Time honoured tradition has it that the pianist in a song recital plays the supporting role, hence the slightly derogatory term “accompanist”. Someone forgot to share that script with Giuseppe Vaccaro – or perhaps it lay among the scattered sheaves of music threatening to spill from Wigmore Hall's Steinway – as he took more than his fair share of the limelight from excellent Italian baritone Simone Piazzola. Vaccaro's contributions made this one of the most entertaining Rosenblatt Recitals in recent memory, if not always for the right reasons.

Simone Piazzola © Jonathan Rose
Simone Piazzola
© Jonathan Rose
Is it the accompanist's role to keep the star singer waiting? I'm not sure quite how often Vaccaro and Piazzola have performed together, but their platform etiquette looked unrehearsed, the pianist bounding on stage to take a solo bow, while the baritone lurked, comically peering through from the green room, awaiting a pregnant pause for his turn to arrive. Vaccaro's scores weren't remotely organised, causing several stern baritone stares as he waited to commence the next song or aria.

The evening’s two flashiest performances came from Vaccaro alone. Ironically, having dutifully ploughed through pages of banal rum-ti-tum Tosti and bel canto accompaniments from sheet music, he performed a couple of Liszt showstoppers without the aid of a safety net, where scores may have helped him play more of the right notes in the right order. However, the Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in C sharp minor (the one everybody knows) was rip-roaringly fun, while the Rigoletto Paraphrase saw Vaccaro, crouching at the keyboard, virtually play out all four roles in Verdi’s famous quartet, Piazzola’s services as the hunchback jester surplus to requirements.

However, this Italian baritone is truly the real deal. Unusually for an Italian opera singer, he looked entirely at ease in song, his Tosti selection sensitively delivered, and he immediately gauged the measure of Wigmore Hall, never tempted into oversinging. His voice is evenly produced, has a velvety, Renato Bruson-like warmth and the ability to colour and shade dynamics beautifully. His upper register, when singing out in the Donizetti and Verdi arias, is vibrant, though less impressive when trying to ‘cover’ softer high notes. The official programme ended with di Luna’s aria “Il balen del suo sorriso” from Il trovatore, the Count inflamed with passion for Leonora, who’s about to take the veil. Piazzola’s gorgeous vocal line was rushed along by his pianist here, pushing ahead faster than one sensed the baritone wanted to go. Most impressive was his ability to pour out phrases in long breaths, especially in Posa’s death scene for Don Carlo and Germont père’s “Di Provenza il mar”, the two encores to conclude the short programme.

Simone Piazzola © Jonathan Rose
Simone Piazzola
© Jonathan Rose

Piazzola’s French isn’t terribly comprehensible and his platform manner is a little stolid; every emotion from passion, loss, vengeance and despair signalled by an all-purpose bariclaw raised towards the face. Give him a director, and he should be fine. He has yet to appear at Covent Garden, but it’s surely only a matter of time before the Royal Opera cottons on and he steps out of the shadows. This fine recital made me eager to hear more.

***11