“Da me non l’otterrà forza mortale…!”
-Francesco Foscari, III Act I Due Foscari
I had had a death in the family, and was not in the best of moods to get involved in the tragedia of the Foscari family, not even in concert form. Then Janice said to me:
“Remember, it’s Bruson singing Francesco Foscari…”
I stood, jet lagged, waiting to be picked up at the door of my hotel in Köln, looking and wondering at the famous Cathedral; Maestro Bruson came out of the hotel, elegant, tall, strong, from another time and another place, yet the world that he was walking into did not seem to surprise him…
Renato Bruson. One complete sentence in a man’s name, no need of verbs. It had always seemed so to me.
After greetings and respectful introductions, we all walked to the address we were told the first rehearsal was to take place. During it, he listened attentively, gave some suggestions as to the structure of the work, we all paid attention, agreed on what to do and what not… and it all was over with no unnecessary waste of time.
Then, at his suggestion, we all went together to have dinner. I decided that Mo. Bruson must feel comfortable with this group, or wants to see what we are made of, as we walked to a restaurant near by. After ordering dinner, and going through the small talk that always begins occasions such as this one, when strangers meet each other and must spend time together, I took advantage of a moment in which our two companions left us alone and told him directly: “My first experience of this opera as a concert goer was at Carnegie Hall, October of 1981. Francesco Foscari was Renato Bruson…” his eyes behind his glasses opened up wide, and then he closed them as if remembering. In his face was born an almost undetectable gesture of approval as to the date. I said no more about that performance, except for mentioning one particular phrase that remained chiselled in my heart, the phrase of refusal of the Doge, when Loredano asks him to relinquish the ring of his office that he wears as a sign of its power.
He thought about it, and let me ask questions. I asked many that evening as well as the rest of the week spent together. He was agreeable to answer them, probably amused at the mixture of respect and healthy curiosity with which I was asking him about music, the words, singing, the musical score in the context of the musical theory of the time; the historical and political moment in which it was written as well as what it was written about, and of himself.
Among many things, he told me proudly (and justly so) that next year would be his fiftieth on the stage… It became very late as he told us many, many stories of his years of career, of the countries he visited, and of his beginnings in the exercise of this craft, of his life in this world.
I thought: “And my generation thinks we have had it hard… never mind those who follow me…” as I listened to this man, in his seventies, tell us of all the things that enriched his life –and toughened him for the world-, and who in spite of the cruelty of his destiny, still found it in his heart to offer himself to the Muse, to be used as an instrument so that the Grace could enter the world through his voice.
Renato Bruson, as experienced by me in the few days that I had the honor of working with him in Köln and in Dortmund, is a consummate musician, an orator of the first order, the ingredients from which, in my opinion, real singing is made. As the days passed and he saw and understood my interest in him, he opened up, and spoke of things that instinctively I knew, or that my dear Maestro Ferraro had mentioned many times to me, or that in my twenty plus years on the stage I have figured out and proven, over and over, to be true.
It seemed as if he opened completely and I could see him fully at work from his own perspective, as he lay down the plans, and how he developed the musical and textual ideas from one and only one point of view: the concept to be expressed, within the frame of the musical structure and the style. “All is in the score…” he insisted several times, “…anything else does not need to be in the performance… the timing, the psychology, all is there, in the score. The interpretation. Verdi knew what he was doing.”
Colourful and profound was his answer when I asked him what he studied first when approaching a role for the first time. He wasted no time to point out that the role is in the words he/she says, and in the words that are said about him/her; that the arias are the synthesis of the role, making it wiser to study everything else first in order to arrive to the romanzas already prepared, not only on the background for the interpretation, but also on the method to be used technically, stylistically, building thus the background on which the interpretation is to take place.
After the diner offered to us post performance by the Festival of Dortmund, he embraced me as he said good-bye, and told me: “Do not clean your shoulder from my embrace…He, he, he, he!”, he laughed, reminding me of a story I had told him, in front of our colleagues, during the week passed together. We all had a very hearty laugh.
Renato Bruson, one of the last standard bearers of a style that no longer exists, thank you for your wise words.
Little Compton, 5tth August 2009
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