Ludovic Tézier has a secret to share with me. Never mind that as one of the finest baritones in the world his booming voice makes it hard to be discreet.
“The truth about opera singers is that food and drinks are pretty much the only topic we discuss. When they know you’ve been hired to sing in a new opera house, your musician friends will give you their list,” he tells me. “Where to get the best täffelspitz with cream spinach if you’re in Vienna. The address of Pavarotti’s cook in Genova. The best wine bar in Madrid. Believe me, nobody knows food and drinks like an opera singer.”
Such is the unconventional life of travel led by opera singers, or at least was before the spread of Covid-19. And that life also came with its spells of homesickness. “I remember my debut at the Met,” says Tézier. “It was the year 2000 and I was singing Escamillo in Carmen. I loved New York City right away but food wise, it was challenging. The Parmigiano cheese I found at my local supermarket was from Cincinnati. So, when my American agent asked me to stay one more week for a televised concert—the opportunity of a lifetime she insisted—I said no way, I’m out of here. I need to go back home for real cheese! She thought I was nuts. Obviously, the New York food scene has changed a lot since then, only for the better.”
In the last 20 years, 52-year old Tézier has been back at the Metropolitan Opera many times, most notably in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor as the main character’s villainous father. (This 2011, production is currently available for streaming on the Met’s website.)
In December, providing Lincoln Center reopens in time, Tézier is set to sing the tragic title role in Rigoletto, one of Verdi’s finest operas. The great Italian composer is very much on Tézier’s mind these days as shown by his exquisite first solo album simply titled Verdi (Sony Classical), which was just released this winter. “We recorded in Bologna, which is one of the very best places to eat and drink in the world. I mean Luciano [Pavarotti] grew up a few miles away in Modena. That says it all.”
For Tézier, his love of food and drink began by the Mediterranean where he grew up on France’s beautiful coast. He still speaks with a warm and musical accent common in his hometown of Marseilles. “What really rocked my world was a summer holiday in the Gers region, that’s in the Southwest of France. We were staying on a farm and believe me, there was a depth of knowledge there,” he recalls. “I remember this woman, beautifully-named Zélie. What a cook! She prepared zucchini flowers fritters that were heavenly. With the male flowers, mind you, because if you use the females you ruin the chain of reproduction. And she made incredible pastries in her wood oven. The thin dough was filled with crab apples in an Armagnac sauce.”
Since then, the famed brandy has remained a personal favorite of his. “I remember the locals pouring Armagnac in balloon glasses, savoring it and talking about the variety of tastes they perceived. I remember the wonderful, vanilla-like smell of the alcohol maturing in the oak barrels. And seeing the transparent color of the [unaged] brandy presented in a thimble for everybody to admire and the mahogany colors of the mature one. Beautiful memories.”
Is there a vocal benefit to drinking before a concert or is liquor a singing hazard? “We’ve all heard the urban legends,” Tézier admits. “Namely that you should drink whiskey to get a lower register or a glass of Bordeaux to lubricate the vocal cords. Personally, I don’t do any of it for the same reason that an athlete doesn’t drink before a game. Alcohol stiffens the muscles and that’s all the vocal cords are, it’s pretty simple. So, I enjoy a nice drink after a show or on my downtime in Alsace.”
Tézier, his wife, the soprano Cassandre Berthon, and their young son, have settled into a house near wine country in Dorlisheim, which is not too far from Strasburg. “A guy from Marseilles who finds a home in Alsace, it’s not that common, but it’s my story,” says Tézier. “I’m in awe of the savoir faire of these winemakers who are our neighbors. I can recommend the Rangen de Thann for instance, a wonderful, joyous white wine. It is also a rarity because the workers have to rope down the hill to collect the grapes. A wine like that can produce in you great emotions. Pretty much like music. There is great music all around…and then there is Mozart.”
So if Rangen de Thann goes with Mozart, then what do you drink while listening to Verdi’s operas? Tézier doesn’t miss a beat. “A glass of Amarone della Valpolicella,” he says. “Spicy and deep, with a touch of a violent, beastly feeling to it…That wine is pure Verdi.”
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