BWW Review: Maggio Musicale's Home Gala
On Friday May 1, 2020, Florence Italy's Maggio Musicale presented a "Home Gala" featuring artists singing at home accompanied by themselves, their housemates, or a pre-recorded track. In this year of pandemic, Opera Superintendent Alexander Pereira could not open his theater to its usual crowds, so he invited his artists to sing from their places of quarantine. There was only one problem, the presentation was dependent on the quality of each artist's Internet connection.
When Rosa Feola's connection failed, she recorded a lovely rendition of Puccini's aria "O mio bambino Caro," and sent it to the technical crew. It was shown toward the end of the program. This situation tested the mettle of singers whose daily grind consists of facing two or three thousand fans at a time. Host Pereira, a former director of the Teatro alla Scala, sat in an easy chair in a theater empty except for a huge flower arrangement as he rather calmly unraveled the vicissitudes of live opera in our "Plague Year."
The program opened with Krassimira Stoyanova singing a sunlit rendition of Puccini's song Sole e Amore (Sun and Love) from Bulgaria. Performing from Lugano, as they had for the Met Gala, Ambrogio Maestri and Marco Armiliato rendered Dr. Dulcamara's "Medicine Aria" with its invitation to buy a sure cure for everything that infects human flesh, a work highly appropriate to our current circumstances. Unfortunately, on this program there were no titles available for non-Italian speaking viewers. Working in front of a low-lying camera, Maestri demonstrated with what looked like a bottle of beer...unopened.
Eva Mei sang a sweet song about Florence, unaccompanied, and bronze-voiced Nicola Alaimo accompanied himself in a stirring rendition of Lara's Granada. Piero Pretti first appeared with a baby in his arms but that picture was soon replaced by his video of "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's La Bohème. His was a new voice to me, but I will remember his name. Singing with a lyric Italianate sound, he had excellent pitch, great breath control, and a good helping of squillo (resonance).
Thomas Hampson and pianist Ann Bachmann performed the American song, Shenandoah, from the Swiss Hotel Baur au Lac in which Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt had presented the piano premiere of Die Walküre Act I some 150 years ago. Afterwards, Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi sang a heart rending aria that was often associated with Maria Callas, "Ebben ne andro lontano" from Catalani's La Wally. From an apartment in Riga, Latvia, Vittorio Grigolo added a lyrical "Una furtive lagrima" ("a furtive tear") from Donizetti's The Elixir of Love.
After a few tries, Maggio was able hook up with Diana Damrau and she sang in praise of the moon. Sonya Yoncheva sang the same song as Stoyanova, but her voice was considerably darker and her interpretation quite different. Mariinsky bass Mikhail Petrenko overpowered all the microphones with the Song of the Volga Boatmen. Black lace-clad Maria José Siri waxed lyrical with "Io son l'umile ancella" ("I am the humble handmaiden") from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. Accompanying themselves, both contralto Sara Mingardo and mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli sang interesting short pieces. After ridding the connection of an echo, Francesco Meli offered a warm and colorful interpretation of "Recondita Armonia" from Puccini's Tosca.
Luca Pisaroni gave a rousing rendition of "Non piu andrai" ("No longer will you go") from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro despite some thinning of the sound on his piano accompaniment. Cassandre Berthon and Ludovic Tézier sang a delightfully teasing rendition of the Count and Susannas's duet from the same work. Because of the remote location, Lisette Oropesa's singing was prerecorded in her home at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She offered a gorgeous, heart-rending a cappella version of Baby Doe's aria from Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe. Before singing, however, she read an Italian translation of the American aria. Sometimes we forget how much Italian is translated for us.
Leo Nucci did not sing at all. Instead, he spoke in Italian of the history of Florence. Accompanied by pianist Ricardo Estrada who was pictured in a cut out, Saoia Hernandez and Francesco Galassi performed music from Penella's El Gato Montes (The Wild Cat) while playing at bull fighting. Luca Salsi followed them with his robust and eventually poignant version of "Cortigiani vil razz dannata" (" Courtiers, vile, damned race") from Verdi's Rigoletto.
Fabio Sartori brought the concert to a close with a bright-sounding performance of an aria that reminds us that we will win our fight against the Corona Virus, "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot. Many of us will spend sleepless nights fighting it but we will win. We WILL have our lives and our opera performances back again. Vinceremo!
Copyright/royalty free photo of Giuseppe Verdi.