Catch opera ‘Pasquale’ set in wild West at Livermore’s Bankhead
By Lou Fancher
Don’t bother trying to separate language and love in the life of Pleasanton native Marco Stefani.
The Italian-American tenor, now living in Jesi, Italy, and back on former stomping grounds with the Livermore Valley Opera, prepares for his appearance in the role of Ernesto in Donizetti’s opera buffa (comic), “Don Pasquale.” Under Artistic Director Erie Mills, Music Director Alexander Katsman will conduct four performances of the opera Sept. 30 through Oct. 8 at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater.
“I’ve performed almost the whole role in different recitals,” says Stefani, 30. “When I got the part, I couldn’t wait to do it. I’ve always dreamed of doing the role at home. LVO has given me an opportunity to debut major roles in a safe environment. They’re earnest, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”
Stefani appeared with LVO in “La Cenerentola” (Cinderella) in 2014 and in 2016 as Lindoro in “The Italian Girl in Algiers.”
Thank-yous completed, he buckles down to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by life as an opera singer; LVO’S “wild West” presentation of “Pasquale” created by stage director David Gately in 2002; and his experiences as an expat in Italy.
Stefani grew up with a baseball or football in his hand, not arias or high-range tessitura in his vocal chords. He wasn’t involved in the arts until his senior year in high school and even afterwards, attending the University of the Pacific in Stockton, it wasn’t until halfway through his undergraduate studies that he turned seriously to music. Stefani majored in voice performance and holds a minor in international studies.
“I didn’t even read music: I had to catch up.”
He went on to Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University to earn a master’s of music degree.
Unbeknownst to him, a congenital stretch mark on his vocal chords and what he calls “intentions that weren’t right related to an American’s propensity to seek career development and monetary gains,” left him frustrated at age 24.
“I was focused on making the next program, the next success. My sound became driven. I felt in a rush. I took gigs I wasn’t ready for. There’s nothing more humbling than rejection.”
Or physical realities that despite earning awards and professional engagements made the sound he sought — the ringing, tinging vocalization of most tenors — impossible. The warmth of Stefani’s vocal chord “defect” broadened and added too-rich color to his voice.
In Europe, where the culture allowed him to focus on technique, execute musical phrases with maturity, slow down and allow a less nasal, forward-thrusting intonation to resonate, he learned to respect process before product.
Living in Italy, immersed in the language and culture he’d previously studied, but only to learn what was necessary to perform each libretto, he made discoveries: how to knock aside bad habits learned as a young singer; techniques for breath control, the historical context behind words and phrases that led to deeper, mature acting; the visceral value of swimming and getting in tune with his body.
“I have tremendous nerves before competitions,” he says, “but for shows, there is so much to think about that it’s easier.”
There is staging to execute. In this case, it involves navigating around a saloon, bubble baths, barmaids, a mariachi band, hotel owner Don Paquale and his fiancée, Norina, and more. Delivering a convincing musical performance, honoring the libretto, and “getting a phrase to come out the way I like it” without losing the staging and acting intentions, he says, is a matter of balance. The opportunity to sing transcendent music — he mentions the Act II aria “Cerchero lontana terra” — is hard work’s reward.
“Donizetti was very generous with tenors,” he says, “there is a lot of beautiful music.”
Perhaps the most interesting evidence of Stefani’s passions — the final pieces that complete the image of a life built around language and love — is his “other life” in Italy. Stefani works part-time as a didactic coordinator at a military language school.
“We prepare tests according to NATO standards for English. They’re given to United States’ allies for training, so they can communicate fluently.”
Music education and a career in opera have prepared his ear to hear nuances of accents, rhythms, pronunciation and language phrases that he applies to the work. As for love, there is a far more predictable reason Italy is Stefani’s current home.
“I have Italian ancestry, of course, but I also met my fiancée there, as it happens, so you know ….”