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An interview with Bruno Caproni, as our NI Opera Voice of 2018 attends his Canto al Serchio

Northern Ireland-born baritone Bruno Caproni has enjoyed an international singing career spanning several decades, and is equally passionate about performing as he is about sharing his knowledge and love of opera with the future generation of singers. In 2018, Caproni and renowned pianist Julian Evans inaugurated the summer school Canto al Serchio in Italy’s sun-kissed Tuscany region. Among the exclusive group of young singers invited to this year’s week-long programme will be the winner of the 2018 NI Opera Festival of Voice vocal competition, Margaret Bridge. Now in its ninth year, the Glenarm Festival of Voice will return this August. NI Opera’s Judith Wiemers spoke to Bruno about the Canto al Serchio, opera fandom, and ice cream.

JW: Bruno, it is a great honour for Northern Ireland Opera and our annual Festival of Voice to have your generous support, and we are grateful that you will once again invite this year’s competition winners to the Canto al Serchio. Our NI Opera Voice of 2018 and winner of the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize, mezzo-soprano Margaret Bridge, and fellow NI Opera Studio member Rebecca Murphy will be travelling to Tuscany in only a few days. What does the week hold in store for them?
BC: During the summer school the singers will immerse themselves in the Italian culture – both musically and more generally. Simply being in the country where opera was first performed will be an exciting experience, especially here in the region around Lucca – Puccini’s birthplace. Soaking up the atmosphere of the city and the landscape around it, as well as developing an understanding for the historical significance of this place will be valuable additions to the other elements of the summer school.
JW: Traveling to Italy for cultural education does of course have a very long tradition. The young Mozart was taken on trips around Italy, not only to promote his prodigious talents, but also to give him access to the best music tuition in Europe. On his journeys, he must have also picked up a fair bit of the language.
BC: Our singers will hopefully do the same. We will offer them Italian lessons that are designed for a singer’s specific needs. They will learn some conversational Italian they probably wouldn’t pick up in an ordinary language lesson.
JW: Which phrases would be useful to know if I was a singer trying my luck in Italy?
BC: You may need questions such as “Where is my dressing room?”, “When is the rehearsal?”, or even something as mundane as “This collar is too tight”.
JW: You were born into an entrepreneurial family that ran a successful ice cream parlour in Bangor, but you do of course have an Italian background. When you eventually moved to Italy, did the environment – complete with the language, landscape, maybe even food – change the way you connected with Italian operatic repertoire?
BC: It did, funny enough! Being in Italy gave me a deep emotional understanding of the roots of this music, and how it connects to the Italian soul.
JW: Let’s talk about the main element of the summer school: the singing.
BC: We will spend a lot of time working intensely on operatic repertoire with the singers, building up to a concert at the end of the week. The concert will give our singers the opportunity not only to work towards something throughout the week, but also to practice performing for an invited live audience. In addition to working on their own repertoire, the singers will be taking part in short lectures on opera appreciation.
JW: To what extent does learning about the history and performance traditions of opera add to a young singer’s own practice?
BC: I regard it as immensely important, and it is my impression that young singers often don’t see the wider picture or have limited knowledge about the great performers of the past. Before I was on the path to a professional career, I was first and foremost an opera lover, and I do believe that knowledge of the opera tradition and its recordings is something that can contribute greatly to a singer’s personal development.
JW: Engaging with the great voices of the past and present might also give the participants ideas about their own style?
BC: Absolutely, and we will work a lot on interpretation. Ideally, when in an audition, singers will feel comfortable enough with their technique that they can enjoy singing and interpreting the music. Mentoring is an essential part of the summer school. We will give the singers some practical guidance on audition technique, so that they can focus fully on their singing when in front of an audition panel.
JW: You have had a long and impressive international career. I am sure you have some wisdom to impart about all aspects of the performing profession, not least managing life and work as a freelance singer.
BC: I am very happy to be quizzed about my career, and the challenges that came with it. One learns by their mistakes, of course! Sharing my experience and giving professional advice is very important to me. There are some great tips that I was given by very prominent singers when I was young – some of these have stuck with me for my entire career. I have always been very grateful for receiving advise and I would hope to pass some of it on to the next generation.
JW: Have you been keeping an eye on the young singers emerging from the island of Ireland in recent years?
BC: Absolutely, and I am quite impressed with the wealth of talent on the island. I still have a strong connection with Northern Ireland, and it is good to see that Northern Ireland Opera continues to thrive, following on from a great tradition of opera performance in the region which even persisted throughout the Troubles. When I left the island to study in Manchester in the 1980s, I was one of the very few who went abroad to pursue a career as a professional singer. A lot has changed since, and it is very uplifting!
JW: May I ask a perhaps slightly controversial question to finish off? Who has the better ice cream; the Caproni family parlour or your local Italian vendor?
BC: I can say without bad conscience that we have one of the best ice cream parlours here in Barga. It beats Bangor hands down!

JW: I am sure our Festival of Voice winner can’t wait to try it! Thank you for the interview.

Interview by Judith Wiemers.

This year’s Festival of Voice takes place from Friday 30th August – Sunday 1st September. For more details click here: