Night at the Opera with Gianluca Luisi: Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Ferruccio Busoni

Photo courtesy of Gianluca Luisi
Photo Courtesy of Gianluca Luisi
Photo Courtesy of Gianluca Luisi

“Night at the Opera with Gianluca Luisi”, held on March 31st at the Italian Embassy of Washington DC, celebrated the 150th anniversary of pianist and composer, Ferruccio Busoni. The piano recital helmed by the laudable and vastly accomplished pianist, Gianluca Luisi. The program consisted of the likes of Verdi Liszt: Don Carlos, Wagner Liszt: Isoldes Liebestod and Bach Busoni: “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein”  [Rejoice, beloved Christians] and more.

Following a brief introduction, the recital abruptly began with Luisi dancing his fingers in a ballet along the piano’s row of keys. Reciting the works from memory, his eyes closed, it becomes evident that Luisi intimately feels each note as he sways with the inertia of the dramatic

melody. Leaning in, Luisi puckers his lips as the song crescendos and the audience leans in with him, captivated. Eyes rendered second-fiddle to ears, the audience is gripped by the performance. It would be reasonably fair to say Luisi had the audience in the palm of his hand, if his hands were not glued to the piano keys.

Luisi ends his first song with a brief recess. Soberly, he looks up and seemingly braces himself. He attacks the piano with the next piece. The pianist may be steering this vehicle of song but the emotion he exudes makes it blatant that he is along for the ride just as much as the audience. By the third song he wipes sweat from his brow but his sway has turned a bit merry. The piece is lighter and at moments feels like a bright summer’s day at an idyllic park.

Luisi continues to play, halfway through the recital he beings to engage his audience. The breaks between songs go from moments of private reflection to curt bows followed by a faint smile until finally at one break he turns to the audience and asks “how about we play Faust?” Clearly a rhetorical question as he does not wait for an answer, he breaks into “Gounod Liszt: Valzer de Faust.”

Near the end of the recital, a startling notion comes to mind; perhaps it would be wise to blink. And with a blink, the recital was at an end. As the audience dispersed into the reception hall, Luisi was sought out with the aide of Michele Giacalone of the Italian Embassy Press & Public Affairs office.

First, the character of Luisi. A man with a track record of performing at the Musikverein, Carnegie Hall, the San Carlos and more; smiles pleasantly with exceedingly humble mannerisms. Soft spoken and bafflingly approachable, he discloses what goes through his mind as he performs. He is “usually, very concentrated on listening to the music,” not concerned with anything else. When he performs “[he does not] play for the audience, just for the music… [Luisi tries] to put [his] soul on the cables. The music goes from yourself to the instrument.” When questioned about the piano he performed on, Luisi’s benign countenance went stern. Though the piano was not a concert piano, he treated it with the full extent of his skills. “I always put the piano on the extreme possibility and take some risks…It’s important for the program.” Luisi focuses primarily on the performance, rarely gauging the audience. He confesses with a tame shrug, “maybe the public likes [my performance], maybe not.” Objectively speaking, the public clearly enjoys Luisi’s performances perhaps because  ultimately, his foremost dedication is to the music.

By Denis Sgouros

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