"You have love, war, passion and betrayal -- all the situations that you can sing about in an opera, you can find them in Aida." -- Riccardo Massi, Italian spinto tenor
He's a soldier, captain of the Egyptian guard, and his first loyalty is to his king. All that falls away in Aida when a beautiful Ethiopian slave walks through the door and Radamès falls in love.
"He betrays his people revealing very, very important military secrets. But even in that mistake he refuses to betray Aida and remains silent and is condemned to death. Even in this terrible turn of events, he always remains loyal, first to the king and then to Aida," says Riccardo Massi who sings the Radamès role in Houston Grand Opera's season-opening production of the Giuseppe Verdi classic.
"Verdi loves this kind of situation where everything works fine to a certain point and then something happens and there's disaster,"Massi says. "It's exactly the turn of events that gives you that thrill. That beautiful feeling of what's-going-to-happen-now. Plus there's that beautiful, beautiful music that Verdi wrote."
Massi has had several operatic moments in his own life.
The former stunt man (the HBO series Rome, Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York) and martial arts instructor, comes from a family of "lawyers and accountants" and only began his opera training at the advanced age of 22. From there, he went on to win a singing competition at La Scala in Milan.
He worked a series of jobs including in security in order to pay for singing lessons in Rome. He had decided to sign up for stunt actor school in Los Angeles but was turned away because the classes were already full. "Just think, I wouldn't be here today if they'd taken me," he says.
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Instead he embarked on a hard-charging career that's taken him around the globe in short order and caught the attention of HGO when he did Aida at the Met in New York City. He was signed for his upcoming Houston appearance about 18 months ago.
As a spinto tenor, Massi hits the usual high notes but is also able to add layers and depth to the lower tones the role demands. While his voice lesson certainly helped, Massi says this was an ability he was born with "like blue eyes."
Massi says everyone should see Aida at least once and not just because he is Italian. "It's a Verdi masterpiece. It's one of those things that you cannot miss in your life. This is not just an opera. This is a heritage that Verdi left to mankind. The music that Verdi wrote is so universal. Even if you don't understand the words, the music is so, so clear. It's something that goes beyond words."
Aida runs October 18- November 9 at the Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue. 7 p.m. October 18, 7:30 p.m. October 26, October 29, November 1 and 9, 2 p.m. October 26 and November 3. For information call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $18 - $386.50.