Baritone Damiano Salerno enchants at Wigmore Hall London debut
Damiano Salerno makes his London debut at the Wigmore Hall accompanied by Giulio Zappa on the piano, as part of the Rosenblatt Recital Series. The Italian baritone’s performance ends with the audience perhaps not quite in the palm of his hand, but undoubtedly impressed by his powerful and rich technique, and very much charmed by his modest, playful and often passionate stage presence.
He could hardly have hoped for a more warm and generous crowd, or a more intimate venue at which to sing for the first time in any given city. Yet Salerno doesn’t look completely at ease from the start: opening with a fairly safe choice, Bellini’s Vanne, o rosa fortunata, the singer looks a little nervous, using his arms stiffly and backing into the piano. He seems also to be struggling to contain a slight echo in the hall, causing some of the more intricate turns to be lost.
Some of the tension seems to ease with the second piece (another Bellini – the more famous Malinconia, ninfa gentile), but it isn’t until Salerno’s third piece, Ah! Per sempre io ti perde (also by the master of bel canto opera) that he really hits his stride. With the chance to bring out the drama of the aria with gestures to the audience, shrugging his shoulders, drooping his head and throwing his hands into the air (and at one point his head almost into the piano), Damiano relaxes, and the audience begins to see why the baritone had caused such a fuss with his role in Rigoletto at The Grange Park Opera in 2011.
The applause begins to get more raucous and you can see the singer’s confidence growing, to wonderful effect: Donizetti’s Tutto è veleno per me is delivered with wonderful variation in tone and an intensity that has the audience on the edge of their seats. And for Denza’s stirring Occhi di fata we find that the baritone can also perform this kind of passionate Italian song with grace and sweetness, without ever descending into the syrupiness so many singers find hard to resist.
Towards the end we get Tosti’s È morto Pulcinella!, in which Damiano inhabits the character of the famous clown of Italian folklore with tremendous force, giving much more than just a glimpse of what a joy he must be to watch as a member of a full production.
Watch Damiano Salerno in Verdi’s Rigoletto here