Interview with Levy Sekgapane, Boston’s prince

Cenerentola doesn’t have long to wait for her prince. He is coming to Boston ( BLO, Nov 8-12) in the disguise of the internationally acclaimed Rossini tenor, Levy Sekgapane who was kind enough to take time out of his intense rehearsal schedule with Boston Lyric Opera to answer a few questions for us.

You have sung quite a few Rossini roles in your professional career, and we hope you will continue to keep Rossini in your repertoire. The obvious questions are: do you have a favorite role ( and why) and is there one you haven’t sung yet which you would like to sing?

I don’t really have a favorite role, however I love playing Count Almaviva also Ramiro and Ernesto in “Don Pasquale”. There are so many more new roles I’d love to sing in this rep, I’m already singing some like “Otello” which I will sing next May 2024, others I’d like to sing are “Matilde di Shabran”, “La Donna Del Lago”,” Le Comte Ory” and “Ermione”

Do you have other engagements in the United States on this trip and have you sung in the US before?

No I don’t have other engagements in the US except this one I’m doing currently, Yes I’ve sung in the US before 2 years ago in Los Angeles with LA opera where we did a wonderful “Cenerentola” staged by Laurent Pelly.

How much of your own realization of a role are you able to maintain when participating in a new production? Do different productions contribute to your own understanding of a character?

I always try to use my experience to help me portray the role even if it’s a role I’ve done a 100 times. Especially if it’s a new production I try to bear in my mind that some directors will want different things; I open the room for them to maybe give me some other ideas that can make the role interesting. I think it’s a team work.

You mention in the program notes to your CD for Prima Classic “Giovin Fiamma” that your family sang in school ( in addition to church). Do you have any thoughts on whether music in school is the “real” gateway to the enjoyment of music later in life?

Yes, my family and I sang in school choirs and at church too, I think it’s a brilliant idea that music is done in school, if a child is not musical they can always go and try other things, if they love music they can continue studying it and maybe singing in choir or even playing in the school orchestra. Many great singers in history have come from choir including Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo etc.

Many of our members remember you in Rosetta Cucchi’s “Adina” for the Rossini Opera Festival. Had you worked with her before? Can you tell us something of the experience of signing in Rossini’s birthplace fore an audience of Rossini fans?

Yes, I know Rosetta very well, and I love her. She knows theatre and how to work with singers. She used to be a rehearsal pianist in the festival for years, now she’s directing and running the Wexford festival in Ireland. Adina in Pesaro was our first time working together, we had so much fun with Lisette Oropesa as Adina and Vito Priante. We revived the staging in Wexford a year after. Pesaro is a special place – we all know how wonderful it is, the atmosphere they created there, all the operas of Rossini performed at the highest level every year. It makes you very proud and grateful to be able to perform Rossini there.

You have recorded a debut CD solely devoted to Rossini. Are there some differences between recording and live performances that might not occur to listeners/audiences?

Yes, absolutely there are differences in recordings and live performances that might not occur to the audience/listeners. First of all making recordings is always good but we can’t compare it to live performance, on recordings we don’t know really how big the voices are until you hear them live and that can be even more amazing. I prefer live performances because people get to hear me closely and they get to enjoy the voice as pure as it is.

Some singers record very well and others don’t. Why is that?

Simply because voices differ; some singers when put behind the mic the voices can get lost within the frequency, others find themselves. Artists like Cecilia Bartoli, Juan Diego Florez,and Jonas Kaufmann are very good examples of voices that record very well. Mine does too. It has to do also with the nature of the voice, if it’s dark and big it can be difficult to record, if it’s smaller and lighter with a lot of squillo it records much better. Obviously we still need sound technicians to help us in moments where our voices fail us, they can enhance the sound here and there.

Finally, in your CD program notes you say that you first heard opera in an Italian food TV commercial. Can you remember the product/specific music?

Yes, haha. The commercial was about Italian Spaghetti in South Africa, they played La Donna è mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto. I don’t really remember the product probably Fattis & Monis spaghetti.

Thank you so much Levy for taking the time to answer our questions, and thank you for providing Cenerentola with a prince she deserves!