It is a well-known fact that Italy has produced a large number of the world’s best opera singers in history. Tenor Marcello Giordani is one of them. However, Giordani’s performance at Columbia’s Italian Academy on Thursday, Feb. 24 turned out to be such an exuberant celebration of Italian poetry that it almost undermined what a great singer he is.
The recital consisted of Italian music set to Italian poetry and was sponsored by the Italian Poetry Review, a plurilingual journal of poetry and criticism.
Giordani, accompanied by pianist William Lewis, sang melodies composed by Riccardo Zandonai, Leone Sinigaglia, Sir Francesco Paolo Tosti, Ottorino Respighi, and Pietro Cimara, all of whom lived between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gabriele D’Annunzio and Arrigo Boito are among the poets whose works these composers interpreted.
Giordani has been called “arguably the greatest leading tenor of his generation” by Opera News magazine, and to anyone who attended this recital, it is no mystery why. He sang with sensitivity and precision that made the whole of the music far greater than the sum of its parts—melody and poetry.
However, not nearly enough of the concert actually included his singing. The evening began with lengthy introductions by several specialists in the fields, who gave detailed backgrounds of the poets and composers, as well as of the artist himself. There was extensive commentary between the songs by other specialists, including overly detailed analyses of the works, especially the poetry.
One such interlude included a mini-interview with Giordani, who has had several poems published in the Italian Poetry Review, about his own experience as a poet. At the end of this interview, Giordani asked jokingly, “Can I sing now?” It was a well-deserved question.
Much of the background information provided was very interesting and highly informative, especially given the unusual nature of the program. However, once Giordani began to sing, the music spoke for itself. “Music and poetry go together. Music and words, they are both the language of our feelings,” Giordani said. Had the melodies combined with the poetry been allowed to speak for themselves, the concert experience would have been far more rewarding.