Caterina Piva is an Italian mezzo-soprano. In her career she has worked with such important directors and musicians and has graced some of the most famous stages such as the Teatro alla Scala. Caterina believes that theaters are “the nourishment of the spirit, a safe harbour where one can be moved”.
Hello Caterina, tell us a little about yourself. How was your passion for music born? Why did you choose to specialize in lyrical singing?
Hello Sara! Thank you for contacting me, it’s always a pleasure to be able to talk about such a unique and wonderful job! My artistic path began on a stage, but in the context of prose theater. During my high school years, I took an acting course at the Teatro Carcano in Milan and it was there, during vocal technique classes, that the teacher noticed my predisposition to lyrical singing. I was so flattered by her intuition that I immediately felt the need to start studying it, although I knew nothing about the lyrical world. And that’s what I did.
How is the learning path of a lyrical singer structured? How has it changed over time?
I don’t think there’s a mandatory path. Everyone has their own, as there are plenty of training and studying opportunities. I personally undertook my musical studies at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan and graduated from the Academy of the Teatro alla Scala, where I completed my studies with a two-year specialization for lyrical singers. The Academy has been a focal point in my education path: I grew vocally and in many other areas, thanks to the guidance of excellent teachers and the possibility of making my debut on a stage like that of La Scala.
In any case, I think it is essential to always have a good teacher supporting you, who can advise you wisely, who knows your voice deeply and knows exactly what you need to work on in order to improve. Also, a good dose of awareness does not hurt: knowing how to listen and feel if you are doing well is essential.
Caterina and her experiences in theater;
What did performing on such an important stage as that of the Teatro alla Scala mean to you?
What I’m about to say may seem weird to you, but sometimes we picture emotions that, in the end, when you’re there on stage, we don’t feel the way we thought we would. Perhaps because concentration and professionality take over. When I debuted as Annina in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at La Scala, I was much more excited in my mind than when I actually performed. This, to be clear, doesn’t mean that I wasn’t thrilled on stage, but the feeling was more controlled than I imagined.
“I don’t think there’s a mandatory path. Everyone has their own”
What has been the most exciting experience you’ve had the possibility to live thanks to your job?
I would say that among the most beautiful and enriching experiences, there’s the one of being able to watch great artists working from up close. I was lucky enough to work with Placido Domingo, Leo Nucci, Zubin Mehta and other giants of the music world: they exude mastery, experience and instinct. All of this has always been an inspiration to me.
A wonderful memory is definitely the gala for the 50th work anniversary of Maestro Domingo at the Teatro alla Scala in December 2019: I was on that stage with him and other colleagues of the Academy. The audience, in raptures, applauded for what I believe was 20 minutes straight. An unforgettable evening! The Maestro has always been disarmingly humble and that is what makes him so great.
What was it like working with such a big name like Woody Allen? I suppose it was such a great emotion.
It was a wonderful production and all of us students had the time of our lives! Woody Allen came in quietly and coy, followed the rehearsals and gave us lots of advice on acting: above all he wanted us to be very natural and insisted on that.
“I think it is essential to always have a good teacher supporting you”
What is one of the best memories you have of the interpretation of Maddalena in “Rigoletto" directed by Daniel Oren? And what have you learned from such a great director?
I love playing Maddalena and being able to debut this role at La Scala in the historic production of Gilbert Deflo was a dream. The most beautiful thing ever was singing "Rigoletto" with my companions from the Academy, led by Leo Nucci, the Rigoletto par excellence. We have been working for months and I think it has been a wonderful team effort.
Maestro Oren is very strict and demands the best from his artists: being directed by him has spurred me even more to always be well prepared, attentive and ready to perform whatever I’m asked to.
What role did you have the most fun playing?
The unpleasant and whimsical Thisbe, one of Cinderella’s stepsisters, for sure: with the Academy, we staged a reduced version of this Rossini’s opera for schools, and fun was guaranteed, especially for us singers! But I must also mention La Ciesca from Puccini's “Gianni Schicchi”, who in Allen's production, for example, was a greedy and provocative alcoholic with Marilyn Monroe hair: impossible not to have fun playing her! I won't hide the fact that I often had to laugh on stage…
“We artists also have the right to work and the duty to disseminate this enormous asset that is Art”
What characters would you like to play as one day? And what is one of your dreams you hope will come true?
I would love to play Amneris, Carmen and Delilah. I can't wait to give them a voice and find my own personal interpretation.
While my dream is to be directed by Maestro Muti, perhaps in one of the roles I would love to sing!
This is a very dark moment for music, theater and art in general. What do you wish for yourself and for all artists?
Sadly, it is a very dark time. Theater is not such if there is no relationship with the audience: it loses its very soul as a social organ and as a means of sharing for people. Now we get by as best we can, and this is laudable and necessary, but streaming shows are a mere sweetener and I hope we can soon get back to a healthy situation. I am sorry to see that theater is often not considered important, but it is. It is the nourishment of the spirit, it is a safe harbour where one can be moved, find oneself and discuss things. I think we have reached the peak of our tolerance: it is time to reopen and start over. We artists also have the right to work and the duty to disseminate this enormous asset that is Art.