Tenor Freddie De Tommaso is one of operas rising stars, and his star is only getting brighter. His debut album, newly released from Decca, Passione has celebrated two weeks at number one on the UK’s Classical music chart, before jetting out to Vienna for his performances in Macbeth and Der Rosenkavalier, he very kindly agreed to talk to me about his album and career to date.
Why did you choose the repertoire that you did for your debut album?
When I first started my deal with Decca, when we were talking about planning our first album I was still a student basically, at the Bayerische Staatsoper studio programme. I hadn’t done many roles on the stage and so we thought it would be good to do a first album of not just the standard arias that everybody does because I hadn’t performed any of the operas yet. I also really love the song repertoire that we’ve put out, I feel that it’s kind of fallen by the wayside a bit, I wanted to bring them back in the public focus and also because the singers that I love from the past sang these songs a lot and I wanted to share those with people.
You’ve said previously that the album has been inspired by Franco Corelli and your father, would you mind telling me a bit more about how they inspired you here?
So my Dad loved classical music, he was always playing it, our family had a restaurant in the town where I grew up, and in his restaurant he would always play it, also in the car, just around the house, that sort of thing. My father died when I was 18, so he’s always kind of in the back of my head, for anything that I do, and Corelli because he, for me, is the ultimate tenor, he was my inspiration when I was studying in London and I just think he’s the God of tenors! With the 100th anniversary of his birth this year, 1921 to 2021, it was a nice way to kind of honour him in that way.
When you were preparing for some of the arias on the album did you listen to Corelli a lot?
Yeah for some of the arias, a big span of singers for a lot of the repertoire: Di Stefano, Del Monaco, because those Mantovani arrangements were written for Del Monaco, so it was good to hear how he did them. I also listened to Pavarotti for the Tosti, and Mattinata [Leoncavallo] as well. I really take a lot of inspiration from the tenors of that generation.
Did you record the album during the pandemic?
Yeah it was in that sort of gap where it seemed like everything was getting better and then it got worse again at Christmas! We just managed to get it in that gap, a week of work in Watford, North London.
How was it recording during that period?
It was ok, we had to find a colossal space to fit the orchestra in. All the usual places where Decca normally records orchestras in, because of the social distancing requirements, they weren’t big enough. The Watford Coliseum is absolutely ginormous so that worked!
It’s got quite a rich recording history in itself, Maria Callas recorded there a couple of times, and Pavarotti recorded one of his Decca albums in there. It was a good little bit of history to get to contribute to there.
What are your favourite songs on the album?
I really love L’alba sepàra dalla luce l’ombra, it’s just such a great song and it’s a delight to sing really. I think of all the album, all the pieces we recorded that was the one where I really enjoyed myself the very most, that and getting to do the orchestrations of the Puccini songs [Sole e amore and Mentìa l’avviso] are kind of like a world premiere in a way, that was really cool as well.
Were there any other surprises or challenges with recording the album?
Recording is hard! You have to be on top top form for a long period of time; a three hour session doesn’t sound much but when you’re really trying to give everything the best you possibly can, those sessions feel very long! Very fun, though! I remember on the first day when I got there and saw the big truck of the orchestra outside, I was like ‘oh my god, this is actually happening, this is real!’
Your next performances are at the Wiener Staatoper, Macduff in Macbeth and the Italian singer in Der Rosenkavalier, how are you feeling about those?
I’m excited, Macbeth will be great, it’s quite a nice part Macduff, you get to sing that great aria, not too stressful. Der Rosenkavalier will be an experience, it’s quite tricky, a super short role, I’m not singing for more than 3 and a half, 4 minutes, but it’s hard, it’s not usually cast with my voice type, it’s usually a lyric tenor, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m also really looking forward to it as a friend of mine, Louise Alder is in it so that will be nice.
You’ve done quite a bit in Vienna this season already, with Nabucco and Madama Butterfly.
I have a residency with the Wiener Staatsoper for two seasons, this season and next season. Next season I have a lot of big debuts there, and performances coming up at the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Liceu Barcelona and La Scala over the next few seasons too. Watch this space!
You said earlier that your father was really in to opera, is that how you got in to singing it in the first place?
Sort of, me and my brothers had opera in our subconscious all the way from childhood, but it was actually when I started to study, when I went to the Royal Academy of Music really that I got into it I’d say.
You weren’t a tenor originally were you?
That’s right, I started off as a baritone for almost two years and then after that my teacher decided, after having heard me for a long time, he thought ok now we’re going to send my voice up in to the sky!
Have you begun thinking about album number 2?
Yeah we’re starting to put together a repertoire list; it will be opera this time! There’s so much great Italian repertoire, I don’t just want to do it all immediately though. In terms of the time periods within Italian opera there’s bel canto, then into the more mature Verdi, Puccini, and verismo, there’s such a huge amount of great stuff so I think I’ll go slowly, period by period.
Freddie De Tommaso’s debut album from Decca, conducted by Renato Belsadonna, Passione is available now!