, as was usual to those times, whereas Duprez sang them with a chest voice, which horrified Italian operalovers but is now common practice. Do you think it possible, or even desirable, to go back to the previous technique ?

G.S. : No, I don't think so. First of all, this technique is different from the usual for the high register and is not well known, nowadays, by singers. Secondly,it seems to me that people expect a certain kind of sound and that they will, in a way, be shocked or disappointed. It would require a different musical education ! By the way, don't forget that the role of Arnold is also sung in the best " bel canto " manner ; he is not only heroic but also suffers doubts and pain...

L.V. : Do you have a personal opinion about why Rossini retired after writing Guillaume Tell ?

G.S. : I consider Rossini a genius. He very probably introduced a new kind of music for the years to come. On the other hand, it could have been a kind of music that was too distant for him, so he retired.

L.V. : On stage, you look very much at ease. How do you define your relations with directors ?

G.S. : Unfortunately, most directors get involved more with the behaviour of the character I mean, his relationship with the world, the people around him- than in the psychological grounds for such attitudes. Outside and not sufficiently inside. I always hope I will find a director who really helps me to feel the part, to suggest new aspects that I had not previously seen. Of course, I have met fantastic directors, and what I have said is not generally true by any meansHowever, I always take great care to work in collaboration, not in competition. You see, sometimes you feel a role is very close to you, whereas sometimes it is not and it is much more difficult to act as the character might. It has happened to me that I say to myself : " what a foolish man, I would never behave that way ! "(he laughs).

L.V. : You sing a very good French. How do you practice ?

G.S. : It is true that I pay a lot of attention to my prononciation. In 1994, I sang Manon in Covent Garden under the baton of Sir Colin Davis, and since then I have studied a lot with Janine Reiss, who is absolutely fantastic. I also read old French books about the composers of the operas I sing. I also listened to recordings of Nicolai Gedda, who is a real reference for French and I hope that by now I sing in good French.

L.V. : Yes, you really do. I know you also sing the role of Lenski (Eugen Oneguin by Tchaikovsky) and you pay the same attention to the Russian language. Critics awarded you " Abbiati Prize " for your interpretation, didn't they?

G.S : Yes, they did. I am very proud of it.

L.V. : You sing many other French roles: Hofmann (Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Offenbach), Faust (Faust by Gounod and La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz) , Roméo (Roméo et Juliette by Gounod), Nicias (Thaïs by Massenet), Werther (Werther by Massenet), Fra Diavolo (Fra Diavolo by Auber) or Nadir (Les pêcheurs de perles by Bizet). Which is your favourite ?

G.S. : Without a doubt, Massenet is my favourite French composer. I find his music really wonderful and new. In the future, not immediate, I would like to conduct orchestras, which was my first ambition, and I would love to conduct the fantastic French operas I have sung. On the other hand, German operas also attract me a lot, such as Wagner's.but not for another ten years ! My favourite role is probably Werther, even if I also love Faust and Des Grieux.

L.V. : During the past season (1998-1999) you made your debuts in several roles : Dom Sebastien (Donizetti) in Bologna, Arnold (Guillaume Tell) in Vienna and before that, Roméo in Turin. What have you planned for the coming months ?

G.S. : In August (1999) I will leave Italy for Japan ; I have a big opera tour with La Damnation de Faust, Elisir d'Amore and recitals. At the end of october I will return to Milan to sing Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, wich will be conducted by Riccardo Muti. In December of this year I will be in London to make my debut in the title role of Benvenuto Cellini, another opera by Berlioz ! In January and February of the year 2000, I will be again in Vienna with Linda di Chamounix and I Puritani with Edita Gruberova. I shall be happy to return to the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in March 2000 : I gave a recital there in 1989, devoted to songs by Paolo Tosti. I will be making my debut in Mitridate, rè di Ponto. This opera was composed by Mozart when he was only fourteen years old, but it is a real challenge, both vocally and theatrically. A great challenge, which I like very much !


Page last edited on: February 16, 2003