Tenor Freddie de Tommaso, who at the age of 28 became an overnight phenomenon after filling in for a star who was ill nearly two years ago, is in such high demand that he occasionally has to decline gigs.
The Daily Mail headline read, “British Tenor Saves Night at Opera.”
The opera was Puccini’s “Tosca,” and the tenor was then-28-year-old Freddie de Tommaso who stepped in at London’s Royal Opera House after Act 1’s original performer withdrew due to sickness.
That occurred over two years ago. De Tommaso recently made his American debut at the Santa Fe Opera in the same part, making an appearance on August 12 to enthusiastic ovation, five days after being forced to postpone his first performance due to laryngitis. This next Saturday is his last show.
And he’ll make his premiere in the 2024–2025 season, this time at the Metropolitan Opera, playing Mario Cavaradossi once more, the lover of Tosca.
De Tommaso discussed his career to date and the London “star is born” moment that first made him popular in an interview at the opera house.
That wasn’t the case, he recalled: “So many people believed I was like a student or somebody they spotted walking down the street whistling ‘Tosca. In actuality, he had been a member of the second cast and would play the part three nights from now.
But it was really exciting,” he added, his impassioned tone betraying his vivacious disposition. It felt like approximately 90 seconds from the time I put my outfit on until I took my bow two hours later.
De Tommaso first encountered opera when he was a young boy in Tunbridge Wells, where he participated in the school chorus. His Italian-born father, who operated a restaurant, serenaded guests with Luciano Pavarotti recordings, and his mother took him to performances.
He submitted an application to the Royal Academy of Music once he made the decision to pursue singing seriously. His future teacher, Mark Wildman, recalls hearing him perform.
“My initial perception of his tone was that it was a robust but rough-hewn diamond of a baritone tone with a surprisingly easy top for one so young,” stated Wildman. He had a singer’s body, including broad shoulders, a barrel chest, a very muscular build, and a voice to match.
As de Tommaso’s studies advanced, that simple top became easier and higher, and Wildman eventually quipped that his student might actually be a tenor.
“I can still see the joy on his face, like if he had just opened the perfect Christmas present! And there was nothing stopping him,” stated Wildman.
De Tommaso spent a lot of time listening to recordings of renowned tenors and took out loans when he could: It was described as “so virile” by Franco Corelli; “the dramatic aspect” by Mario del Monaco; “I don’t think you’ll hear any more elegant singing” by Carlo Bergonzi; and “his high C was literally huge” by Giacomo Lauri-Volpi.
De Tommaso said, “So I kind of made a trifle of singers,” alluding to the traditional English dessert in which a cook tops sponge cake with whichever fillings he chooses, such as fruit, jam, custard, or cream.
DeTommaso’s breakthrough occurred when, according to him, he entered the 2018 Tenor Vias International Singing Competition in Barcelona at the age of 23 on a whim. He ended up taking home three prizes: the Verdi Prize, the Domingo Prize, and the First Prize.
The answer came right away. Actually, it was mental, de Tommaso remarked. “I recall receiving numerous emails and Facebook messages from agents once I was in the hotel in Spain. Who are these folks, I foolishly assumed.
Casting director for the Royal Opera, Peter Katona, was one of the listeners in Barcelona.
“I was quite surprised when I heard him,” Katona admitted. He stood out from the competition in terms of vocal quality right away. Young singers frequently exhibit a certain quality that is not quite there.
He is now in demand at all the major European houses at the age of 30.
The fact that everything has been going so smoothly for him is “almost a little frightening,” Katona added. “With such a unique gift, one is constantly concerned that he might choose the incorrect role or overextend. He hasn’t misplaced a foot thus far.
He will play Pollione in Bellini’s “Norma” at Milan’s La Scala and Gabriele Adorno in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” in Vienna in the upcoming season.
He’ll return to the New York house frequently after making his Met debut. His general manager, Peter Gelb, described him as “part of a new wave of powerhouse tenors… that we believe will become Met mainstays of the future.”
When a German theater invited him to do Radames in Verdi’s “Aida,” de Tommaso commented, “One of the most significant phrases I’ve had to learn to say is “No.” He just said to them, “It’s too early.”
The main part in “Otello,” the pinnacle of the Verdi tenor repertory, is also performed far too early. He hopes to take on the task in “maybe five to ten years.”
but in moderation. He pointed to his vocal chords and remarked, “These little bits of flesh, they can only withstand so much punishment for so long.” And you can’t maintain it indefinitely if you’re singing the most dramatic roles, like Otello. I’d like to continue singing until I’m 55 or 60.