Q & A with Michael Chioldi
How were you first introduced to opera?
Growing up in an Italian-American family outside of Pittsburgh, PA, I can remember my grandfather Guglielmo listening to the Texaco Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. The Chioldi family originates from Parma, Italy, and carries a very old Italian name. The Chioldis worked on facades of churches all throughout Italy, many of which took over 100 years to complete, involving several generations of workmen. And some of the best food in the world comes from Parma, including Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma. I guess what I’m getting at is that, although I was exposed to it at a very early age, opera is naturally in my blood. Spaghetti sauce runs through these veins!
What do you like about performing as Scarpia?
Scarpia is a dream role for all dramatic baritones. Act 2 of Tosca is probably my very favorite act in all of opera. And certainly one of the most expertly devised dramatic scenes ever composed. From his first dramatic entrance music to his very last breath, Puccini’s Scarpia is a work of genius. Baritones do not often get such compelling characters to play nor enthralling music to sing. In Scarpia, Puccini has developed the most dynamic of characters with the most beautiful and powerful music, often in direct contrast with one another. Talk about a challenge! I mean, who wouldn’t want to do this role? I feel extremely blessed every time I get to do it.
What are the biggest challenges in opera for performers?
I would have to say two things. Firstly, the sacrifice of always being away from your friends, family and loved ones is very difficult. Often times you find yourself in a country where you do not speak the language and don‘t know anyone in the cast. This can be isolating and very challenging. But the love that you get from the audiences makes up for that in a big way. Secondly, I would have to say staying ever-conscious of your health and surroundings. Many of you might be shocked to learn that if I get ill and cannot sing, I do not get paid. That’s right. If I cancel a night’s performance, I do not get paid. SO, I’m constantly washing my hands and trying to stay clear of sniffling people. You should see me on airplanes. It is a sight to behold. I look like some sort of science experiment.
You’ve performed several of the same characters but in different productions. How do you make each performance unique?
I am always striving to find new and different angles to play as I grow and mature as an artist. As your technique is mastered it frees you artistically to try and experiment with different readings of lines. Different colors, shadings, innuendos, tempi. Also, you are rarely faced with exactly the same components in each differing production of the same opera. For instance, I have sung with our wonderful Tosca, Cavaradossi and conductor before. Some even in this opera. But not all together at the same time. Even if the components were all the same, we are always growing and changing as people and artists. On any given day our reading of a certain character will be different from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. It is what makes what we do so rewarding and exciting.