OperaMetro (OM) is privileged to chat with tenor Santiago Ballerini (SB), who stars in performances of Rossini’s Tancredi at Teatro Nuovo at the Performing Arts Center of Purchase College on 735 Anderson Hill Road in Purchase, NY.
Once again I’d like to say we were chatting on the campus of Purchase College on a clear, sunny day in July, though not as hot as the last few days…but it’s an email interview, hopefully each of typing in a cool shaded place.
OM: Thank you for consenting to answer my questions, Santiago!
SB: No problem! Thank you for contacting me.
OM: It’s safe to say that you’re a member of Will Crutchfield’s performing team. At what stage of your career did you come in contact with Maestro Crutchfield and what has been the impact of your professional relationship with him?
SB: I met Will at the beginning of my career. He trusted my singing from the start and is one of the most generous persons that I’ve met since. He knows Bel Canto perfectly, and I have learned a lot working with him. He has really clear ideas of what he wants, but remains absolutely flexible to other ideas to create the music.
OM: What were the signs in your youth that signaled perhaps you had a career as a professional vocalist?
SB: I was a pianist for 9 years before getting into singing and only began focusing on a vocal career at almost 26 years-old. A voice teacher told me, “you should try, you have a beautiful voice.” And now, here I am! I love this way of expression and communication! Singing is absolutely different from communicating with the piano, but having the keyboard background has helped me to understand scores in different ways.
OM: What is the path of your training from then to now?
SB: Every single day is working, thinking, and training. If I imagine that I’m in this career for only a few years, the best thing I can do is to focus on my instrument, find my personal sound, and my own technique. One always learns a lot from working with great coaches, directors, and colleagues, but you always have to have the goal of concentrating on yourself.
OM: Along the way, what were the signs that this pursuit should aim toward opera, as opposed to Broadway, jazz or popular music?
SB: I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. When I’m not studying, I listen to jazz, Bossa Nova, flamenco, French music, whatever I’m in the mood for! But I don’t sing in these other styles--I just enjoy them.
OM: When you’re not hard at work with the voice, what is your day like?
SB: I’m not really good at taking a day off. But actually I have started painting, for one thing, I guess, to continue exploring other ways of communication. Also the painting is for me a way to make sure that in my time off I force myself to stop studying and working.
OM: You’ve sung styles other than those of Rossini. But now you’re singing in Tancredi. Tell me about the challenges you, as a young singer, face with these stylistic differences.
SB: My role in Tancredi is Argirio; it’s not an easy role by any means. It’s quite demanding: four arias, one duet, and two finales. It isn’t the most technically challenging role I have ever sung, but it’s quite a lot of music and if you don’t concentrate, you won’t make it to the end vocally.
OM: Have there been roles, either in the studying and/or in the performing, which clearly to you represented a divergence from your imagined path?
SB: We are in a specialization time, so you cannot sing Bel Canto the same way you sing Verdi, Mozart, or Haydn. I have sung and worked in Italian Bel Canto more than any other style. As an Italian/Argentinian, my grandfather spoke Italian at home, so singing in Bel Canto is like singing in one of my native languages, which makes a lot of difference as opposed to studying a foreign language and singing it through phonetics. Every single style has its challenge. And the differences you do with other languages are huge because you either vibrate with it or not. Currently, I’m working on my French!
OM: Tres bon! Well, does performing in these different styles help to guide your career and is performing in Tancredi a welcome challenge, as opposed to, say, studying Arturo in I Puritani, the Duke in Rigoletto or Rodolfo in La Bohème?
SB: I do one thing at a time. I don’t need to--nor do I want to--be in a rush. I work every single day to be a good option for the industry. But as I say above, every single role has its own difficulties and specificities, and it’s always a challenge to find just the right “voice” of the character you’re performing. No one single role has the same communication style. Of course, it’s the same instrument, but the way of using it to communicate each role can be different. I love the challenge: the amazing thing about singing different styles is getting the chance to learn from each of them!
OM: Related to this, who in your coaching support staff is the guide for the next step?
SB: I have a team, so I cannot say that only one person is a guide. I have a voice teacher and a coach on my team; we are all on the path together. However, you know, the final decision on a direction is mine. It’s my instrument, my body, and I know its development better than anyone. I also have my agent that supports me on the business side of my career.
OM: Apart from the obvious highs of career success, fan adulation, and personal pride in accomplishment, what are the down sides of a career in opera? At what point do uncertainties surface, and what are the characteristics of these?
SB: I wouldn’t say it’s a downside, but I think that the most difficult part of this career is loneliness. You are traveling, rehearsing, and studying so much by yourself. I’m from Argentina, but I don’t live there anymore because it’s so far away from the US and European opera industry. In order to make it in this career, you have to constantly leave home, your family, and your friends. But regardless, I’d chose every single thing about this career. Of course, we as singers are exposed, and people can say good things and bad things about you. I have to not think about that and stay focused on what I’m doing now and continue to do better and better projects.
OM: I hear what you are saying from many singers. Especially distance from home and long weeks during rehearsal and performance in a distant city. But, moving on, when you’re not learning and rehearsing a well known but not very frequently performed Rossini opera (e.g., Tancredi), how do you unwind, relax, chill, have fun, etc.? What are your off-stage interests and passions?
SB: I play tennis, hang out with my friends and family, and I paint. My father is the best BBQ chef you can imagine, and my friends are always happy to join! Jajaja!
OM: Santiago, I look forward to your Argirio in Tancredi and shaking your hand afterward. All the best wishes for you.
SB: Thank you!
Santiago Ballerini performs in Rossini's Tancredi on Saturday evening, July 28, which is the opening night of Teatro Nuovo's premiere season, and on Friday, August 3, each at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are available online @ teatronuovo.org, or by telephone at the PAC box office (914.251.6200)