Aug 26, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Every year, Suzanne Lotito returns to her mother’s home in Solvay for her annual visit. She grew up here, and, not unlike many natives who have made their lives somewhere else, she returns during her vacation to visit her hometown and family. But for Lotitio, the trip home is a little longer than for most.
Lotito has spent decades performing at Teatro Alla Scala in Milan, Italy, an accomplished soprano in one of the world’s most prestigious operas. Each summer she comes home to Solvay, accompanied by her friend and colleague Bruno Capisani, a tenor at La Scala.
A graduate of Solvay High School, Lotito said she always liked singing, and grew up in a family full of musical talents – her father sang in the Syracuse Chorale, and several other relatives are musically inclined. At 16, she started listening to “and appreciating” opera music, but it would be many years before she became an operatic performer.
After receiving bachelor’s degrees in music and piano, Lotito went to Manhattan to work towards master’s degrees in chamber music and piano. But while she accompanied many singers on piano and admired the opera, she had yet to shift her studies to singing.
“I was always listening, with my ear to the door, to the singing class of Maestro Gino Becchi” Lotito said. During one of her secret listening sessions at the Accademia Chigiana in Italy, Becchi, invited her in to listen. A year later, after receiving her Master’s in piano, she stopped her master’s work in chamber music – short of one final performance – and pursued singing at Milan Conservatory.
Capisani’s route to La Scala was more straighforward – he said he has loved the opera since birth, and remembers listening to Beniamino Gigli on the radio as a baby.
Music in the blood
Lotito’s family may have played a role in her musical career, but she said her education at Solvay was extremely influential. She credits the “excellent music department” that was at her disposal at school for much of her early musical appreciation and ability.
“Anything I could get my hands on, I played,” she said, running through a list of instruments she had tried her hand at, including the clarinet and violin. She is a prime example of the importance of musical education.
She and Capisani are helping to pass that education on through a cultural association in Italy, focusing on children. The purpose of the association is to “bring music to people,” exposing people to opera and other music who would not otherwise have the opportunity, Lotito said.
Both singers also teach individual students privately, though their standards for taking on a young talent are very high. Many are not willing to do the hard work required by the professionals, though, Lotito and Capisani agreed.
Perhaps that is the result of the contrast between the lifestyle of a pop star and professionally trained opera singer.
Both Capisani and Letito agree that as a singer, keeping your instrument – your voice and body – in top working condition requires a certain lifestyle.
Smoking, consuming alcohol, depriving your body of rest and generally not staying in shape are all vices the pros avoid.
Watching modern popular singers party all night, struggle with substance and alcohol addictions and live unhealthy lifestyles, it is no wonder their voices do not last and they need microphones to sing, Letito said.
Opera singers do not use mics – being able to project their voices is a major part of the technical training they endure.
“Pop singers’ technique is no comparison to the technical prowess of an opera singer,” said Letito definitively.
Voice to last a lifetime
So, your voice may last for decades, but will performing with the world’s best, on one the best-known and most respected stages, get old before then?
Not for Lotito and Capisani. After all the seasons of opera, the world tours and concerts, they never forget the importance of the Teatro Alla Scala.
“Every time you have to go on stage, it gets to you,” Letito said. It’s understandable, when that stage has drawn Popes, royalty, and “men of state,” to the audience. “It shows you what La Scala means to the musical world.”
Growing up in Italy, Capisani was familiar with the importance of La Scala and the opera as a boy, when he went to audition, it felt like he had already been there, so well-known is the opera house, he said.
“But, at the audition – I was still trembling,” he added, laughing.
“You can never forget your first opera on the stage of La Scala,” Lotito said – hers was Don Carlos, for Capisani, “I Capuleti e i Montecchi,” an operatic rendition of Romeo and Juliet.
Music and noise
In a field defined by American pop culture as a less-than-legitimate career path – and one filled with fizzled stars and fickle trends – Lotito and Capisani have made professions. They are professional singers, not a pop stars, and they sing music, not noise.
Lotito is passionate about the difference between the two, and the downward spiral modern popular music seems to be taking – the result of a lack of education and appreciation for music, and a willingness to be subjected to too much noise.
“Music has to be given to children when they are young,” Lotito said. “People think the arts are for elites, and they’re not. But you have to arrive at it, appreciating music, by understanding it.”
The modern fascination with cranking up the volume is painful for both Lotito and Capisani, and it is not a problem isolated to the United States.
“It is happening everywhere,” said Lotito. She likens the tendency to ‘turning it up’ to being attacked by sound, at which point comprehension stops and sound is ignored in favor of visual stimulation. “We’re fixated on images, so excited by them. This amplification is creating a deaf generation. When you reach a certain decibel, it’s just noise.”