360° of Opera is currently in Paris, planning some exciting adventures… and feeling very French! On that note, we decided to share a little taste of Paris with you all with a recent interview with NYC’s own French pianist, Laetitia Ruccolo.
Laetitia currently resides in NYC and has performed all over Europe and the United States, both as a solo pianist and as a collaborative pianist. She has played at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and the Metropolitan Opera Guild. She is one of the founders of Bare Opera, one of the most exciting young opera companies in the city and she regularly collaborates with Shoperatic and Sing for Hope.
360° of Opera: At what point in your career did you move to the United States? What was your cultural background up to that point?
Laetitia: I came to the US to do a Master in Collaborative Piano at Mannes School of Music. I was studying at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, and a few friends and I decided to go audition in New York together. I heard that Mannes had a fantastic voice department and I loved the atmosphere there. The funny thing is that my friends and I all got accepted at Mannes on a full scholarship!
I was lucky to grow up in Alsace, near the border of Germany, in a multi-cultural family. My mom is French, my dad is Italian, and I was immersed in those 3 languages since I was born. Then, I learned Spanish, while studying in Paris with my Latino friends, and I got a degree in languages with a Minor in Art History. But as a good French person, my English was a complete disaster until moving to the States.
360° of Opera: Has working with singers had an impact on your style? Has your style evolved since you moved to the US from France? What role has Shoperatic/ODDC played on this?
Laetitia: I’m French, so style is in my genes! I realized, while living in New York, that my style is more French than ever. I thought when I lived in Paris that I was a little different because of my Italian side, but no, I’m totally Parisian. You would never see me in active wear outside, last time I bought sneakers was probably last century, and I always tell my friends that if they see me wearing these horrible plastic rain boots, they should put me on the next plane to Paris.
I love Shoperatic, I found not only some incredible dresses, but also jewelry, beauty products, and more! Suzanne gave me the opportunity to wear the most fabulous Escada dress for a concert with Bare Opera! People complimented me on it much more than on my playing! It’s quite fascinating to see what Shoperatic is doing. I remember that I was very surprised when I arrived to the States to see all singers looking exactly the same for auditions. Same dresses, same shoes, same hair, it was even a little scary! But I saw a big change last audition season and I am sure it has something to do with Shoperatic/ODDC.
360° of Opera: At what point in your career as a pianist did you start working with singers and why? Why do you like doing this kind of work in particular?
Laetitia: My singer friends had been telling me for years that I should become a vocal coach, but I only decided to go for it after I played for the masterclasses of a famous French soprano. She really encouraged me to take that path, and she advised me to study with Angéline Pondepeyre, the best collaborative piano teacher in France. I graduated piano young, I was feeling very lonely as a soloist, and I immediately loved working with singers. I know many pianists who complain about them, but I must say I have rarely had bad experiences.
Also, even if she isn’t a professional musician, my mom had been taking me to the opera since I was very young! One of my favorite things about it was that I could wear nice shoes and dresses! So, I was already familiar with the repertoire. Then I discovered Art Songs, which became my favorite, as they combine all my passions: music, literature and languages.
360° of Opera: Have you ever found yourself in a position where female collaborative pianists get less opportunities to be on the spotlight than male ones? If so, how do you go about this, or what have you done to create your own opportunities?
Laetitia: Unfortunately, yes, it is still a sad reality. All my female colleagues have several stories as well. I know a lot of fantastic female pianists who are not where they should be, while I see many male pianists, who are less talented, getting bigger opportunities.
I remember a very famous pianist telling a brilliant friend of mine that women are too nice to be collaborative pianists! But if we have opinions, then we are called hysterical, or worse.
It is important to talk about it because I notice that many singers, both male and female, are not aware of it. As I said earlier, I haven’t had such an experience directly with singers, even if I have been told by some old voice teacher once that a soprano will never hire a pianist if she is too pretty… Our generation (both men and women) seems smarter than that. Hopefully things will start to change.
I also founded the company Bare Opera with some friends, which is entirely women-run! It wasn’t something we planned, it just happened that way, and we love the men who work with us! But I think it does make a difference in the general atmosphere of the company, we feel more like a family, and we really care about the well-being of everyone involved in a production.
I’m very proud that we have been invited by the Wellesley College for a residency next April, to share our experience with Bare Opera and in opera in general, with future female leaders.
Shoperatic will be performing a concert in conjunction with Sing For Hope at the Guggenheim Pavilion at Mt. Sinai Hospital on Tuesday, October 10th at 12PM with Ms. Ruccolo accompanying Raquel Suarez Groen & Katie Copeland, the divas behind My Infinite Agenda, Eugenia Forteza, Kaleigh Rae Gamaché, Sara Duchovnay, Suzanne Vinnik and special guest Elizabeth Caballero to raise awareness about early beast cancer screening. We thank Laetitia for her thorough responses and for sharing her story with us. If you are a singer in NYC, we strongly encourage you to collaborate with Laetitia. She can play anything, will make you sound and look good and she is a fantastic artist, as well as a great person.