It took a number of tries for Benjamin Bernheim to make his Metropolitan Opera debut.
Having sung on the key levels of Europe — in London, Paris, Vienna and elsewhere — this French tenor (and champion of the French repertoire) was meant to reach on the Met in 2020, in Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette.” As soon as the pandemic worn out reside efficiency for many of that 12 months, in addition to the one to come back, it was time for an additional plan.
And now, after a number of false begins, after navigating the difficult logistics of opera and making changes to spend time together with his daughter in Zurich, Bernheim is starring because the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” by Dec. 8.
“When you consider it like tennis and the Grand Slams, the Met was kind of the final,” he mentioned in a latest interview, referring to that sport’s largest, most high-profile tournaments.
Not each singer who has constructed a status in Europe is a match for the Met, which like many American homes is cavernous by comparability. Voices both work there or they don’t.
His tone is a pliant one — most frequently gracefully luxurious, but additionally agile and, crucially for the Met, penetrating at each a growth and a whisper. Reviewing Bernheim’s debut final Thursday, the critic Oussama Zahr wrote in The New York Instances that “his center voice, elegant and ringing as on the recordings, rises into an higher register of a wholly completely different high quality, and that’s when it will get thrilling. He’s a lyric tenor who roars on prime with genuinely thrilling, auditorium-filling sound.”
“Rigoletto” received’t be the one showcase for Bernheim’s voice on the Met. Peter Gelb, the corporate’s normal supervisor, mentioned that he’s scheduled to return subsequent season — in “Roméo,” eventually — and that the home is hoping to deliver him again for extra roles within the close to future. (Works that Bernheim is hoping so as to add to his repertoire within the coming years embody Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” and “Don Carlos,” within the unique French, in fact.)
For now, New York audiences can get acquainted with Bernheim by the Duke, in an interpretation that goes towards the grain of many from the Met’s previous. Within the interview, he mentioned why, and mirrored on his debut. Listed here are edited excerpts from the dialog.
How have you ever adjusted your voice to carry out on the Met?
The Met feels very completely different when it comes to the colours that you are able to do. That is certainly one of, I don’t wish to say my specialties, however issues that I do — particularly in French repertoire, as a result of it calls for enjoying with all the colours in my voice. In some locations, it’s actually comfy, and in some locations, I’ve to recalibrate my voice and my projection. And I’m very versatile, like a Formulation One driver: Each circuit is completely different.
What does that imply precisely?
In Vienna, the place I sang the Duke a month in the past, I really feel that the whole thing of my voice responds in the identical manner. On the Met, I’ve to calibrate. I attempted a brand new strategy of singing on the Met that’s a lot narrower; I needed to regulate my voice to make it work. What I wish to do once I’m onstage, greater than being a vocal singer, is be a storyteller. And with the Duke, I see a person who has been raised in a courtroom, raised to be sturdy, to don’t have any weak point, to be very eloquent, very educated. It has to point out a number of class within the singing; there may be this noblesse in his blood. He needs to be an orateur, somebody who is aware of how one can appeal to a crowd. For me, an important factor, wherever I sing, is to deliver the breadth and class of the phrase to the viewers, and each home interprets it differently.
It’s fascinating to listen to you describe the function like that, as a result of it comes out, I feel, in probably the most well-known aria, “La donna è cellular,” which a number of tenors deal with as a preening showpiece however you play with coolness.
I agree, and that is my model of the Duke. I additionally assume that the Duke, compared to what folks assume, is a way more unhappy individual, a really lonely individual. He’s alone on the highest of his throne, and whenever you’re on the highest, there isn’t any one you may speak to. I additionally assume that he lives as a seducer as an enormous manner of defending himself.
I don’t know if that is one thing actual, however I made a decision to take it. In a type of Avant-Scène Opéra books in France, I learn from a musicologist that in keeping with Verdi’s librettist, “La donna è cellular” needs to be seen because the little favourite music of the Duke, like his motto. And this may make sense. He falls in love with Gilda, and it is a method to come again to his Duke middle. I think about that his uncle, his father, his massive brother or cousin taught him this music when he was a bit of boy to say: “Don’t go too shut. Don’t get hooked up. Preserve it simple. If not, you’re going to get harm.”
That might clarify why, then, you’re most emotive when the Duke is alone within the second act.
Sure. What’s he doing when he’s alone? I discovered it good and susceptible of the Duke to not sit on his throne however go in an virtually fetal place. I don’t assume he’s actually in ache, however with Gilda there’s a massive query mark, immediately a doubt. And for the viewers, perhaps hope that he’ll meet love for the primary time. When folks come, he doesn’t wish to see them; he needs to be together with his ideas. That’s why I feel it’s good to see him alone. He exhibits his energy, however alone he’s a bit of boy. You see the person together with his contradictions.
And for “La donna è cellular,” it’s fascinating to see a person considering and making an attempt to make the phrases imply one thing for him. I’m certain lots of people are ready for that to be a shiny second. However I’m a storyteller, and I wish to deliver this layer. It’s necessary to have a brand new coloration of this function in New York. It’s been sung by all the nice tenors of the world right here. That is my model of it, and we’ll see how folks reply.
Once you come again, it will likely be in a French opera, which makes up a lot of your repertoire.
I used to do the children’ choir in Geneva, and I heard lots of people singing French, but it surely didn’t make sense to me — to sing French like that, with a rolled R, and in a manner that I couldn’t perceive. I actually didn’t just like the French repertoire for a very long time, till I heard Natalie Dessay and Roberto Alagna.
The custom of French grand opera is tough to put in homes in the present day, however I want to deliver it again to one thing that’s extra reachable, to deliver that again to the viewers. It’s not the factor that I sing greatest, but it surely’s the factor that I wish to help and characterize extra. Generally it closes a door, however that is one thing that I actually wish to do.