Luca Pisaroni is a familiar face in Amsterdam. He was without doubt the revelation of the Mozart–Da Ponte cycle at De Nederlandse Opera in 2006, in which he sang both Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro and a wonderfully youthful Guglielmo in Così fan tutte. And he returned to the same company three years later as a virtuoso Hercules in David Alden’s production of Cavalli’s Ercole Amante. In this last role, he was hardly recognizable, as he was made to wear a memorable costume that buffed him up into some kind of blond-wigged G.I. Joe action figure on platform shoes. The contrast between the memory of this over-the-top Baroque performance and last Tuesday’s program of classical and romantic songs in the relative intimacy of the Concertgebouw’s Recital Hall could hardly be greater. Superbly accompanied by Wolfram Rieger at the piano, the Italian opera singer proved he is also an outstanding interpreter of German Lieder.

Luca Pisaroni © Marco Borggreve
Luca Pisaroni
© Marco Borggreve
After a few songs by Beethoven, the first part of the concert centred on a cycle by Johann Friedrich Reichardt, a late 18th-/early 19th-century Prussian composer I must admit I had never heard of before. Those Sonetti e canzoni di Petrarca (“Sonnets and Songs by Petrarch”) were a enjoyable discovery: seven little gems, all very expressive, albeit in a conventional classical style. They fitted Mr Pisaroni’s voice perfectly, Di tempo in tempo mi si fa men dura sounding almost Mozartian. Mr Pisaroni’s voice is darker in colour than I had remembered, but extremely agile and flexible, and he excelled in the more virtuosic Erano i capei d’oro a l’aura sparsi, in which the poet remembers seeing the long-gone object of his love.

The first part of the recital ended with Fünf Gesänge Op. 72, five songs by Brahms of contrasting moods, in which the singer demonstrated his mastery of musical line and a refined sense for text in the German language. The humorous Unüberwindlich, on a text by Goethe in which the poet compares a woman to a bottle of wine, made the audience smile and chuckle.

It was, however, in the Lieder by Liszt after the intermission that Mr Pisaroni revealed his talent as a musical narrator at its finest. Each song became a scene that he seemed to inhabit. What I found the most admirable was the way he managed to achieve this riveting storytelling: not by acting or the use of volume (although his voice could easily fill the concert hall), but rather purely through vocal colour and text. The voice is always appealing, even throughout the whole range, and he finds multiple colours to underline the meaning of a word, depict a character or evoke a mood. Die drei Zigeuner in which the poet tells of his encounter with three gypsies was the most vivid painting of multiple characters. He sounded utterly enamoured and seductive in In Liebeslust. But my personal favourite has to be the famous Die Loreley. I have always been quite partial in preferring a mezzo’s voice for this song. I have now changed my mind.