To play the villainous Scarpia in FWO’s ‘Tosca,’ happily coupled barihunk Michael Chioldi dug deep
Bass Performance Hall, 545 Commerce St., Fort Worth. May 12–June 2. FWOpera.org.
For his entire professional life, Michael Chioldi has done nothing but sing opera. Yes, he has moments while listening to Jason Mraz when he wishes, just for a second, he could do that. But there is no need for the gay baritone to venture far from his world — it’s not in his nature.
“My physical voice is built for something different,” Chioldi says. “I feel I’m doing what I’m supposed to in my life. People search for that their whole lives. I’ve been fortunate.”
Chioldi plays the powerful Baron Scarpia in the Puccini opera Tosca, which opens the 2012 Fort Worth Opera Festival. The role represents a homecoming: FWO artistic director Darren Keith Woods bestowed Chioldi with his first Scarpia there in 2005.
“This is my third time back and it feels like home and that’s great to return to a place you feel loved and appreciated,” he says. “It’s interesting to come back to it years later as a matured singer and person. Darren said he knew way before other people that I would sing this repertoire.”
“I first heard Michael when I was still a singer and he was great even just out of college,” Woods says. “I followed his career [and] when I first came to FWO, he auditioned for me. Even in his early 30s there was an intensity and color in his voice that let me know he would be a great Scarpia.”
That wasn’t the first time someone saw greatness in Chioldi. None other than Placido Domingo commended him, a mere opera pup of 25, on his X-factor quality.
“This was the first year Placido took over the Washington National Opera and also my first big role as the barber of Seville,” Chioldi recalls. “He said, ‘You have something that cannot be taught. You have cha-reez-ma.’ When I was that young, ignorance was bliss. I was just like, ‘Oh thank you maestro!’ but I get it now. There is more pressure in that knowledge now than then, but I’m prepared for that now — vocally, physically and emotionally.”
His emotional strength is at its highest. Chioldi recently celebrated his first anniversary with Scott, his partner, proudly showing off the ring Scott gave him (a David Yurman!). He gushes sweetly about the man he describes as his better half.
Going in and out of relationships, Chioldi was rarely by himself. After a major heartbreak, he dated just so as not to be alone. While performing Madama Butterfly last year at the WNO, his gaze locked on the handsome stage manager.
“I admit his butt caught my eye at first,” Chioldi confesses, “but when I met Scott, I knew right away. We made eyes and I played it very cool just like Scarpia. But when we kissed, I knew I was in trouble. I mean, I was 40 years old and getting those butterfly feelings. He had awoken something inside me. I know now what it’s like to completely trust someone.”
He chalks up their compatibility to their similar upbringings. Chioldi even calls it old-fashioned but he ponders the almost religious feeling of it.
“Monogamy is built within me and it goes into a more spiritual level,” he says. “With this business I’m in, I have to be a people person, but he’s very grounding and calms me down. He’s very reassuring.”
Chioldi firmly believes in art reflecting life. But at such a happy time in his life, how does he pull off snidely villains?
“Inevitably, how you feel translates into something palpable. I remember the not so happy times and singing an aria about heartbreak is hard,” he says. “But what I’ve learned is to use that energy and enhance my performance. The process in getting there is like therapy and I can work out some issues while playing and developing these characters.”
Chioldi and Tosca director Danny Pelzig have worked to embolden Scarpia with a smoldering presence, adding sexual tension to the triangle of characters in the show. Chioldi has no problem being sexy. His hulking stature, good looks and voice merge to enhance the character’s conniving ways — which all fulfilled Woods’ prophecy.
“He was and is the perfect Scarpia,” Woods says. “He has an unparalleled passion in his singing, he’s a great actor and a sexy man. I knew he would bring a character that would be at once malicious, hateful and crazy, but wrapped up in a sexy package.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 11, 2012.