Brett Polegato is a baritone with a beautiful voice.
He’s a capable interpreter of songs, for example, in the recent Canadian Art Song Project concert:
“I was more delighted by Brett Polegato’s loveliness of tone –one of the nicest baritones to be found in this country—than the actual songs. “ (from March 2014)
But the voice is always at the service of dramatic intelligence, for example as Don Giovanni with the Canadian Opera Company:
“We get a Don for baby boomers: an aging lover, visibly past it, possibly close to the end. Instead of the usual visit from the Stone Guest, come to take the Don to hell for his crimes, his various victims gang up on him. Masetto is disguised as the slain Commendatore. We never see the death certificate, so we don’t know the cause of death, but this Don likely dies from a combination of fright, guilt, and perhaps sexual exhaustion (reminiscent of Strauss’s orchestral Don). This Don, portrayed by Brett Polegato, transgresses Da Ponte’s libretto from the very first glimpse. As with the Eugene Onegin he gave us last season, this is a thoughtful and world-weary lover.” (autumn 2008)
And more recently we saw that in a star-turn in the COC’s Cenerentola:
“While prettier of voice than DiStefano, Brett Polegato’s Dandini gave DiStefano a run for the money. Polegato had a voice that’s apt for bel canto while being one of the comic stars of the performance.” (April 2011)
There’s a comprehensive bio on his website that gives you some idea of his range, including such highlights as Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Bolshoi Wozzeck or Pelléas at the Paris Opera. While we’ve heard him in Toronto singing Messiah with the Toronto Symphony, this time he’ll be singing with Tafelmusik under Ivars Taurins in Koerner Hall. After this engagement, Polegato is headed to England to sing Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen” in the New Year.
But first, Handel in Toronto. In anticipation of this Christmas treat, I ask Polegato ten questions: five about himself, and five more about the project.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
I think I’m pretty evenly split between the two. Although, to be honest, I can only go on what people say about my mother as I was 10 when she passed away. I think I have her sense of humour and her desire for creativity. But I definitely have my father’s temper (which I try to control!) and his bravado (after all, he was Italian through and through).
2-What is the best thing or worst thing about being a singer?
For me the greatest thing about being a singer is that you never entirely figure things out – not your technique, not the music, not the poetry. You can spend your entire career / life striving to understand all three things, but at the end of the day, there is always more to discover about you and about the art form. The worst thing about being a singer is, hands down, the time away from family and friends. Fortunately, you learn to make lasting friendships wherever you go and that helps to see you through the times you are on the road.
3-Who do you like to listen to or watch?
To be honest, I never listen to music when I’m at home. For me, music is not a passive event so I find it hard to have it as background music – I always get caught up in it, regardless of what it is! This is why I hate music in cafes, shops and restaurants. And while I like to watch TV, I am much more of a reader. I have well over 2,000 books in my TBR pile (to be read) and nothing relaxes me more than sitting by the fireplace at home, in a quite house, with a book.
4-What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I could write. While I am rarely intimidated by people, I confess to getting tongue-tied around authors. To be able to create worlds and populate them with interesting characters is, for me, an unbelievable gift. There is great joy than being moved by words.
5-When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
Five more about undertaking Messiah with Tafelmusik
1-Talk for a moment about the challenges of Handel’s Messiah, especially for the baritone.
Messiah is, hands down, the piece I have lived with the most in my career – a career which now spans 22 years. I have sung every version of every aria – include the Mozart transcription – and have recorded the work three times. Especially for the baritone, I think the work makes exceptional demands. Clearly, the arias were not written for the same singer! But for me, it is so word-driven that it helps inform my technique. It has a phenomenal range – two octaves alone in “The Trumpet Shall Sound” – and requires the singer to be both declamatory and reflective; to execute dazzling runs and beautifully sustained and lyrical passages. I have sung well over 100 performances in my lifetime and I never get tired of singing it. While this is true of all pieces I perform, I remind myself at each performance of this piece ESPECIALLY that there is someone who is hearing the work for the first time. And someone who is hearing it for the last. And in both cases, I want them to remember it and be moved by what I do.
2-Please tell us about working with Ivars Taurins as Handel, and how he is in rehearsal and in preparation.
Ivars brings such passion and commitment to this piece that he is a joy to work with. I have never seen him go on autopilot in a performance; he gives his all and inspires us to do the same. As a soloist, I feel he respectfully gives me room to be myself and to experiment. And he does all of this with joy and a sense of humour. But make no mistake: he has the utmost respect for Messiah and expects all involved to share that respect.
3-What’s your favourite moment in Messiah?
Hands down, my favourite moment is the final “Amen.” I love how it starts as this lone voice after the extroverted praise of the section before, and then builds to this tremendous climax at the end. It always has me grinning from ear to ear.
4-Messiah can be seen as theatre, as music, and for some so religiously inspired as to be genuinely sacred. Where do you place the emphasis among those three (drama, music & spirit) in preparation & in performance?
While I always try to find the drama and the music in every piece I sing, when I sing concert works I am keenly aware of the spiritual force inherent in so many of them. And when performed at Christmas, Messiah carries a special message for many concert goers. I strive to keep that at the forefront of my performance. The words are incredibly uplifting and – especially in something like “The Trumpet Shall Sound” – impart a sense of hope and peace especially in these troubled times. I have been given a great opportunity and responsibility as a performer and I try to make them count!
5- Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
There have been so many people who have helped and guided me along the way that there is no way to name them all. But – even 36 years later – I still think of my mother, especially at Christmas, who was the greatest woman I’ve ever known. Her life on this earth was too brief, and I’ve never stopped missing her. I try to live each day in a way that would make her proud.
Tafelmusik present Handel’s Messiah December 17-20, 7:30 pm at Koerner Hall, followed by the Singalong at Massey Hall December 21st at 2 pm:
Directed by Ivars Taurins, with
Lydia Teuscher, soprano
James Laing, countertenor
Colin Balzer, tenor
Brett Polegato, baritone