Headshot of La Cieca

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Fair, game

The Monday, 12th December, Weill Hall recital debut of Signora Chiara Taigi, a strikingly good looking Italian soprano, who had made her American operatic debut this past March, starring as Selika in the OONY production of Meyerbeer’s long-neglected L’Africaine, was something Your Own Camille had looked forward to with a high hopes and a faintly wondering glee, for several months now.  

Signora Taigi’s had been a rather successful debut in L’Africaine, or at least that had been my impression. If you don’t believe me, ask La Divina Cieca as she, too, was at the event, perched in her perilously high stilettos, pencil sharpened and scribbling away furiously. This recital then, which was the Vidda Foundation Award Recital as presented by Opera Orchestra of New York, promised to be a closer look of an upfront and personal kind at this engaging and promising young soprano.

Or so I thought.

What I instead encountered was rather a bizarre night of audition showcase arias, songs and scenas, of radically differing types. Now, to be fair, and according to Maestro Queler’s programme note, the aria format was specifically requested by the good people of the Vidda Foundation. Even still, when was the last time you have heard the combination of Lodoletta’s pathetic plea “Flammen perdonami”, followed shortly thereafter not only by “Casta diva”, but then topped off with the Scena Ultima from Il pirata? Divine madness? Not exactly. And that is the least of it, as things became curiouser and curiouser still.

Let me start at the beginning, a very good place to start. The programme commenced with the entry of Ms. Taigi with her accompanist, none other than Maestro Queler, herself. As the soprano glided onto the stage with her platinum blonde hair loosely coiffed, and wearing a dark evergreen floor length satin gown, I noticed a type of mink stole arranged about her shoulders, dyed the exact same shade as the dark green of the gown. Coupled with the ultra-platinum blondined halo, the overall effect struck me not as it had likely been intended, i. e. as Glamour, but as something eerily unnatural and contrived for an effect whose reach had exceeded its grasp. (An aside: Ercole Farnese came to mind, knowing his displeasure in the sighting of the fur-wearing diva.) Wouldn’t a sumptuous Loro Piana cashmere, or an Hermes silk shawl have done just as nicely, I asked myself?

Green mink? For crying out loud, what would Edith Head have said?

The calling-card number was, in effect, the pathetic Lodoletta, an unusual gambit but for me an especially favourite guilty pleasure… notably as sung by Pia Tassinari, Renata Scotto, or Mirella Freni. Ms. Taigi’s rendition was acceptable and marked by its emotive, descriptive interpretative detail and she triumphantly managed not to go flat as most do in this aria. All right then, a decent, if not a thrilling start. She did look a little apprehensive—but who could blame her?

Next, we switched gears by abruptly leaving the italianate veristic idiom, her fur bedecked shoulders now braving the steppes of Georgia. She sang one of my favourite Rachmaninoff songs, “Do not sing, o Beauty, sad songs for me” (“Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne” and correct the transliterative spelling, Krunoslav, if it so pleases), which suited the dark and rather mournful timbre of her voice very well. An assisting artist, Erica Kiesewetter (concert mistress of OONY), came onto the stage to play a violin obbligato, a nice touch. Although an abrupt departure from Italian verismo, this song came off very well and showed a marked coming to grips with the voice by the artist. It also possibly gave the a clue as to the necessity of the fur–those frigid, desolate Georgian steppes.

All right then, next stop, Nagasaki! Yes, abruptly back to the Italian lyric veristic stage with the beloved and done to death “Un bel di, vedremo” from Madama Butterfly. The acting out of the aria’s descriptive detailing of Pinkerton’s return was well done if perhaps a bit much, in such intimate settings. The first of a series of alarm bells sounded for me when I saw her gulping for air right before the climactic B flat, at aria’s conclusion. A sour note, shrill and shrieky, the inevitable first sign of her constant intrusion of too much chest voice upon the higher notes (acuti).

Not to be daunted, we now travelled to ancient Gaul to invoke the chaste goddess of the moon, and to turn back in time to the Ur-arci-romanticismo of 1831 Bellini and that irresistible diva-magnet, “Casta diva”. As, patrolling the internet I have come across an example of her singing of this aria last year, in concert, I will allow you to judge.

A far more “live” acoustic in that concert hall, as opposed to that of the Weill Recital Hall helped out, I feel. A nice mezza voce was used in singing the opening phrases and those pesky turns which are splatted in any and all directions or generally approximated, were accurate. Other than an extra breath taken in the series of repeated A’s before the culminative B flat, a rather fluent account of this formidable aria, if not that reminiscent of a full moon-lit night in an oak grove. Somehow or another this cavatina came out better than the Butterfly excerpt—mirabile dictu!—as it is generally the other way around.

After applause for the Lunar Invocation, Ms. Taigi left the stage and another assisting artist, Ms. Melanie Feld, English hornist, accompanied by Maestro Queler, played the glorious opening phrases of Bellini’s “Col sorriso d’innocenza” from the 1827 landmark, “Il pirata”, one of the first successful “mad scenes” and a real tour de force, not to mention another of my guilty pleasures. The English horn is so critical in establishing mood and tone of this scena that I was grateful for the thoughtful preparation of Maestro Queler’s.

Of course as all you Callas queens know, this scene will never be bettered by anyone else! Well, maybe Caballe, but I’ll let you all pull each other’s hair on that one.

Ms. Taigi appeared on stage again, looking notably consternated and slightly like Our Beloved Madame Vera does when she makes an entrance, and launched into a surprisingly successful account of first, the cavatina (without the Caballe/Callas diminuendos and cadenza interpolations) and a very good, if truncated accounting of the fearsome cabaletta, indulging her chest voice in the lower portions, to her fullest contentment. As the climactic note is a C, I was worried about that note but it issued forth all right, as in the first instance it comes by an ascending scale, so the climactic final cry had been secured by the first foray upwards. As Imogene’s plight is sorry indeed, well, an hysterical cry, rather than an elegantly sounded note, is not entirely out of context.

As there is many a Butterfly ascendant in the opera heavens, the fact that she could manage the complicated dramatic fioriture of the cantilena belliniana was heartening to me. Also, her stark dramatic instinct was well used in the depiction of Imogene’s madness, if only slightly veering off into Galupe-Borszkhian territory. At any rate, I was grateful to have heard this wonderful scene, too rarely done.

After a brief intermission, Ms. Taigi reappeared on stage. There had been, in true diva fashion, the requisite change of costume. Thankfully, she had shed the green fur piece. Now she wore a very severe long-sleeved black and white floor length costume. I don’t quite know what effect she was going for but it had a nun’s habit or penitentiary aspect to it, rather severe even for concert stage. A long white sash trailing down to one side seemed to be there as a sort of lifeline by which she could be pulled back to a safe shore.

At this point we were again treated to an Italian opera excerpt, and in my opinion, the most entirely successful one, “Morro, ma prima in grazia” from Verdi’s capolavoro, Un ballo in maschera, with another assisting artist, Eugene Moye at the cello, playing obbligato. In this instance Ms. Taigi seemed to me to be singing with the most fully integrated voice, no chesty sounds and a fluent line. The attack of the cadenza at the end on the C flat was not bad but she swiftly went down into its descending line to land smack back into the full frontal chest voice she so favours and had avoided until then, but did manage to neatly come back up to close the aria with a lovely, long diminuendo, held along with the cello, to create a marvelous effect. This aria eliciting many bravos (sic). It helped, no doubt, that she had recently sung Amelia in Ballo, and apparently successfully, only just last week in New Orleans.

Now we leap continents and genres—to make the mother of all understatements— to travel to Brasil…? Well, that is what the programme says, “Estrellita: Canzone Brasiliana”!!! Poor Mexico:  like Rodney Dangerfield it just doesn’t get any respect! As Manuel Ponce is one of the most famous Mexican composers and his song “Estrellita” his most famous and beloved of all works, I would not have been so perturbed by the “Brasiliana” mistake had it been an obscure Maria Grever song termed “brasiliana” and it should rightfully have said “Cancion mex(j)icana”.

Well, cher readers, this is the climactic turning point when everything slid south—and not just south of the equator “down Mexico way.”

As she began the song (with a teensy South American pronunciation but otherwise good Spanish), she all of a sudden our primadonna went down the stairs off the stage and began singing to various gentlemen in the audience, one in particular, who shall re-appear later. It was all, suddenly last summer, as if we had been magically transferred to the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach! Well, why not? We’d already traversed the steppes of Georgia, the shimmering druidic groves of Gaul, the hilltop homes of Nagasaki, the palazzi of medieval Agrigento—why indeed not South Beach Salsa, as well?

I dunno, cher reader, how “Estrellita” got into the mix but it must needs be a favourite of someone in the Vidda Foundation. That is the only way I could explain it and its nightclub style presentation. Next stop—Boca Raton Century Village—hey there, you scoffer, if it’s good enough for Charo, it’s good enough for anyone else with chuchi-chuchi!

Now for the finale! What is the obvious follow up to “Estrellita”? Why naturally, that would be a partially sightread “Pace, pace, mio dio”!!! Well, at least the penetential nun’s garb she had on looked appropriate in this number. Sung in a similar manner as the others with another blaring B flat, screamed out as best she could.

Oh merciful heavens, it was over!

Nicht doch! Then came the encores!

Fleeing Leonora’s grotto and flaying for her life, la Taigi gave us, with yet another guest artist, this time a different accompanist, a Mr. Seth Farber (who was in the vent a terrific song stylist and accompanist), relieving Ms. Queler who fled the stage amidst modest protestations that she “couldn’t play that kind of music! Oh gawd, what kind of music are we about to hear? Alban Berg? “Coal Miner’s Daughter?” A bossa nova actually from Brasil?

No, cher readers, it was Gershwin’s “The Man I Love”. Once again, Ms. Casta Diva descended from her dais to serenade, South Beach style, the elder gentlemen of the audience, zeroing in on one corpulent package in particular. I wanted to stand up and shout “Get a room!”  Suddenly the Casta Diva had turned into Billie Holiday!

After this song styling, and it was very good indeed, in nearly perfect English and with the voice smooth, supple and elegant, no chest hanging blaringly out, there was a little speech by her and “the man I love”, who blathered on with a lot of stuff I blocked out as I had long since retreated to my “Safe Place”. After the palavering was over and she had placed him in a seat next to her, on stage, and abruptly went back home to Rome (she is, in fact una romana) and ended the night’s festivities with the Roman Diva par excellence, Floria Tosca, and an average accounting of “Vissi d’arte”, the by now familiarly blaring B flat furled out like a proud, war torn banner, once more. All the while holding on to Baron Scarpia’s hand as she sang. We were waved goodbye and dismissed rather as if at a school assembly.

Poor old Camille was left so dazed and confused by all the above she sought counsel with Mamma Grizzly Cieca, who advised her to write it all down, as a purgative. So here it was.

I’m just no longer sure of Ms. Taigi and what she is about. Apparently, you Londoners will be hearing her in the 2012-13 season as Aida, presumably at Covent Garden. This particular debut was the stated reason why she was unable to accept an offer from the Metropolitan to sing in this season. What does 2012-13 have to do with this season? Thereby becoming curious, I consulted the magical oracle of Operabase, where upon accessing her name, I found nothing listed beyond the 12th of December concert I’d just heard.

To sum up, Chiara Taigi is a stage animal. She has an expressive voice. She is House of Gelb camera-worthy (thank you, NN). She really has it all except that thing no singer can really do without, the “ligne de chant” (thank you, oedipe). She tries too hard for arty effects before establishing a real, even, and dynamic line that projects easily into the house. As I said above, the Weill Hall acoustics were probably not accommodating to her voice. Therefore, one is left hanging, much as one does with Poplavskaya, wondering what will happen on every note.

As Daniela Dessi and Barbara Frittoli, the only Italian sopranos of rank who regularly export to the States are now at their respective sell-by dates, I had set great hopes on this lady, from her one appearance in AF Hall as L’Africaine. Now I think, unless she learns to sing more cleanly and evenly, it is possible that her shelf life may be similarly limited and that is a shame. Perusing an extended scena of the finale of Suor Angelica, which she sang for RAI with Riccardo Chailly, I have jolted into an awareness of those constantly effort-filled and screamed out high notes. Of course, bad singing never stopped anyone, if they want to just emote. Look at Billie Holiday. Somehow, though, I think I’d rather listen to Billie, ’cause even senza voce, what she manages to communicate seems somehow more “real” to me, whereas Signora Taigi is teetering troublesomely over into the land of self-parody. A land already inhabited and expertly handled by the magnificent Madame Vera, who expresses in her parody, her palpably real and profound love and devotion to her Art.

For now, I’ll stick with Madame Vera when I want to see Divine Madness. At least, she’s the Real Deal. I’m sure you’d never catch her in a saloon in South Beach, or God forbid, Boca Raton, America’s rudest city.

Thank you for your attention, all my many dear associates of parterre, and my even more numerous frenemies and enemies. Camille has now taken her purgative and feels better and will now recline in the sanctity of Leonora’s grotto, which she has spruced up to resemble Venusburg. Hey, why not? It’s a do-what-you-feel-like-doing kinda world these days, innit?

69 comments

  • kashania says:

    What a thoroughly enjoyable read. Merci, chere Camille!

  • thenoctambulist says:

    I don’t understand why she’s trashed here. I heard that Casta Diva and it’s one of the best I’ve heard. Much better than Angela Meade *gasp*. She seems to be a really nice diva, I would love to hear her Norma.

    • Bianca Castafiore says:

      noctie,

      She’s someone I want to like. As I said, she wasn’t in her best form when she sang here in NY last spring (?) as Sélika. I have to concede that in the 2 clips Camille posted, she’s in much better form. But she tends to push a lot, and her lower register is rather weak. If she can fix those issues and be more consistent, she could be a major singer.

      Here’s her Ballo Amelia:

  • Often admonished says:

    Honey, your Moma forgot to tell you: NEVER write a review that is longer than the concert.

    • Camille says:

      Why don’t you write one to suit your own short measuring stick?

      And my Mamma ist tot.

      • Bianca Castafiore says:

        Camille!!!!!!!!!! You should have called me and we couldda gone together! Although I was afraid to eclipse La Taigi, so I stayed home. I would not want to have all the fans make a big commotion about little petite moi… and upstage carissima Chiara.

        • Bianca Castafiore says:

          (cantando) “La mamma e morta…”

        • Camille says:

          Bianca, cara stella del mar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          Best you stayed home, dear!

          I was in the company of one of my secret admirers, and two’s company three’s a crowd, you know!

          You are quite right, and sorry I am only responding now but I have been very busy —- baking Beethoven’s bundt — the Selika was more what I would call a qualified success. Your description of the lack of motility, in particular, is spot on and I thank you for the use of this term. Maestro Queler stated in the programme, however, that her debut was “wildly successful”. Originally I wrote “fairly successful” and decided to change to “rather successful”, as a compromise. If you were there, as apparently you were, you will know, in any case just how successful is all an open debate.

          I must toodle off now, carissima, as I am packing up the palazzo to go to a real live Broadway show tonite!!! I am so excited as I have spent my entire existence going to opera after opera, and now I am beginning to feel the need to seek other avenues of musical delite!

          Merry Hanukah and Happy Christmas to my dear sorella nelle belle arti,
          mon exquise Marguerite,
          Bianca,
          la primadonna assoluta di Milano!!

          Camille la courtisane

      • peter says:

        I love you Camille and I loved reading every word of your review!

  • Bianca Castafiore says:

    Cocky, what’s the name of your favorite Ukrainian? Monastyrskaya or something? Why can’t I find anything with her on youtubie?????

    • oedipe says:

      May I point out to all those who have mentioned this singer in the last few weeks: since she is UKRAINIAN and not RUSSIAN, her name is Monastyrska, NOT Monastyrskaya.

      • Bianca Castafiore says:

        oedipe!!!!! Merci. Voilá:

        • armerjacquino says:

          She is brilliant- saw her as Lady M and she really has the goods. Gelb could do a lot worse than add her name to his list.

          • Bianca Castafiore says:

            I don’t know. She’s not bad. I’d have to see her live. Not as good as Matos… : -)

          • oedipe says:

            Are you reading this, Mr. Gelb? To think that Micaela Carosi is apparently penciled for Aida next season!

          • armerjacquino says:

            oedipe, Carosi’s an interesting case. She is hugely, hugely variable. I saw her as Aida on one of her good nights but she can be disastrous. It’s definitely an Aida voice though, which is rarish.

          • oedipe says:

            I have heard both Carosi (several times, including Aida) and Monasrtyrska (Aida) and I prefer the latter’s more nuanced singing and more pleasant high register. Both have big voices.

      • Cocky Kurwenal says:

        Both spellings with and without the extra syllable are out there when you search for her- I never knew which was correct. She’s down for Abigaille in London in, I think, 13/14. I was bowled over by her Aida, and colleagues who were in Macbeth with her said that in the rehearsal room she sounded a bit rubbish, but as soon as they got to the stage and heard how the voice worked in the theatre they were gob smacked.

        • Cocky Kurwenal says:

          Here’s an interview with her, which is identical to 9 out of 10 diva interviews everywhere:

          http://www.operatoday.com/content/2011/05/liudmyla_monast.php

          No to Wagner and Strauss she says, and roles she would like to do in the future are Amelia Grimaldi and Carmen. Not exactly where I’d steer her myself, but maybe she has done all the great spinto roles in Kiev already.

          • Feldmarschallin says:

            Tatjana Serjan is singing the Lady at the Nationaltheater in March and she has sung it already under Muti in Salzburg and Rome. Next year they are doing more Macbeths and I wonder if M might be singing those. Amelia Boccanegra and Carmen are not what I would imagine her to be singing in the future but ok. Havent heard her live yet but from what I heard on youtube of Aida and Macbeth I was impressed and would certainly like to hear her live. Voice sounded large and the top was good too.

        • Bianca Castafiore says:

          Well… even carissimo oedipe couldn’t get it right above, after correcting us… Ah, je ris…

  • kashania says:

    How old is Chiara Taigi? Those high notes in the Suor Angelica finale are not pretty. If she’s sounding like that now, what is she going to sound like in five years?

  • The Vicar of John Wakefield says:

    Two words:

    “Claire Rutter”

    • manou says:

      Another two : “Rare Clutter”.

    • Camille says:

      Flaming mistletoe! Thanks for the tip, Vicar.

      • Batty Masetto says:

        Looks like some kind of flamin’ quiche. (The thing on the plate, I mean, not the singer.) Tarte au gui flambée?

        Production concept: a bunch of hard-core Dungeons & Dragons wizards gather to take cooking lessons in an abandoned chapel. The Chief Nerd, having an unusually beautiful voice, sings an invocation. Unfortunately it’s too late and all their life energy is drained by flabby direction.

  • Verdilover says:

    I have sung “Il Trovatore” with Miss Taigi, and I would say that “young soprano” is not precisely how I would describe her. She probably is nearer to 20 years of career…

    She is a heiress to the verismo tradition. Tebaldi used to love her (and in fact she has a few of the same virtues and plenty more of the same defects as Tebaldi did), but lets just say that her high register is more than a bit “worn out”. I still enjoy hearing her sing though, mostly for being truly expressive and idiomatic. She is better than Meade, worse than Matos, in my opinion.

    • Camille says:

      Bingo! Tebaldi worship lies at the bottom of all this! That explains everything to me now, Verdilover, and the case is closed.

      Better than Meade, worse than Matos--who very much came to mind, along with Katia Riciarelli-- is a very apt description, as well and I’d agree.

      My concern is that she doesn’t burn it all out before she gets a chance to display her wares here in the U.S., as that seems to be her late career objective, and here where these qualities of idiomatic style and authentic and expressiveness are increasingly at a premium.

      Oh, and my original description was “youngish”, meaning she is older than she looks but well preserved, as that was obvious to me. I opted instead to just label her young, as frankly, young or old I’d still rather listen to her than many, many others.

      Thank you very much Verdilover for having some actually substantive input, which clarified a couple things for me. There were no programme notes with any dates, to speak of.

  • neonausicaa says:

    What a fabulous review! Thank you. Certainly the end of “Senza mamma” in the referenced You Tube video was not very successful.