Lucio Gallo took a pretty circuitous route to his eventual career avenue. The baritone will play the lead role in Verdi’s Macbeth, which will be performed at the Opera House in Tel Aviv from May 17 to 28.
The production will be overseen by French opera director Jean- Claude Auvray, with conducting duties shared by Auvray’s compatriot Emmanuel Joel-Hornak and Yuval Zorn. The onstage action will be enhanced by the efforts of choreographer Yoram Karmi and set and costume designer Kenny MacLellan, who fittingly hails from Scotland, with Avi Yona Bueno responsible for the lighting effects.
The 51-year-old Italian baritone initially had designs on a very different area of musical creation, starting out as a bass guitarist.
“My first love was jazz,” he says, “and I started singing professionally at the age of 17.”
That also gave him a good handle on our neck of the woods.
“I started working on cruise ships in the Mediterranean. That’s why I know Tel Aviv very well,” he notes, adding that a few years later he found himself back here, but in a very different capacity.
“When I was young, I came to Israel several times as an opera singer. I worked with Zubin Mehta and with the Israeli Opera,” he says.
In fact, the vibe of Tel Aviv and Israel was pretty familiar to Gallo from the outset.
“Each time I come here, I feel at home. I am from the south of Italy, from Taranto in Pulia [in the heel of the Italian boot], so in Tel Aviv I have the same feeling I have when I am at home,” he explains.
Truth be told, Gallo began exercising his vocal chords long before he laid his nimble fingers on a four-string guitar.
“I really started singing when I was four,” he says. “I had to sing something every day.”
Opera was still way over the horizon for the young Italian.
“I sang pop songs, and when I was 11 I got into Pink Floyd and that kind of stuff,” he recalls.
All that changed when, four years later, Gallo came across a compilation of songs performed by Frank Sinatra, who was also from Italian stock.
“I heard Sinatra singing, and I said, ‘That is what I want,’” Gallo recalls. “I thought I could be a crooner, and from that moment, I started to learn all the Sinatra repertoire.”
The youngster got the material down pat and was soon fronting a big band for the aural delight of passengers on cruise ships that plied the eastern Mediterranean.
It looked like the young man’s singing exploits were about to be put on hold when, at the age of 21, after four years of crooning, he began a year of compulsory military service in the Italian army.
However, one of his commanding officers was a keen music fan, and Gallo was instructed to organize some entertainment for the troops.
Gallo was determined to maintain his musical continuum and aimed to study double bass and become a bona fide jazz instrumentalist. However, a chance encounter pointed him in an operatic direction.
“I met an old friend who played lots of instruments, and I asked him how I could get into a music conservatory to learn to play double bass,” Gallo recalls.
The friend had other ideas.
“He asked me why I didn’t try singing, to learn to be a singer at a conservatory,” he continues. “I told him that I knew there was a jazz class at the conservatory, but he said, ‘No, opera.’ I told him I hated opera and never listened to opera.”
Undeterred, the friend pointed Gallo in the direction of a professor named Elio Battaglia at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin.
“He told me that Elio Battaglia didn’t just teach opera, that he taught German lieder, oratorium, French songs and many other things,” he continues.
And so it came to pass. The Battaglia-Gallo made good musical bedfellows, and the teacher displayed his eclectic approach when he suggested that the youngster sing a commercial musical number at the audition rather than try to wrap his relatively novice vocal chords around operatic material.
“I sang [Sinatra hit] ‘New York, New York.’ It was a good thing to sing in that hall,” he says.
The young student duly made rapid progress under Battaglia’s tutelage. Within two years, Gallo won his first singing competition, landed a small part in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and by 1988, at the age of 29, he found himself performing alongside preeminent opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
Now a star in his own right, Gallo is delighted to be back in Tel Aviv and to be taking the lead in Verdi’s Macbeth. It is a role he knows well, having performed it more than 80 times over the last decade and a half.
It is the first of three works Verdi based on a Shakespearean play, and the composer could hardly have chosen a more dramatic or emotive textual substratum for his music.
“I love this role,” says Gallo. “It is one of the most complex characters in opera. To begin with, the man [Macbeth] is completely terrified of his work.”
Macbeth, a military leader, is informed by witches that he is destined to become king of Scotland. However, his excitement is tempered when he learns that he is not destined to kick-start a long line of royalty but that the progeny of his friend and fellow general, Banquo, will take the throne. Consumed by jealousy and lust for power and, spurred on by his scheming wife, Macbeth embarks on a murderous spree, as he attempts to remove anyone he perceives as a threat to his attempts to keep the Scottish crown in his family.
“Verdi really loved Shakespeare.
He also did Otello and Falstaff, and I think these are Verdi’s best operas,” says Gallo. “I am really happy to be doing this role, especially in Tel Aviv.”
Gallo will share the lead part with compatriot Vittorio Vitelli. The cast includes Italian soprano Maria Pia Piscitelli and Israeli Ira Bertman as Lady Macbeth; Italian bass Riccardo Zanellato and Georgian bass Gocha Datusani as Banquo; and Uruguayan tenor Gaston Rivero and Salvatore Cordella of Italy as McDuff.For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777; www.israel-opera.co.il