Michael Capasso and the rebirth of the New York City Opera

New York City Opera Director Michael Capasso. Photo: Christian Steiner

New York City Opera Director Michael Capasso. Photo: Christian Steiner

Music, an integral part of the Italian who migrates, makes its way through the generations of a new youth, like a gentle reminder and an historical and cultural identity that excites and inspires modern paths of personal development. With his grandparents and great-grandparents from the Campania region as accomplices, the New Yorker, Michael Capasso, at the age of seven develops a passion for the classics and for the Neapolitan language. He begins by asking questions and listening to recordings of the legendary voice of Enrico Caruso. 
 
Intrigued by this artist’s extraordinary career, he goes to the library in search of new sources and comes across a book written by Francis Robinson - Caruso: His Life In Pictures. The  artistic career and the private life of this artist fascinate him, and after seeing a film dedicated to him and after buying a record of Mario Lanza, with the most beautiful arias of this great tenor, he asks his mother if he can go to the opera. This great desire of Michael is immediately granted by her, and she allows the simpatico connoisseur to attend the seasonal program of the Metropolitan.  
 
The choice is that of Elisir d’Amore - with the irresistible sound of the languid melody of Una furtiva lagrima, which was etched in the memory of the little amateur who from that moment on become a zealous theater-goer. The courage and the innocence of his childhood will then go even further when Michael addresses a letter to Francis Robinson asking him to send him a copy of the book. 
 
Unfortunately, the book seems to be out of print, but the author, impressed by the young age of this curious child, decides to meet him and extends an invitation to lunch - strictly Italian. The two quickly become inseparable, and frequently attend the opera together (Francis was then the assistant to Sir Rudolf Bing, general manager of the Met). On set, there is an interchange of stars that have indissolubly marked the history of musical theater of all times: Franco Corelli, Renata Tebaldi, Carlo Bergonzi, Renata Scotto, Mirella Freni, and Richard Tucker. 
“At the age of twelve,” remembers Capasso, “I already knew that when I grew up, I would become general manager of a theater, it has always been my dream; at twenty-one, I produced my first Tosca and founded the Dicapo theater that, from that moment on, promotes  interesting contemporary productions and brings to the  forefront valuable and elegant works taken from the traditional repertoire”.
 
In 1995, while returning home after a rehearsal on the Biography Channel, a program is broadcast that is dedicated to an illustrious unknown, a sort of Soupy Sales. “I thought it was outrageous that a network of  such magnitude lacked a documentary dedicated to Enrico Caruso, and so” he smiles,  “I wrote a letter to the producer, complaining of its absence, and, to my surprise, he received me to discuss a possible production.  A little time afterwards, with the collaboration of the talent of a director in the field, Peter Rosen, the 45-minute documentary is finally broadcast  on the competent television networks.”
 
From founder of the Dicapo theater to general director of the New York City Opera. What is your plan to revive the fate of this historical institution?
The Dicapo theater is a miniature NYCO: the repertoire is more or less the same, even if its direction is much more modern; it leaves more space for the American operas and to the world premieres, to the insignia for the innovation and the promotion of contemporary music. 
Personally, in the planning of my theater, I always viewed the NYCO as a model to imitate. Unfortunately, in recent years, due to the poor management of the directors who took turns at guiding it, its economic conditions have plummeted and it was forced to close. Later on, I nevertheless decided to hold a meeting with several old members of the old board and together we tried to find a way to find a remedy for its destiny. The restored City Opera reflects the tradition of the ancient institution with a regard for the demands of the new public that willingly listens to recent works and turns to the past with nostalgia. The season as noted was reopened this year with a staging of Tosca, a unique concert that spans over 300 years of musical history -from Bach up to yesterday - and a chamber opera in Spanish with the romantic acoustics of Daniel Catan - Florencia en el Amazonas.
 
What performer would you like to have on the bill next year?
I would like for it to be a revelation for the public, not necessarily a famous singer. An artist who does not only recite a part, but who is able to live it together with  his vocal deliverance, well prepared and seriously engaged in the search of the character and sound that best represents it. Historically, in fact, the theater itself was not typically known to hire famous professionals - Placido Domingo, José Carreras, Beverly Sills, Samuel Ramey, Renee Fleming, all inaugurated their careers on the stages of the NYCO and Lincoln Center. 
 
In an undefined space of time, you have the opportunity to revive the three greatest composers in the history of the opera. Curiosity, doubts, and comments are the order of the day…
I love Puccini, absolutely the best composer in the world. In him, drama is accompanied by music in the highest exaltation of the senses. If I had the opportunity to talk to him, I would definitely ask him to finish Turandot! I also adore Verdi (especially the older Verdi) and Wagner. However, I think Bach - with reference to   music in general - is the greatest composer of all time. 
 
Your biggest aspiration?
I would be happy if the NYCO returned to occupy a prominent place in the world’s overview of opera; this is the sign that I would like to leave in the next few years as director of the theater. I spent my whole life preparing to take on a role of that type, and now I feel totally ready. Besides, in life three things matter most to me: my daughter, opera, and then everything else…

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