André Schoen, a young, rapidly rising Italian baritone, brings an instinctive musicality to his performances. Born in La Valle, a small village in the mountainous Sudterol region on the border with Austria, Schwenn grew up speaking three languages: Laden, Italian and German.
This summer, Schoen, 38, is playing Count Almaviva in the Salzburg Festival New production of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”, running from July 27th to August 28th. With rehearsals underway in late June, he spoke on a video call about his background and upcoming performance. The following conversation, translated from German, has been edited and condensed.
You are from a remote area and part of a cultural and linguistic minority, the Ladin people. How has this background affected your musical line-up?
From childhood onwards, music has always been the most important thing. This was also the case with my father, who got his love of music from his father.
You have to remember that 100 years ago people were very poor where I come from. Before tourism, they were all farmers living off their fields and cows.
My grandfather acquired a small set of tools that my father passed on to us. This means that we grew up with music, including many folk songs, as my dad played the accordion and clarinet, my sister the violin, and I the cello.
We also made music together as a family And put together a program related to our national Ladin epic, about a legend Kingdom of the Lanterns. Later, I was in a band and did covers of everything, including punk songs.
You weren’t listening to Schubert alone in your room.
never! Quite the opposite. For example, when I was 13 years old, football meant everything to me. I was on a team. It’s not like my parents forced me into a musical direction. If I had said I wanted to be a carpenter, I would have become a carpenter.
When did you start playing the cello?
When I was about 7 years old, I studied cello for 12 years. I knew I loved to sing, but classical singing never crossed my mind. One of my sisters said to me, “You sing so well. Why don’t you give it a chance?”
So I did a sound test at the Mozarteum [University] in Salzburg. And that’s what happened. Without thinking about it too much, everything came together harmoniously.
What gives you singing and not playing the cello?
I think it has a little bit to do with the fact that you are the instrument, and that you don’t have to take something in your hand and practice with it. And of course, there is the added text element. I think being an opera singer has more criteria. It’s not just about singing.
This summer she will appear as the Count in Figaro. I’ve also sung the title character several times. What is it like to be up and down in this opera?
Personally, I prefer the Count’s vocals. He’s not exactly a positive character, but that’s exactly what makes him so interesting. He has more layers than Figaro. He has a soft and charismatic side, but he’s also aggressive or short-tempered and you need to quickly switch between emotions.
Recently, I sang The Count in Barry Koski’s famous and hilarious production of “Figaro” in Vienna. Will Salzburg-based director Martin Kossig show us a different side of Figaro?
definitely. [Kusej] You don’t want to reproduce the piece the way it was intended [Mozart’s] time. It is trying to highlight something relevant that still touches or worries us in the present. But I don’t think he’s looking for that through comedy.
I recently sang the first Wolfram on “Tannhäuser”. How was he to sing such a melodic role for Wagner?
I was emotionally affected. For other Wagner roles, we’ll see where my voice leads me. But Mozart will probably remain an essential part of my repertoire until the very end. The Count isn’t a part I’d like to retire, because it’s a role you can still sing when you’re 60.