Riccardo La Spina

Riccardo La Spina Born in Oakland, California in 1962, Riccardo La Spina was immersed in musical and theatrical performance from an early age, and began collecting historical recordings of singers on 78-rpm discs about the same time. His love for Ragtime was sparked in the early seventies, coinciding with the Ragtime revival spearheaded by the pre-eminent Max Morath, from whom he drew great inspiration after seeing the great entertainer on stage, at the age of 13. While actively collecting and studying pioneer recordings of turn-or-the-century musicians he sang in the barber shop quartet at his junior high school, and performed solo songs of the same era. Though his interest in ragtime never waned, rigorous conservatory and university studies did not permit him to indulge it. He rekindled this long-repressed passion in 2002, making a study of the repertory, and absorbing what he could of the Internet's recent plethora of ragtime offerings. It was then he resumed composing rags and songs – in 2004 – in long anticipation of a Ragtime Festival (where he was asked to guest in a special performance commemorating the centenary of the 1904 St. Louis Exhibition). Subsequent events include participation in the Ragtime Corner at the 2006 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, where La Spina was featured both as a solo pianist and in several solo vocal sets (accompanied by Tom Brier). There, they premièred La Spina's song commemorating the great Caruso's ordeal in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, as well as several piano pieces dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina (all included here). Riccardo began composing as a child, keeping it to himself until conservatory when – while secretly taking composition lessons on the side with Romanian composer Sorin Vulcu – he began accompanying his classmates in performances of songs he had composed expressly for them. The momentum resumed just a few years ago, when he began experimenting with Ragtime and the popular song-styles of that era, to indulge a fantasy, from which resulted the body of work represented here. More recently, he had just finished setting poems by Bret Harte, Thomas Hardy and Alice Meynell when he read the call for the Second Annual Longfellow Chorus competition for composition, in Portland Maine, in which he was honored with the director's prize for a solo voice song setting of a Longfellow poem.

In high-school, he became interested in the ethnic folk music and dance of the Balkans, Italy and the Caucasus, later performing as accordionist and vocalist both solo and with several ensembles in Germany and United States. He studied voice, vocal pedagogy, and historical musicology in Europe (Romania, Belgium). Very much taken with the operatic style of Rossini and his later contemporaries, La Spina began to champion the composers Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870), on which he has written extensively. As a Tenor soloist La Spina has participated in numerous performances of sacred music, recitals and other solo performances throughout Europe and the United States and was the featured tenor soloist for the 2006 Berkeley Massed-Chorus performance of Mozart's Requiem commemorating 9/11 on its fifth anniversary. Numerous local recitals include a recent comeback of an ensemble project conceived and founded in the 1980s called Camerata Ottocento. The consort of solo vocalists emerged with a mission to breathe new life into rarities of nineteenth-century vocal chamber music, enriched with performance practices, as his interest in historically informed performance grew, and singing became more a vehicle through which to revive the ottocento works he had researched, rather than just an end unto itself. The music is not readily available, making research inseparable from the performing. As a musicologist, La Spina's interests in the nineteenth century include the history and development of vocalism and the development of the vocal line, the assimilation of the Italian style and development of melody in Mexico and reception of Italian Opera in Spain and Hispano-America. He is the recipient of Various post-graduate research grants and scholarships from the the British Government, Royal Holloway University of London, and the Royal Historical Society for his work on Italian Opera in Spain (Madrid and Cadiz) during the reign of Fernando VII (1814-1833). He has Presented papers at major international conferences, including the 4th Biennial International Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music (University of Leeds, 2002), and the Premier Foro Internacional de Música Méxicana (CENEDIM, Mexico City, 2004), on the Italian influence on Vocal Composition in Mexico in the XIXth century, La Spina is also a contributor to the New Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians II, 2000 ed. with articles in New Grove II and Grove Opera.

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