In concert, ‘you are inside only the music,’ observes tenor Francesco Meli

To get a sense of Francesco Meli’s standing in the opera world, look no further than the list of top-tier opera houses and summer series where he regularly appears, including La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera in London and the Salzburg Festival in Austria. 

While he has starred in productions at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, he has kept his U.S. appearances to a minimum.

He simply doesn’t like being separated from him family for long periods. Unlike European productions, where he can easily zip to his home in Genoa, Italy, during breaks, a production in the United States can necessitate his staying away for as long as two months.

“For me, it’s not easy,” said the tenor from Rome, where he was starring in Verdi’s Ernani. “I want the possibility to come back home if I am free.”

Meli won’t have that problem when he sings the central role of Riccardo in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera with Music Director Riccardo Muti on the podium. The performances of the popular 1859 work, which conclude the CSO’s 2021-22 subscription series on June 23, 25 and 28, are concert versions, which require no sets and costumes and limited rehearsals.

“It’s easier,” Meli said. “I arrive in Chicago, and the rehearsals start with Maestro Muti with piano and the days after with the orchestra. Then are the concerts, and I come back home. It’s wonderful for me, because I can sing in the States but not [stay] for a very long time.”

Performing a concert version of an opera is not more or less challenging than a staged production, he believes. The two approaches are just different.

“When you are on the stage with the costume, the wig, the makeup and everything, you are in the history,” he said. “When you sing in concert, you can think only about the music, and you are inside only the music. And you don’t have to think about a movement or that soprano arrives from the right and not from the left or that the chorus is late. 

“In concert, you are with the score in front of the orchestra, near the conductor, and you have to sing and stop. It’s not better on the stage and it’s not better in concert. It’s so, so different, and I love them both.”