Where Are The Verdi baritones?
The MET lists 26 baritones in its roster of artists. Of the two dozen or so middle-voiced male singers listed therein this listener could single out a total of six who could feasibly be called Italian baritones not by passport but by virtue of their voice type. The fact that four of those happen to be Italians by birth and by training is no mere coincidence, but a significant fact.
We will in no way disparage the artistic accomplishments of invaluable artists such as Sir Thomas Allen, Dwayne Croft, Gerald Finley, Rod Gilfry, Nathan Gunn, Mariusz Kwiecien, Alexey Lavrov, Lucas Meachem and Michael Volle, most if not all of whom have made occasional forays at different stages of their careers into the Verdi roles that make up the bulk of the Italian operatic repertoire, even though their areas of specialization lie elsewhere.
By the same token, young newcomers already inducted into the artistic roster at the MET should not be expected to nor will they be likely to undertake any Verdi roles anytime soon. But our concern and the title of this post is Where Are The Verdi baritones?
George Gadnidze and Zeljko Lucic have been heard at the MET in recent years in the major Verdi roles: Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, Amonasro… But they are mature artists nearing the beginning of the end of their careers. Tragically, the extraordinary Dimitri Hvorostovsky may have already arrived at that critical turning point, due to his bout with a brain tumor.
Over the past several seasons the MET has been trotting out the beloved tenor Placido Domingo in a series of baritone roles: Boccanegra and Nabucco to name but two. This listener’s response to the Spanish tenor’s incursions into the domain of baritones has been one of both concern and disappointment. Once more, Domingo will appear in the crucial role of Miller in the upcoming production of Luisa Miller later on this season.
We have not mentioned the name of Ludovic Tezier, He is a favorite of ours who inexplicably will not be returning to the MET this year.
The temptation to take on the glory roles of the Verdi canon is great. In his time, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau did and failed. So have both Simon Keenlyside and Thomas Hampson fallen short of expectations when enticed to try their vocal chords on Germont or Rodrigo, both the lightest of the Verdi lot. Hampson, a very fine lyric baritone has even been ill advised by management or by his own unbridled ambition to undertake Macbeth and Boccanegra at various times with questionable results.
Two names come to mind, two big-voiced, intelligent artists to watch: Quinn Kelsey, an American, and Luca Salsi, an Italian. Kelsey has been stealthily and steadily moving up the ranks, first singing primarily in the smaller American regional opera companies, then moving into the big houses here and abroad and, finally into the big roles. This season he sings Peter in Hansel and Gretel and Enrico in Lucia, both at the MET. No, not Verdi, but watch him closely: he has already stopped the show in San Francisco and in Chicago as Rigoletto. In the link below listen to his goosebumps-inducing handling of the famous phrase: Avrai tu l’universo. Resti l’Italia a mè!
Luca Salsi, a bit older than Kelsey, I surmise has already made a run of the big houses in Europe. For me, and along with Kelsey, he is The Real Deal. A plumy voice, with tremendous stamina, an unending top, musicality, acting chops, musicianship, elegant in demeanor, looks, great diction, Salsi seems to have it all, including holding the promise of singing a great Miller (in Luisa Miller), which happens to be the role with which he will be making what I believe will be his MET debut later this season. Listen to his singing of the big scena from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino in the link below. Salsi takes no prisoners.
But a word to the wise: Peter Gelb should keep his ears and telephone lines open. There are a couple of baritones out there to follow. Their names challenge my spelling skills while amazing my ears: Amartuvshin Enkhbat, a 29-year-old baritone from Mongolia (you heard me right) was one of the finalists in this year’s Cardiff Singer of the World and took home the Audience Favorite trophy and the Art Song Prize.
Another Mongolian, Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar, also 27 then, now 29 (is it something in the yak’s milk?) won First Prize in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 2015. Both he and his fellow countryman are big, burly fellows with big, burly voices.
Ganbaatar is, to our ears, the more refined singer of the two. Enkhbat is the bravest. Are these fellows the new hope? I hope and think so. We need more young singers with the potential to keep the three dozen operas of Verdi in the repertory.
Rafael de Acha http://www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com All About the Arts
Ezio-Attila Duet from Verdi’s Attila : “Tardo per glI anni”, with Quinn Kelsey and Ildar Adbrazakov https://youtu.be/pwTc-bCFHok
Luca Salsi – Morir, tremenda cosa…Urna fatale from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino https://youtu.be/yB1LZYhQIPA
Amartuvshin Enkhbat – Cortigiani, vil razza dannata from Verdi’s Rigoletto https://youtu.be/qYpb8pyicHk
Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar – Il balen del suo sorriso from Verdi’s Il Trovatore https://youtu.be/18jIeZ9WXlk
- photographs, from L to R: Quinn Kelsey…Luca Salsi… Amartuvshin Enkhbat… Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar.