Ionut Pascu enjoys his work. Considering the person in question is an opera singer, that should be a given. But the Romanian-born baritone’s familial background suggests that he was introduced to the wonders of music with a smile and, probably, a giggle or two.
“The musical background in my family was more like a playground, because my grandfather and one of my elder cousins played the accordion just for fun and they were self-taught,” he recalls. That led to the infant also trying out on the squeeze box.
“Maybe because that was the only instrument generating musical joy in the family meetings, I began the study of music on the accordion when I was seven, as a kind of normality,” he notes, although adding that it wasn’t just fly-by-night stuff. “In my case, it was by the book – with a teacher, music theory and everything. I guess my grandfather wanted me to become the player he always dreamt to be. He would cry every time I was playing for him.”
Clearly Pascu was destined for a serious career in music, a fact of which Israeli Opera regulars will be well aware. Over the past eight years, he has put in quite a few appearances in Tel Aviv, and the forthcoming production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra sees him take on the eponymous lead role. The curtain raiser takes place on July 3, with a further 10 performances scheduled through July 19, under the aegis of Italian conductor Giuliano Carella and British director Sir David Pountney.
The now 42-year-old soloist honed his burgeoning musical skills as an accordionist with a long stint in the Youth Folkloric Orchestra in his native Romania. By all accounts, it was a profitable phase for both Pascu and the ensemble, and even afforded him a much sought-after ability to travel outside the confines of the Soviet Bloc.
“We won several competitions and we were touring every year abroad, invited to international festivals – what a privilege in those days for a young Romanian!” he chuckles.
While classical music was largely the order of the day, the youngster also had his ears open to as much Western commercial music as he could grasp, Communist constraints notwithstanding.
“As for listening, I was never guided, so everything I could find around me was eligible for audition, on vinyl or audiotapes – from the pop, rock and disco music of the 1970s and 1980s to classical highlights.”
IT WAS a voyage of discovery on various fronts.
“It was more like curious research, distilling the music that resonated with me. As a teenager, in the philosophical search for the meaning of life, I found myself attracted to the heaviest part of rock music, with all the distorted guitars and voices, but at the same time I was discovering Frank Sinatra and the great American orchestras and their luxurious arrangements from the first half of the century. I let myself be guided by feelings, intellect and emotions.”
It was love that ultimately drew him to singing – love of the young girl who eventually became his wife. The rest, on both a personal and professional front, is history. He says his path to operatic singing became clear to him “when I realized that it is the only way to be together with the woman I love. Long story short, in 1994 (I was 16) I met a young singer that, after four years became my wife – we celebrated our 25th anniversary this year.”
Back then, Pascu had his heart set on furthering his instrumental skills at a top-notch school.
“At the time, my goal was to go to Moscow Conservatory and reach the ultimate level in classical accordion. She was the first one saying that I might have a good voice, so I was dragged to her voice teacher for further testing. To my desperation, the teacher confirmed her diagnosis. To keep things simple and happy, I had to surrender, based on the saying ‘happy wife – happy life,’” Pascu laughs. Opera studies, for both, in Bucharest soon ensued.
Pascu mentions feted Spanish singer Placido Domingo as a multifaceted role model “not just for being a wonderful artist and person, but for being the one that, in my mind, broke the boundaries and the prejudgments of the opera singer.”
The Romanian is delighted to have landed the titular role in Simone Boccanegra.
“Verdi has given to the musical world the most complex fatherly figures, most of them sung by baritones – Rigoletto, Nabucco, Gérmont, Miller, Boccanegra, etc.”
Verdi, he says, is a master at tugging on heartstrings.
“I remember how, while I was studying for the first time Rigoletto, alone in my studio, I couldn’t finish the last scene because of the involuntary tears. He knows what buttons to push in order to trigger the deepest and most immediate emotions. It’s the same case in Boccanegra, where love, devotion and death are the main ingredients. The flowing vocal lines are so well written that subtle acting comes as a natural consequence.”
Like Domingo, who spent two and half years with the Israeli Opera at an early stage of what was to become a glittering career, Pascu is more than happy to play for Israeli opera lovers.
“I met a lot of people from the audience after many shows, in organized meetings called talkbacks,” he says. “There, some of the artists are in direct dialogue with the public, ready to answer questions about the production itself or any other curiosity about them. So, there’s already a familiar bond and their degree of culture and interest is for me a real motivation to run my engines always at 110%, as long as they last.”
For more information and tickets: (03) 692-7777 and www.israel-opera.co.il
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