Times Colonist

Singer chose classics over medicine

Michael Ciufo builds on career with release of second album

- JOHN P. MCLAUGHLIN

Mississaug­a, Ont.’s, Michael Ciufo had a unique problem. After years of classical voice studies, and despite a fairly solid performanc­e schedule, he neverthele­ss had a limited number of venues where he could work casually. It’s not as if he could hit a bar or club and let loose with a couple of Andrea Bocelli hits. They don’t want Andrea Bocelli hits in bars or clubs. They want CCR covers and Jagerbombs.

But there’s a restaurant in nearby Oakville called the 3S’s that’s all mahogany and banquettes and tables draped in stiff black and white linens and an amazing French fine dining menu. Very ooh-la-la. The three S’s stand for Seafood, Steak and, wait for it, Song. Wait staff need to know not only who ordered the wild Coho salmon or the striploin, they also have to be able to put down their tray and, in the midst of all the patrons, sing. And well.

As he releases his second album and builds his music career, this is where 25year-old Ciufo (pronounced Choo-fo) works.

At first, the plan on graduation was to become a cardiologi­st, and Ciufo had already been accepted into the life sciences program at the University of Toronto. He’d taken piano and played percussion in the school band and, after his voice changed, he started studying classical music, but medicine was his future. Then the Italian/canadian Catholic took a school trip to Italy in his last year of high school and found himself at the Pantheon in Rome. Life was about to change.

“The band leader, Mr. Biagiarell­i, he pulled me aside,” says Ciufo. “He said, ‘The band is going to be there to play a couple of hymns for the mass. I talked to the priest. Do you want to sing?’ It probably helped that he was Italian, talking to an Italian priest. One of my fellow classmates played the organ and I sang Panis Angelicus.

“You know that moment when everything kind of comes together? The light goes on and it’s like, ‘This is what I need to be doing. I can’t do anything else but this.’”

Although he had already been accepted at the University of Toronto — that meant a 95 per cent grade average — Ciufo immediatel­y applied for the fouryear course at the Glenn Gould School of Music in the Vocal Performanc­e program — despite being past the applicatio­n deadline. But his vocal teacher from Oakville was good friends with the department head, and he was granted a private audition. That resulted in an offer of a full, fouryear scholarshi­p.

At 19 and performing at various functions, he knew he needed a CD to circulate his name out there. He borrowed $5,000 from his grandmothe­r, recorded a piano/vocal collection of classical and traditiona­l Italian vocal music called Vieni Sul Mar (Come to the Sea) and, selling them at $20 a pop, paid her back in a month.

Five years on, and Ciufo has raised the money from a number of area corporatio­ns for a far more ambitious project. Titled Momento and comprising a mix of classical and pop music, this is the album that could bring him to Canada and the world. More than a few people have suggested he get it to occasional “popera” music producer, David Foster.

From Momento, today’s featured free download is Michael Ciufo’s Because.

“That was written by Guy d’hardelot,” says Ciufo. “It’s a male name, but it was a female composer [Helen Rhodes]. At the time [1902], you couldn’t be a female composer, so she took on a man’s name to get published.

“It’s an old Mario Lanza tune. This is a real tenor’s love song; it’s got the climatic high notes. I love the language, I’m big into languages. You don’t hear, ‘Because you come to me with naught save love’ — you don’t hear lyrics like that anymore. This was kind of an homage to Mario Lanza and the real classic tenors.”

 ??  ?? Michael Ciufo gave up a medical career to pursue his dream to be a classical singer.
Michael Ciufo gave up a medical career to pursue his dream to be a classical singer.

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