Thursday, September 9, 2010

New feature: Profile of Emmanuel di Villarosa

You might recall my post about Norma at Caramoor in July. I wrote about Emmanuel di Villarosa, who sang Pollione. I deduced he was sick after viewing some YouTube videos of past performances and comparing to his performance the night I heard him. He posted a comment to my entry confirming that he had a terrible sinus infection for both performances of Norma

Here is a video of Mr. di Villarosa in rehearsal, singing Pollione's aria "Meco all'altar di Venere". Much better! In fact, I think it's as good as or better than anything else he has on YouTube.

Since that post--which remains one of the most popular posts on this blog--I've struck up an acquaintance with Mr. di Villarosa's wife, Jill. In an effort to make this blog a little more interesting, I'm going to start to write features about current singers who strike my fancy, who should be better known. I asked Jill to forward some questions to her husband for the first such feature.

What was your background and training?

I began singing around the age of five. I won a talent show at ten and began vocal lessons after my mother attended the show and realized that I had a talent for it. Around the age of eleven I discovered Mario Lanza and wanted to sing like he did which began my operatic journey. During High School I sang two years in a row in the state literary competition in boy's solo. The first year year I placed fourth in the region the second year I won first place in State. I was also accepted to the Governor's Honor's Program for singing and won Best Talent in the state of GA. My award was to sing with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra at Stone Mountain Park. I sang the Flower aria from Carmen to over twenty thousand people, I was seventeen.

After high school I attended Manhattan School of Music on a full scholarship, then studied privately with my vocal teacher, Giovanni Consiglio, whom I found through one of my Metropolitan Opera contacts, Nico Castel. During this time I had auditioned for many apprentice programs but I was never accepted. My teacher and I were befuddled. I decided to skip the apprentice programs and go right to singing principal roles. I then began singing principal roles with small opera houses in and around NYC. Much to our amusement, I couldn't get work as an apprentice, but I could land jobs singing principal roles. I slowly gained a reputation as a solid young tenor and was approached by a small agent in NYC. My first few auditions were a disaster. After I gained my composure during auditions, I began getting jobs. My first was with the NYC Opera touring company as Rodolfo in La Boheme followed by a string of medium to large regional companies. I auditioned for the Met national competition and won the Luciano Pavarotti award. Shortly there after, I was singing and covering roles at the Met.

What was the best and the worst thing about spending several years in Europe?

The best part of living in Europe was getting to know the culture. The Europeans have a very different approach to life than Americans do and it was a pleasure to discover just how different and similar our cultures are. I think the worst part of living in Europe was not speaking the language. I was based first in Austria then Germany and I had no formal training in the language. Once I was able to overcome this obstacle, it made my life much easier.

What's the best lesson you learned in Europe?

Well, before this recession there was plenty of work especially in Europe. The best lesson I learned was how to discipline myself for the 70 on average performances a season I was doing. Learning how to travel light, finding a way to make each hotel room comfortable and in general being able to raise the bar of my performances. I hold a high minimum standard and I learned how to do this in Europe with all the many houses I was singing in.

Do you have any thoughts about the career training American singers have as opposed to the training European singers have?

I find that many of the Europeans are trained equally as well. A great singer is a great singer. Having said that, I find that the European public and opera house administrations tend to admire American singers, while over here it is the opposite.

Talk about your "Music for a Home" project. How did it get started? How is it going?

My wife had this idea last year after I received three phone calls last May canceling 58 out of the 72 performances I had scheduled in my calendar. We had just purchased our home the year before and I had plenty of work lined up. I put all of my savings down on the house knowing I would be able to make it back in a few years.

When the recession started to become global we were faced with a real problem. I was able to put only a little bit of money away from the time I purchased my home until this recession went into full swing. We knew that we were going to fall behind on the house payments, so in order to prevent that and help us survive, my wife had the idea of selling CDs via the internet. We have sold about 350 over the last year. It wasn't what we were hoping for but it helped out quite a bit.

We are hoping to open this idea up to other struggling artists who find themselves in the same boat as we are. Talented musicians who need extra income in order to make ends meet. The idea being, make a professional quality CD and sell it through our site. Unfortunately, we are still in the red. I have no work scheduled for this season and as of right now no income, so I have to concentrate on saving our own necks. We are desperately pushing this CD again with hopes of trying to sell just 500 before the end of Sept. Anyone interested in helping can visit us at

You're over 30. How has your voice changed over the years?

My voice has changed in so many ways, yet it still has much of the same quality it did when I was a younger man. I have been told that my voice has become a little richer and darker now. I still have the same passion that I always had when I sang but now my voice is much more controlled and singing has never been easier for me than it has been these past few years. Singing has always been an essential part of my being. I wanted to sing professionally when I was 11 years old. I was fortunate in life that I had a clear goal and direction from a very young age. I won't say that the road was easy, quite the opposite in fact, but I sacrificed for my career knowing that one day, if I stayed true to it, I would find my definition of success.

Do you work with young singers? What kind of career advice do you give them?

I do work with singers of all ages. For the young ones, I tell them the truth. This is a very difficult career and only those that are willing to sacrifice and discipline themselves need to pursue it. I also try to get them to find their own individuality; to make the music on the page their own, and to try to inspire the listeners. I find that too many singers are afraid to really expose themselves and we are allowing many singer's to sing "safe" and not with risk. Without risk there is no reward.

What's your favorite role to sing? (And don't take the cop-out "Whatever I'm singing next!")

Don Jose in Carmen hands down. I love the music but, more importantly, I love the role for what it allows me to do with my acting; the incredible transformation that Don Jose makes from the beginning of the opera to the end.

My favorite question from "Inside the Actor's Studio": What's your favorite swear word?

When I was on the New York City tour of La Boheme, I was always running late in the mornings. I was always the last one on the bus and always standing when the bus took off. The driver also had a heavy foot and I found myself being tossed around nearly falling on almost every morning. My dear friend, baritone John Packard, was with me on the tour and he told everyone that he believed I could use the word "Fuck" in just about any sentence and in any situation imaginable.

I invite you, my dear readers, to submit more questions for Manny, as well as ideas for future victims subjects!