Ludovic Tézier is rightly regarded as the greatest Verdi baritone in the world today, his debut album, fittingly titled Verdi was released today and Ludovic very kindly agreed to talk to me.
Firstly, thank you for talking to me! Tell me a bit about the petition you started with Jonas Kaufmann, it got a lot of traction and people signing up to get governments to do more to protect the arts.
I see it [the petition] as a small brick in a huge wall, trying to make people understand that life isn’t just about the virus, it’s about culture, about what we want to do with our life.
What Jonas and I were trying to do was say to the people, to politics, that the last flag we have to defend in Europe, much more than Mercedes Benz or Airbus, is our culture, and that’s exactly what we have to share, to preserve for our future, and our children’s future, it’s very important to preserve it, it’s not just the future financially for a generation but a way of life. If it’s decided that culture is no longer the centre of our way of life, everything changes, that’s why we decided to make our letter, and with our quote from Winston Churchill which I think really added a power “when asked to cut funding for the Arts to support the war effort, [Churchill] responded with an incomparable panache ‘Then what would we be fighting for?’”, I think it’s quite a strong statement, it’s very inspiring.
Surely this virus which has killed many people shouldn’t kill our way of life, for me art is the last way to improve yourself, whether beautiful music or art, it’s very important to us to defend it, and to give a chance to the next generation to go on, why should it stop now? It’s crazy.
How have you found performing during the pandemic?
It’s a weird time always facing a restricted audience now. It has always been a privilege to be on stage but nowadays it’s so much more than that.
Every time I’m on stage now, I’m fighting for my job, not my job, not Ludo Tézier’s job, but my professions.
To sing is a profession but its much more than that, it is my life, and it’s something I wish to share with people. I go on stage because I love Mozart, I love Verdi, but I can sing at home with certain pleasure, but I love my job for sharing this love I have, of those masterpieces, with people, it is important to show the public, look, this guy was such a genius who wrote such a line, or colour, or phrase, that this is really beautiful, a human accomplishment. Its much more than music, it’s one of the most fantastic accomplishments in human history, something to be kept.
You’re releasing your debut album! How did you choose what to include?
It wasn’t easy to choose the operas, the tracklist. I love Verdi like a son who loves his beloved father, he’s part of the family, so it’s quite difficult to say ‘hey Giuseppe, I’m sorry about that, I’ll sing just this one or that one’.
The average for a Verdi baritone aria is super high quality, among this collection of great arias, of course you have some of them that are even better, even more expressive. So our way to choose what we wanted to sing and to give on this cd , there were two motivations, the first one, the expectations of the public, the famous arias, there are reasons for why they’re famous and also we have chosen those that are more intimate, I don’t mean vocally but intimate in a feeling.
We only had four days to record this album, which, to record 14 great arias, was really challenging. 90-95% of the arias on the cd were one-shot [recorded straight through], we preferred to let some small things in, we wanted it to give a true experience and not a ‘cut, cut, cut’ put some glue and stick back together, because that kills something. It might be considered ‘perfect’ that way, but it’s not. Life is a perfection and of course life is not perfect, but it’s a perfection. So it means if you want to have a decent one shot, you don’t cut and add something, you have to sing it 5 times, or 6 times. So if you consider 4 days, 14 arias, sometimes sung 5 times, it’s a lot! Fortunately it was in Italy, Bologna, so I drank lots of coffee! The orchestra were very much involved in it, and every day more so, it was a kind of rugby experience, a team, and very exciting.
The recordings were done with two major microphones and maybe several more when trying to help showcase a harp or other instrument, the sound is very out of cask, like a good whiskey you know, its raw, it’s good.
What are your favourites?
I’ve been really unfortunate with cancellations for Otello before but I will sing the opera with great pleasure, it’s one of the roles I’ve been aiming for for years. I’m not somebody who acts in a hurry, I take my time.
I had a real pleasure singing Dio di Giuda (from Nabucco), which is the most beautiful line you can sing, unbelievable, and I love it very much, it was a great pleasure to sing this. It’s the first time I’ve ever sung this. It felt so good singing it, a piece of beauty.
Otello was really interesting, when Verdi wants to help you, he can help you better than anybody but once he wants to sort of have the orchestra overwhelming, he wants it, at a certain moment he wants the singers drowned in the song and we shouldn’t change that, people want to listen to Verdi, and if Verdi puts your voice say in the bottom of the voice, a bit lower, and a huge orchestra there’s no fighting it, this guy was a computer, he knew everything, so accept it, assume it.
We had a lot of time to rehearse it, those last phrases on Otello, the Iago monologue is very quiet, there’s nothing, and that leads you to those beautiful words ‘La morte è il nulla’. We tried to shape this very thick sound, the silence of the death and I think it’s successful, it’s interesting, because that’s exactly how I’d like to have it staged, very slow, very peaceful, silent, cold like a stone, and then the big fantastic last chord, the laughter, it’s a great moment. This is what I consider to be Shakespeare, when Shakespeare is piano its pianissimo, when Shakespeare is forte he’s fortissimo, so when I’m singing the words of Macbeth or Otello even more because it’s much more theatrical, you have to find colour, you cannot sing it in full voice in Macbeth, it’s a dagger, you have to find the colour, so in this album we tried to find these kinds of moments.
I hope it will be a contrasting CD of what Verdi can be and show my interest in this unbelievable music.