A funny thing happened to me yesterday. I was desperate to go to Aprile Millo’s long awaited recital but it simply wasn’t in the budget. La Cieca sent a posting mentioning she would give her extra ticket to the first one who e-mails her. I sent it, I got it, and the rest is history…
There are occasions like this that are remembered in one’s life even after decades. This was one of those. How lucky are those of us who had the chance to witness it.
The recital began with a pleasant though unnecessary dance performance on the Cavalleria’s Intermezzo. Then the diva appeared. I was expecting a classic gown, nevertheless Miss Millo was in a very smartly designed “Leonora” costume. Ton sur ton, black on black lace, v-shape front and décolleté, silver under-gown, silver hairnet. Too much? Perhaps, but she owned it all the way through.
Her unparalleled lirico-spinto opened with a very refined interpretation of Donaudy’s “O del mio amato ben”, followed by Donizetti’s “Amore e morte”, and Wolf-Ferrari’s “Bondi, cara Venezia”. The latter was a zest. An unusual attempt in German by the Divine Miss Millo excelled in “Zueignung”, perfectly continued in French with Massenet’s “Elegie”.
Millo is also a great conversationalist. I never heard someone with such a beautiful speaking tone like hers. She has a great sense of humor as well. All together, while still keeping a distance between a Queen and her subjects. The following “Ne poi krasavista…” from Rachmaninoff was introduced by the soprano as a dedication to her mother, whose Russian blood was discovered only after her death. My favorite piece of the first part was an anonymous “Villa Triste”, during which we all learned what “caressing each word” meant and what does the “old school” stood for.
An unfortunate event happened after that. A member of the audience, while rushing to go outside in between songs, fell very bad and hit his head to the ground and passed out. It happened right in front of us, and for those who were there but unable to see it, the well-placed, legato voice with an almost Dawn Upshaw ping who shouted that there was an injured person was nobody else’s but our Doyenne herself!
The incident followed by an early intermission due to the emergency service. The second part began where the first one was supposed to go on. A three Neapolitan song formed a joyful medley, and this time dedicated to Pavarotti (Core ‘ngrato, Torna a Surriento and O sole mio). Then, came another unnecessary dance performance. Finally, came the opera section. Until then, we all knew that the soprano was preparing herself and her voice for this, and so were we. Probably everybody in the audience were holding on their breath. And the lady did not disappoint.
An incredible “Laggiu del Soledad” soared, and we, once again, learned what Puccini meant. Nevertheless, the show stopper was “L’altra notte in fondo al mare”, performed by an incredible attention to the words and the music. My wonderful voice teacher Mr. Ira Siff always tells me that I should even vocalize an “a” as it was a whole aria, my only aria on the stage. Now it’s clear, Teacher! Another aspect of Millo’s voice is the extraordinary use of the chest voice. It’s almost an inhuman sound. Never exaggerated, never vulgar. And never screamed.
The Trovatore duet with Luis Ledesma was fine, although the latter should learn that a powerful and well- placed voice is simply not enough, and that what makes a singer a true “musician” is the ability to sing pianissimo. Michael Fabiano who gave company in the Zaza duet needs to stop being shy on stage, even though he sings with a diva. Both male voices are very solid and promising though. Actually, the Zaza piece is another trademark of Millo. But, I don’t think it was appropriate to put such an expressive verismo piece in this recital. I listened to a live recording of this and it was indeed fabulous, nevertheless it was a little “too much” on soprano’s efforts. This type of crying out loud scenes are more appropriate to full staged or full concert versions of the complete opera.
One wished to hear “D’amor sull’Alli rosee” or “Tacea la notte” (the latter was on the pick-up list), however the recital ended with an extraordinary interpretation of “Danny Boy” accompanied with harp, and dedicated to Millo’s parents, and my favorite Italian song “Musica Proibita”.
When one watches/listens Millo, it’s a totally different experience. One cannot sit comfortably in his chair. One is always aware and focused on what’s going on. One doesn’t want to miss anything. I will not start a discussion here on the possible reasons why she hasn’t been performing on a regular basis, but one truly misses such exquisiteness, uniqueness, quality and dedication. And that incomparable Italianita!
During the course of the recital, Millo was courageous about talking on her weight related issues and her crisis. She lost 50 lbs. in the last three months, and she looked stupendous. Finally, The OONY prepared a nice large size booklet with full of pictures and dedications. A big “Bravi” to all those who helped organize such a memorable evening. For me at least, it was a performance of a lifetime I will treasure forever.