When it comes to the great Verdi basses of today, one name instantly springs to mind. Ferruccio Furlanetto made his professional debut in 1974 and has sung on many of the world’s finest stages for decades. His “oaken” bass has a satisfying richness and he always earns plaudits for his acting, from his tortured Philip II, “gnarled by paranoia”, to his Attila, “a conflicted anti-hero, capable of fearsome violence and moments of vulnerability”. Here, Furlanetto takes us through his top ten Verdi arias in a playlist including performances by some of the singers he most admires.

Ferruccio Furlanetto © Igor Saharov
Ferruccio Furlanetto
© Igor Saharov

1Don Carlo: “Ella giammai m'amò”

Filippo [Philip II] is my favourite Verdi role and has been for many years – my first was in 1981! It keeps developing. Filippo is by far the most complete character. It’s not melodrama. It’s the real life of a real man lived through Verdi’s magnificent score. He is the most powerful man on earth and nevertheless he has moments of solitude and depression. He is a king disappointed by his son and in Posa he sees the son he would have loved to have had yet he somehow has to send him to die. This storm inside comes out through the words, through the notes, through the colours. It’s the Italian equivalent to Boris Godunov.

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II (Don Carlos) at La Scala © Marco Brescia | Teatro alla Scala (2017)
Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II (Don Carlos) at La Scala
© Marco Brescia | Teatro alla Scala (2017)

My role models – especially when it comes to Verdi – are always the same: Cesare Siepi, Bonaldo Giaiotti and – for interpretation – Boris Christoff. Early in my career, I sang performances in Torino as the Monk and the Filippo was Christoff! I was a kid and I was just in adoration; he was 66, this was after his brain tumour operation, and he was a god. In Christoff you had projection, from the lowest part of his register to these amazing falsetto notes – on the C natural he had this big falsetto with body. It’s not something you can create. I was in the wings agog!

 

2Simon Boccanegra: “Il lacerato spirito”

Cesare Siepi was everything. I had the chance to hear him in Boccanegra in Macerata. What I love is the Italianata of the voice – this colour, this approach to the language, to feel it dramatically the way I would feel it as an Italian. The aria in the prologue is wonderful, although the magic moment actually comes in the final duet. Before that, he’s the typical stubborn old man, like Silva in Ernani, and then he has this final moment of redemption which is sublime. This makes Fiesco a big character and always very important in a bass’ career. I’ve sung him so many times, he’s a good part of my life [including upcoming performances at the Royal Opera].

 

3I vespri siciliani: “O tu, Palermo”

I love I vespri siciliani. I once sang in two productions in the same year, where I sang it in French in Rome and in Italian in Paris... totally the wrong way around! I love the character of Procida because it depends on which perspective you look at him: from the French side, he is a terrorist; if you look at him from the Sicilian side, he is a patriot. In Vienna, I was killing everyone – tenor, baritone, soprano – all within 30 seconds.

Bonaldo Giaiotti was a miracle of technique – perfect from the lowest reaches to the high register. In 1983 I was singing Alvise in Gioconda which is a dreadful role that only young singers do because it is so ungrateful: the aria is hard and doesn’t invite applause and, as a young man, you need to sound older, nastier. I had an orchestral rehearsal and Giaiotti, who was there for Padre Guardiano in Forza, came in and at the end he came and told me, “Just because you want to sound older and nastier, you are building a false vocality over your natural vocality. Inside, you feel you have a big voice, but it’s not projecting.” We spoke for 20 minutes, and he gave me some technical advice that I started to follow immediately.

 

4Ernani: “Infelice!”

In a good production, Silva can become a very important character. He is the only one with dignity. Everyone else is a traitor. If you dig deep, he can become the most interesting character in the opera. 

 

5Macbeth: “Come dal ciel precipita”

My La Scala debut was in Giorgio Strehler’s sensational production of Macbeth. I will never forget in the scene with the witches there was an enormous piece of coppery silk that looked like flames – amazing. I sang the second cast after Nicolai Ghiaurov – a great Banquo. Ghiaurov was a miracle of nature – I sang the Inquisitore opposite his Filipo in New York – but he could never have been a role model because the voice was so unique and so humongous that it would have been very dangerous for a young singer to emulate him.

 

6Oberto: “L'orror del tradimento”

Oberto was one of my first important debuts. I sang it at San Diego. Early Verdi can be the most dangerous because he was usually writing for a specific singer with a bass-baritone voice, therefore you have the aria written for a bass voice, but the cabaletta sitting much higher for a baritone. This first Verdi opera follows exactly the model of this hybrid.  



7La forza del destino: “Il santo nome di Dio signore”

I have often sung Padre Guardiano in Forza [Furlanetto sings it in Christof Loy’s new production for the Royal Opera later this season]. Even though the role doesn’t have an aria, the vocality is stunning to sing – that great scene in the monastery. The duet with Leonora is gorgeous, as well as the trio at the end. In Vienna there is a production where they cut the Melitone-Guardiano duet... Nobody has the right to do this in front of Verdi!

 

8Attila: “Mentre gonfiarsi l’anima”

The aria is always a promenade, but the cabaletta used to be frightening – it’s the best of all the Verdi bass cabalettas because it’s really meaty. When I sang my first Attila, I was sweating blood! But the last one was four years ago in San Francisco and it was so easy. By then, the voice was placed in a safe area and there were no difficulties whatsoever.

 

9Nabucco: “Tu sul labbro”

I’ve sung this role for 31 years! In Nabucco you have the aria “Vieni o levita” with the solo cello – so beautiful– then after “Va, pensiero” there is the cabaletta. Verdi had a specific voice in mind with these characteristics. Zaccaria was basically the role which, by the end of the evening, always made me the most tired.

 

10I Lombardi alla prima crociata: “Sciagurata! Hai tu creduto!”

I sang Lombardi a few times in Italian and once in the French version, Jérusalem. It’s not given too often. Ruggero Raimondi was probably closer to the kind of singer Verdi wrote these early roles for because he was closer to a baritone than a bass. Raimondi could sing Scarpia. A bass cannot sing Scarpia. He was a great actor, though, a fantastic interpreter.