The Italian tenor Paolo Fanale climbs down from the stage of the Munich Opera House to accompany us on a journey through the art and culture of the German city.
he general rehearsals of the Paris Opera do not usually revolutionise social media. However, a young Italian tenor did just that unintentionally when singing ‘Stabat Mater’ by Rossini, wearing a tight T-shirt through which a tattoo was visible. “A god of the stage with a divine voice” is how Paolo Fanale was described after the video of his performance went viral on YouTube. He is an example of the resurgence that opera is experiencing worldwide, and we interviewed him in Munich, where he is performing in the staging of ‘Così Fan Tutte’ by Mozart, with the Bavarian State Opera.
Just like the city, Paolo Fanale combines classicism and modernity: “Munich is a perfect mixture of modernity and history. I recognise myself in it because I feel very modern, but my work is historical, as well as modern. Munich is a quiet, safe, beautiful city…I could say perfect”.
Specialising in light-lyric and pure-lyric tenor roles, the wish of his father that he study piano defined his destiny by allowing him to discover opera. His debut aged 25 in 2007 in Palermo was his first step on a career that has taken him to the Metropolitan in New York, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and the Helsinki Opera House.
Fanale acknowledges that opera is going through a difficult time at the moment, of resurgence in theatre, but one in which great projects continue to be staged and great artists continue to appear. “I’m a fan of Roberto Alagna. He’s a singer that I really love, also because he’s from the same place as me, Sicily”.
This meteoric rise comes at a price. Last year he was only at home, in Marsala, for one month during the whole year. “I’m an opera singer. I work in the theatre. Thanks to my work I get the chance to travel a lot. The only drawback is being far away from my family. That’s the price I have to pay”, he says. This is a family that includes a very young baby, his second daughter.
Each job requires an average of between ten days and three weeks staying in another city, including rehearsals and performances, plus concerts and other professional commitments. “I spend a lot of time in the opera house, but I can’t hide my desire to explore what is hidden within me and make the most of my time here. When I’m in a city as beautiful as Munich I try to learn about its cultures and customs, because I live through art”, he says.
“This city has so much to offer. The first time I visited I thought: Mama mia! This is an incredible city. When I’m here and have the chance, I go to a concert or a ballet performance. Every day there’s art on offer. Classical music lovers should also visit the Ludwig Beck shopping centre, in Marienplatz. It’s a divine place”.
“Munich is full of history and art”, repeats Paolo Fanale. Although he can’t resist joking with his press agent, also Sicilian, about the rivalry between the two football teams on the Italian island, he acknowledges that he’s no expert. Cars, on the other hand, are another thing altogether.
“Hypertechonological and gleaming” is how he describes the BMW Museum, which tells the story of the brand from its origins manufacturing engines and airplanes to the cars that are on the market today. Faithful to the dichotomy between modernity and classicism, a second later he doesn’t hesitate to praise the Residenz royal palace and museum as “one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe”. And he is enchanted by the decorative details of the opera house where Richard Strauss used to conduct and where Richard Wagner’s operas were premiered. “One place that fascinates me is Lenbachhaus, a painter’s residence and art gallery showing works from the 19th century up to contemporary art”, he adds.
“Another place that you have to visit is the incredibly beautiful cathedral, where they say you can see the footprint of the devil”, he recommends. Legend has it that the devil became angry after being tricked by the architect, who had promised him that he would build a church without windows if he did not interfere in the works. “Perhaps it’s true”, he jokes.
Paolo Fanale ends his tour around the attractions of Munich with a culinary recommendation: “Everyone who visits should eat a pretzel and drink a beer. They are the best in the world”. He acknowledges that maintaining physical discipline is very important for his work. But he can’t say no to a good beer. Another deal with the devil?