Director: Stefano Ranzani
- Ferruccio furlanetto (Raimondo)
- Renato Bruson (Enrico)
- Mariella Devia (Lucia)
- Marco Berti (Arturo)
- Vincenzo La Scola (Edgardo)
Vincenzo La Scola, was a powerful Italian operatic tenor, spoken of – by record labels, at least – in the same breath as his mentor Luciano Pavarotti, and his compatriots Enrico Caruso and Carlo Bergonzi.
La Scola was one of many to be touted as “the fourth tenor” and made his mark in the English-speaking world in Vita Mia, a duet with Cliff Richard on the album Real As I Wanna Be which, while flattering to his image, helped to ensure that his British opera career never took off. That was a matter of regret, because he was a fine singer with a golden tone, “in full command of a soaring lyric voice, at once tender and powerful”, as one critic remarked. He drew great depths of emotion from Italian composers such as Puccini and Verdi.
La Scola’s sole venture with the Royal Opera was not at Covent Garden, but at the Kenwood outdoor concerts, in north London in June 1990, when he stood in at short notice as Rodolfo, the impoverished bohemian in Puccini’s La Bohème, conducted by a young Antonio Pappano. His performance was hailed as a triumph: “He is full of ardent singing, and his top notes shook the Kenwood rhododendrons in their beds,” noted Richard Morrison. “If he goes on to great things, he will not forget the remarkable circumstances of his British debut.”
However, the temptations of crossover were never far away. In 1998 he sang at Althorp Park in support of the newly-established Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. A 20-concert season with Cliff Richard at the Royal Albert Hall became something of a tribute act to Pavarotti, the highlight of which was an account of Nessun Dorma that delighted the crowds but exposed the differences between their voices.
La Scola dismissed any comparison with his illustrious forebears. “I don’t know if I will be like the three tenors,” he told a newspaper in 1996. “I just want to be able to sing well.”
Vincenzo La Scola was born in Palermo, Italy, on January 25 1958, to middle-class parents who ensured that he learnt the rudiments of music on flute and guitar. At first he nursed an ambition only to be a waiter because “I liked the way they dressed, with the black tuxedos and the bow ties.”
He was studying Biology at university when, aged 19, he “discovered” his voice and began taking singing lessons. Two years later Pavarotti heard the young Vincenzo at the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago and recommended the young man to his own teacher, Arrigo Pola, in Modena. There, rather like Puccini’s Rodolfo who lives in a cold Parisian garret, the impecunious La Scola found lodgings in the bell tower of a church for six months. Fortunately, the bell was not working.
A prize in the Verdi Voices competition in Busetto, in 1982, brought him engagements as well as coaching from Bergonzi. He made his opera debut in 1983 in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and was soon heard in Brussels in L’Elisir d’Amore under Sir John Pritchard. La Scala, Milan, came calling in 1988 (L’Elisir d’Amore again), when he stepped in at short notice for Pavarotti, who had fallen out with the conductor, Giuseppe Patane. The event drew angry heckling from Italians who had expected to see their hero.
Riccardo Muti invited him on a tour of the Soviet Union with the La Scala Ensemble, and in 1991 he was heard in San Francisco and was soon at the Met in New York (Rodolfo, in 1993). During his first performance he was mortified when he stepped into the wings to be told that he was “terrific” which, with his limited English, he understood as terrificante (terrible). He was a particular favourite in Chicago where, as well as La Bohème, he also sang in Tosca.
The sales success of his collaboration with Cliff Richard led to an attempt by EMI to market La Scola as a crossover artist in his own right, with an album – also called Vita Mia (2009) – which included guest appearances by Richard and by the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. Other recordings included Il Tabarro with the Vienna Philharmonic under Giuseppe Sinopoli.
In the opera house La Scola brought both musical and personal discernment to his choice of repertoire, for example rarely singing Madame Butterfly because he found Pinkerton’s abandonment of his young bride distasteful. But he was willing to try Radames (in Verdi’s Aida) with conductors as diverse in their approach as Zubin Mehta and Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
The Italian president invited him to sing at several official New Year’s Day concerts and in 2000 he became a UN Goodwill Ambassador. From 2004 he was artistic director at the Accademia Verdi Toscanini in Parma.
He eschewed smart restaurants while on tour, famously sampling the ciabatta and pasta from local delicatessens. “Americans just don’t know how to make pasta al dente,” he complained to the Washington Post in 1996.