Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>London Bel Canto Festival</em>: Aprile Millo at Cadogan Hall
23 Aug 2018

London Bel Canto Festival: Aprile Millo at Cadogan Hall

What defines a ‘diva’? The Italian word, which came to be used in an operatic context at the end of the nineteenth century, derives from the Latin divus, meaning ‘goddess’.

London Bel Canto Festival: Aprile Millo at Cadogan Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

 

Over the years, ‘diva’ has become interchangeable with ‘prima donna’, with both terms connoting a female singer who is distinguished by the magnitude of her vocal prowess and her personal aura, both of which astonish, seduce and mesmerise. More recently, diva has often been used pejoratively, with associations of bad tempers, unreliable behaviour and narcissism.

In her London solo recital debut, legendary soprano Aprile Millo - whose official website is titled ‘The Golden Voiced Diva’ - reminded us of the original meaning of the term. For the devoted fans who had eagerly gathered in Cadogan Hall, Millo certainly is a ‘goddess’ - indeed, a critic once described her, memorably and pertinently, as the “High Priestess of that old-time operatic religion”. She also demonstrated why she is so revered by devotees of the bel canto repertory. Millo has a gorgeously rich voice of enormous power, which she uses judiciously, swelling with ease to fill the Hall but holding back to coax us into the sentiments the song. Her soprano is unfailingly supported, even across its wide range. The beauty of the sound is paramount, and the phrasing is unfailingly gracious and elegant, but there is no lack of expression and communication with the audience. It’s no surprise that her fans revere her as the upholder of vocal traditions and a successor to former bel canto heavyweights such as vocal heavyweights such as Renata Tebaldi and Rosa Ponselle.

It seems incredible that after a career spanning more than thirty years, during which Millo has performed at the Metropolitan Opera House more than 180 times, in 15 different roles, as well as in countless opera houses from San Francisco to Vienna, Milan to Moscow, Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo, the soprano had not previously appeared on the Covent Garden stage or in the capital. What finally brought her to London was the invitation to give a masterclass and perform the closing concert of the second London Bel Canto Festival (6-22 August), an international music festival and academy which, in the words of scholar, tenor and founding Director Ken Querns Langley, focuses on “the development of young singers and the reinvigoration of bel canto”. This year, students attended masterclasses by Millo, Bruce Ford and Nelly Miricioiu, before presenting a Young Artists Concert at Cadogan Hall.

Millo.jpgAprile Millo.

Hailed as ‘a new Verdi star’ when she stepped in to replace the indisposed Anna Tomowa-Sintow in Simon Boccanegra at the Met in December 1984, Millo has made Verdi’s major roles the centre of her career in the theatre and on disc, though her performances of Puccini and verismo have been equally lauded. Millo’s programme, therefore, might have been expected to have comprised ‘old favourites’, but the soprano had some surprises in store. She didn’t simply give the fans what they wanted, she gave them what they didn’t know that they wanted.

Millo, born in New York, has Italian and Irish ancestry, and this was reflected in her programme. The first half focused on nineteenth-century Italian repertoire. We had some Bellini and Verdi, but not well-known arias, rather ‘studies’ - ‘La Ricordanza’, a study of ‘Qui la voce’ from La sonnambula, and ‘Insolitaria Stanza’, a study for Leonore’s ‘Tacea la notte’ from Il trovatore - as well as Donizetti’s ‘Me voglio fà na casa’ from Soirées d’automne à l’Infrascata. And, there were songs, arias and scenes by Paulo Tosti, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari and Lincinio Refice among others. After the interval, Millo travelled more widely, incorporating Rachmaninov and Massenet, in memory of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, two songs by Richard Strauss dedicated to the memory of Simonetta Puccini (the composer’s grand-daughter), and following these with some traditional English and Irish folksongs, some of which were accompanied by harpist Merynda Adams.

Given that in her repertoire choices Millo was straying off-the-beaten-track, it was a little surprising that no texts were provided, or at the least some brief indication of the context and/or content of each aria. From the start of her career, Millo has made known her disapproval of surtitles, telling The Washington Post in 1990 that, ‘They distract from the performers’ ability to weave the story, to make it believable and make it understood. You spend a lot of money on costumes and scenery, and then you divide attention with a piece of paper at the top of the proscenium. It makes no sense. Opera has survived this long without it.”

However, the sequence might perhaps have had a clearer narrative if the audience had had a more precise indication of what Millo was singing about. She describes her programme as “the story of a relationship in Italian songs … there are different songs for how it goes” and explains that “at one point the audience will decide whether the relationship is a success or whether it’s not. And It’s a bit of audience participation”. And, so Stefano Donaudy’s ‘O del mio amato ben’ (from 36 Arie di Stile Antico) marked ‘Falling in Love’, Paulo Tosti’s concert aria ‘Non t’amo più’ marked the ‘First Quarrel’ and both Frank Bridge’s Frank Bridge’s ‘Love went a-riding’, and ‘Cara la mia Venezia’ from Il campiello by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari necessitated ‘A Decision’.

I particularly enjoyed the light-hearted simplicity of Donizetti’s ‘Me voglio fà na casa’ (I want to build a house), in which pianist Inseon Lee accompanied with charming insouciance as Millo rose with an effortless legato to the sustained high passages. Millo relished the drama of Bridge’s ‘Love went a riding’, and both singer and accompanist were equal to the verismo heights of ‘Grazie, sorelle’, the death and transfiguration scene from Refice’s Saint Cecilia, Lee getting her fingers around the mass of ‘orchestral’ detail with aplomb. It was a treat to hear these and other unfamiliar works, such as Tosti’s ‘Sogno’ and ‘Ideale’ (‘The Dream of Love’ and ‘The Honeymoon’, respectively, in Millo’s narrative); in these salon songs, Millo soared through the arching lines with grandeur, sensuality and compelling dramatic presence.

Perhaps those familiar with the chosen songs, or Italian speakers in the audience, could discern the development of a romance, but in the second part of the recital there was less sense of a binding narrative, and perhaps this was because Millo herself seemed on slightly less comfortable ground. There was no lack of vocal sheen, power and expressivity, but the songs in Russian, French and German require a vocal style different to the glorious weight and effortless scope of Millo’s natural bel canto. Strauss’s ‘Allerseelen’ and ‘Zueignung’, for example, had a vibrant intensity which seemed to overpower the long-breathed silkiness of the vocal writing. In the folk-songs, Millo made little attempt to modify her vocal colour, singing ‘The Rose of Tralee’ and ‘Danny Boy’ with rich lustre and a potent vibrato, but while some purists may have demurred I found her commitment to these songs to be compelling and the ‘art-song’ manner made them seem personal and honest to the singer - indeed, in her prefatory remarks she mentioned memories of her mother singing to her when she was a child.

For her final item, Millo returned to ‘home territory’, inviting baritone Jeffrey Carl to join her on the platform to perform ‘Ciel, mio padre’ from Aida (dedicated to the memory of Rita Saponaro Patene). The singers, performing from memory, immediately created a persuasive dramatic context and presented a vivid, impassioned and emotionally driven scena. Needless to say, her fans loved it, jumping to their feet and whooping their delight.

From the first, Millo engaged in a relaxed fashion with her audience, in banter and through song, revealing her humour, directness and passion. Everything was done with style, panache and a flourish - Millo even managed to make the putting on of her spectacles a ‘grand’ gesture! - and the intent to communicate, engage and entertain was evident and sustained. We were far from the hushed gentility of Wigmore Hall and I was a little surprised to find myself so absorbed by Millo’s presence and performance. At the close, I felt somewhat exhausted emotionally - and I guess this was what the soprano intended. She had drawn us into the songs and the stories, suspending our disbelief by the power of her singing and of song. When Rossini retired from the opera world in 1858, he reportedly lamented the state of contemporary Italian singing, “Alas for us, we have lost our bel canto”. Here, Millo showed that the bel canto tradition is in fact very much alive.

Claire Seymour

London Bel Canto Festival: April Millo (soprano), Inseon Lee (piano), Jeffrey Carl (baritone), Merynda Adams (harp)

Donaudy - ‘O del mio amato ben’ (from 36 Arie di Stile Antico), Tosti - ‘Sogno’, Donizetti - ‘Me voglio fà na casa’ (from Soir ées d’automne à l’Infrascata), Tosti - ‘Ideale’, ‘Non t’amo più’, Bridge - ‘Love went a-riding’, Wolf-Ferrari ‘Cara la mia Venezia’ (from Il campiello), Bellini - ‘La Ricordanza’ (a study of ‘Qui la voce’ from La sonnambula), Verdi - ‘Insolitaria Stanza’ (a study for Leonore’s ‘Tacea la notte’ fromIl trovatore), Refice - ‘Grazie, sorelle’ (fromSaint Cecilia), Rachmaninov - ‘Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne’ (from 6 Romances Op.4), Massenet - ‘Elegie’, Richard Strauss - ‘Allerseelen’, ‘Zueigning’ (from 8 Gedichte aus ‘Letzte Bl ätter Op.10), C.W.Glover - ‘The Rose of Tralee’, Mrs George D Presentis - ‘The Kerry Dance’, ‘Bendeemer Stream’, ‘Danny Boy’, Verdi - ‘Ciel, mio padre!’ (from Aida).

Cadogan Hall, London; Tuesday 21st August 2018.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):