Fresh from his celebrated run as Iago in the Met’s new Otello, Željko Lučić returns to the title role of Rigoletto this November in Michael Mayer’s Las Vegas–set production. He explains why Verdi has always been at the center of his career.
You've become one of the Met’s leading Verdi baritones, with seven productions to your credit. What is it about his music that attracts you?
From the beginning I was characterized as a Verdi baritone. My teacher told me, “Oh, you have a nice Italian kind of voice,” and as a student I did a lot of Verdi arias. The first complete Verdi role I sang was Germont in Traviata, and since then, out of his 26 operas I have 22 in my repertoire. What is amazing is that in Verdi
our voices are the leading instrument. We have the melody, we have everything. I grew up with his music and I can’t imagine myself singing anything else.
What are the demands of Verdi’s vocal writing?
His music needs a certain kind of voice—not so metallic, not so big. It has to be very smooth and easy. It’s not Wagner or verismo. So even after 20-something years of singing it, I’d say the challenge is this big legato, the capacity of breath.
Apart from immersing yourself in the music, how do you create a character?
It’s the story. In Verdi, whether it
comes from Schiller or Shakespeare or whoever, the drama is enough. Because all of these situations you find today as well—jealousy, envy, anger, happiness, dying, killing. When I’m singing Verdi, I am Giorgio Germont, not Željko Lučić singing Germont. Why? Because he has two kids, I have two kids. I am just putting myself in his situation, and that’s where my feelings are coming from.
What about Rigoletto?
He’s just an ordinary man living his life. He makes fun of other people because that’s his job. But knowing the society he lives in, he hides his daughter—not because he wants to hurt her, but to get her away from all the bad attitudes that they had in society and that we still have today. Because he loves her more than anything. That’s the same whether you’re in Las Vegas or some castle back in Italy in the 1500s.
You’re also singing Scarpia in Tosca this month. How does Puccini fit in with your voice?
As my teacher would say, “Sing it with your own voice.” Don’t try to make it bigger, don’t try to imitate all these guys from the ’50s and ’60s. Luckily it’s the same production I just did a couple of months ago at La Scala. I can’t wait to do it again! —Philipp Brieler