Imagine your family is of humble means and you aspire to become an opera singer, a career that requires costly ongoing training. You wonder how you’ll manage conservatory or university tuition, private lessons and all the rest. You win first prize in a vocal competition. A jury member takes you under her wing and assumes your intensive training, even gets you specialized instruction from a legendary tenor—all without charging a penny.

Sound like a dream? Well, it very much came true for Italian tenor Andrea Carè, who debuts Saturday, April 7, at Michigan Opera Theatre in Puccini’s ‘Tosca.’ In an exclusive interview, the 36-year-old tenor told Blasting News the wonderful story of being discovered, explained his debut role’s difficulties and spoke of an even bigger debut later this month.

Debt of gratitude

Andrea Carè is still amazed that world-renowned Bulgarian soprano Raina Kabaivanska, the jury member in question, has done so much to nurture his talent and influence his career since he won the 2005 Spoleto International Opera Competition. Says he, “After two years of lessons with her, she wanted me to have input from someone of my voice type, another tenor. She said the only one she trusted was Luciano Pavarotti. She asked if he would help me. He had me audition. And he tutored me daily for six months—again, without charge. That would never have happened if Raina hadn’t intervened.”

Looming debuts

This month, Andrea Carè debuts with two opera companies in the same role, as Floria Tosca’s romantic interest, the artist Mario Cavaradossi: this week, with Michigan Opera Theatre and, three weeks later, with the prestigious Teatro Regio di Parma, not far from his hometown.

Detroit marks his fifth time bringing the role to stage.

This and the prior occasions—in Strasbourg, Stuttgart, Barcelona and St. Margarethen, Austria—are a wind-up for the really big debut with Parma’s Royal Theatre. Why is Parma such a big deal? “It’s one of Italy’s most important stages. Plus, I haven’t performed in Italy for five years, not by choice but because lately Italian theaters are in such economical disarray that they only contract singers six months in advance.

I already have contracts through 2022.”

The role’s challenges

“This is one of the most important roles for tenor,” says Andrea Carè, “not only because the opera itself is so popular, but also because of the role’s technical difficulties, both musically and from a theatrical point of view.”

What difficulties?

The seasoned tenor isolates three:

  • Familiarity. “So many great tenors of the recent past have owned the role. Audiences are expecting me to fill some pretty big shoes.” Plus, it’s Italy. “Everyone has seen this well-known opera at least once.”
  • Exposure. “Within this large body I carry a delicate instrument. I am scarcely onstage when I must sing one of the opera’s great arias (‘Recondita armonia’), which includes a big B-flat just three minutes later. Warmup is crucial."
  • Pacing. “I can’t overdo the warmup or I’ll have trouble in Act II, which has far more drama. After a lot of singing in the lower register comes another sustained high B-flat, then an octave leap downward. The orchestra is really loud. It’s so dramatic! If I have paced myself and been careful with the voice to that point, it can cause goosebumps. Then, in Act III, comes the really famous aria (‘E lucevan le stelle’). Again the voice must at first take a lyrical approach before all the drama at the end of the aria.”

Stage favorites

Among the roles he has performed most, Andrea Carè’s favorites are Don José in Georges Bizet’s ‘Carmen,’ Gustavus II in Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Un ballo in maschera,’ and Cavaradossi.

“And now,” he adds, “there’s Stiffelio,” the title role of another Verdi opera.

Stiffelio, a Protestant minister, is married to Lina, whose heart has strayed to Rodolfo, whom her father eliminates in an honor killing. “It’s a beautiful opera, sadly underrated.” The role figures prominently in his schedule, with ten performances coming up at Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Opera. “It’s a very demanding role, almost as dramatic as Otello, with six arias.”

On the home front

In 2014, Andrea Carè married Finnish jazz saxophonist Sara Kari, and the tenor moved to Finland. Displaying a robust sense of humor and beguiling candor, he answered the question “Have you had your first argument yet?” with a hearty laugh: “There have been so many!

It’s a normal relationship, but I, after all, am a tenor—and an Italian tenor, at that. So it has been hard for her.” Asked if he, in similar circumstances, would be as forgiving as Stiffelio is toward Lina, he said without pause: “Absolutely not! I am very jealous. Though I’m from Torino, which is in northern Italy, my father is from Calabria, so it’s in my blood. That’s partly what makes me think I would be a great Otello.” Things don’t go as well for Desdemona, though, as they do for Lina.

Did someone say Otello?

“I like to sing, very much,” says Andrea Carè. “But I like acting even more, and Otello is such a fantastic part of acting.” How long will the world have to wait to see him assume the daunting role of Shakespeare’s Moor in Giuseppe Verdi’s iconic opera?

He gave no clues. But his frequent mention of it clearly suggests his keen interest in someday taking it on. If past performance is any indication of future success, something says that this diligent, hard-working singer from a lowly background will rise to the occasion splendidly, whenever it’s time.

Tosca,’ by Giacomo Puccini, April 7-14 at Michigan Opera Theatre, 1526 Broadway Street, Detroit, Michigan, and April 27–May 6 at Teatro Regio, Strada Giuseppe Garibaldi 16/a, 43121 Parma, Italy.