In the realm of opera, basses are rarely cast as lovers: they usually function as physicians, overbearing father figures or aging monarchs. But the audience fell in love with celebrated Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto in his concert with full orchestra Saturday (March 5) at the Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall.
Over the last 30 years, Furlanetto has interpreted numerous leading roles for San Diego Opera, but this recital opened up a new chapter for him. Fusing his larger-than-life dramatic penchant with his sumptuous vocal command resulted in an unusual hybrid, something between the polite vocal recital with piano and a full-fledged opera in concert.
Of course, Furlanetto spent most of the first half of his program craftily wooing his audience, starting with the most familiar basso buffo arias, Roissini’s “La culumnia” from The Barber of Seville and Leporello’s “Catalogue” Aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. In the first aria, Furlanetto’s gorgeous vocal timbre almost seemed wasted on the aria’s bluster and silly dynamic wordplay, but the singer appeared to relish the composer’s antics and made the aria more delectable with his calculated exaggerations.
Who could top Leporello’s ballooning exaggerations of his master’s prowess in bedding thousands of every type of woman across the face of Europe in the “Catalogue” Aria? Furlanetto endowed every word with its own gesture or facial wrinkle as he sailed through Mozart’s lyrical turns and vocal filigree with consummate assurance.
Furlanetto ramped up the charm with three beloved songs from American musical theater, starting with Jerome Kern’s “Old Man River,” which he gave a highly dramatic reading—as if it were written by Mascagni or Leoncavallo. Paul Robeson imprinted this song with an indelible air of resigned stoicism, like the flow of the river itself, but Furlanetto unlocked the emotional torment of the lyrics in a way that gave new life to the familiar song from Show Boat.
He settled suavely into Richard Rodgers’ unabashed romance in “Some Enchanted Evening,” but his other South Pacific selection “This Nearly Was Mine” allowed him to filter immense ardor through the lens of regret, which he did with touching tenderness.
For me, his “Death of Boris” from Mussorgsky’s greatest opera Boris Godunov brought the evening to its vocal and dramatic zenith, a soul-baring monologue that Furlanetto took through devotional humility, anguished demands, and dreaded denial before succumbing to the inevitable. The orchestra under guest conductor Emanuele Andrizzi evoked the scene’s moral grandeur, alternating between sumptuous colors and awe-inspiring understatement.
Furlanetto and the orchestra proved equally compelling in King Philip’s reflective aria from Don Carlo, “Ella giammai m’amò” where the aged monarch realizes his power has brought him isolation instead of happiness. The singer’s most sonorous, arching bel canto lines graced Anton Rubenstein’s “I Am He Whom You Called,” from his little-known opera The Demon.
The San Diego Symphony, the company’s faithful pit orchestra in Civic Theatre productions, comfortably shared the Copley Hall stage with Furlanetto and offered several orchestral opera excerpts. Verdi’s Overture to Nabucco proved a stirring concert opener, with its display of the opera’s hit tunes strung together like a typical musical comedy overture. More effective was the “Introduction and Polonaise” from Boris Godunov, which showed more of the orchestra’s sonic power and its impeccably stylish approach to the effervescent dance that propels that piece. Andrizzi proved astute and clear on the podium, gently detailed in his direction without appearing fussy.
Principal Cellist Yao Zhao offered several sterling solos, including his elegiac opening to Massenet’s “Mort de Don Quichotte” and the lovely “Intermezzo” from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, an orchestral interlude which is really another lush instrumental aria.