“Ah! my friends, what a party! It was the tune that propelled Luciano Pavarotti to legendary status as “King of the High Cs”, when he sang it at the top of his voice at the Metropolitan Opera in 1972, and the only one that could justify breaking the rule. Strict ‘No Encores’ at La Scala – a diktat that lasted 74 years before Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flores could resist a cover. And when daughter of the regiment opens at Sarasota Opera House on February 19, tenor William Davenport returns to Sarasota Opera House with expectations as high as the scores themselves. “It’s really like walking a tightrope,” he says. “Terrifying, but thrilling.”
Most of Donizetti’s comic opera music seems innocuous enough, but for this aria at the end of Act I, with a huge eight C dominating the page in rapid succession like lyrical Alps separating the future Hannibals from their lesser imitators. It’s a peak Davenport has reached for Sarasota audiences before, in Bohemian like Rodolfo, but nine of them? (A high C ninth is not written out but almost always added at the end, because once you’ve locked that sort of thing in, the instinct is just to push it as far as you can.)
“Hearing someone go into a big, high C, full voice, and throw themselves into it with reckless abandon makes everyone sit on the edge of their seat,” says Davenport. “But you have to be smart about how you practice. You don’t want to sing this tune 10 times a day or you could hurt yourself. He therefore isolates the pieces to be worked on, without ever forcing or fighting against fatigue, which only invites injuries and bad habits. Plus, Davenport knows he can hit the note. The biggest challenge will probably be psychological. “Especially with that tune,” he says. He therefore works to cultivate the psychological calm that will allow him not only to sing at his best, but to play at his best, like Tonio in love.
“The real treat is when you can do it without stepping out of character and when you can use character to power the technique,” says Davenport. “At the end of the day, the goal is to forget all that and get up there and be Tonio.”