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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

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):