Cabaret Does Opera: Grand Diva Aprile Millo at Rose Hall by Steve Weinstein EDGE Editor-In-Chief Saturday Nov 14, 2009

This great article appeared in “EDGE” Magazine.  Couldn’t be more truthful about the importance of this singer and her place in the world of the arts.

Millo heart

When Barbra Streisand recently performed at the Village Vanguard, it set off a feeding frenzy among the public and the media. To have an artist of that stature, who seldom performs, at such an intimate space was truly historic.

Well, now opera fans will have their own comparable performance when soprano Aprile Millo joins her longtime collaborator Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York at the Frederick P. Rose Hall inside the Time Warner Center. This beautiful room, officially the jazz venue for nearby Lincoln Center, normally reverberates with very different sounds.

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, however, it will host one of the most beloved, respected and honored sopranos of our age. The fact that La Milllo will be heard in a comfy setting amidst the occasional clattering of drink glasses or food plates shouldn’t faze fans (or the singer) a bit. In fact, I’ll stick my neck out here, and say that this is the kind of place where a voice like Millo’s can be best appreciated.

Sure, she’s got a full sound that has made her one of the principal interpreters of Verdi heroines (as well as Puccini and the other great verismo and also the bel canto composers). But the silky texture of her smoother phrasing, her gorgeous tones, her precise intonation and her breath control will be up close and personal, instead of on a grand opera stage. For those of us who love true opera singing, this is an opportunity not to be missed. New York native Millo has sung title roles in every major house in the world, including La Scala, where she is worshipped. She won both the Richard Tucker and Maria Callas awards–akin to a writer winning a Pulitzer and National Book Award.

Of late, she hasn’t been as active because of family health issues, which makes this concert all the more thrilling. In an interview, Millo joked about playing in a cabaret room. Long outspoken about so-called crossover artists (one of the things that opera fans love about Millo is her accessibility and the way she communicates via her popular personal blog), Millo joked about “screaming about not doing crossover, and her I am doing a ’gig.’” This “gig” is actually a homecoming of sorts. Millo gave her first performance with Opera Orchestra 25 years ago. She has been a big supporter of the tenacious Queler’s attempts to bring little-known works the public. She is equally outspoken about what she sees as a tacit conspiracy among the city’s opera establishment–including Big Media–not to promote such a worthy undertaking. “That it’s ignored by the New York Times amazes me,” she said. “All these little organizations are desperately in need of publicity. There just aren’t as many outlets for young singers in the city. Streisand, Midler: Where would they perform today? There’s no place to hone your talent in front of the public.”

A performer who has forged a unique bond with her fans (known as a “claque” in Operaspeak), Millo readily acknowledged that they are as demanding as she is: “When people sing with me, they’d better be good, because these are the true opera fans. They don’t want robotic singers.” She noted ruefully that the emphasis on the camera (even the Met is broadcasting on giant screens) has put pressure on singers to look good. “The camera is a very important exponent” of opera, she said. “I’m the same age as Renee Fleming, but she looks a lot better.” (Actually, Millo is a beautiful woman who bears a strong resemblance to another singer, early ’60s teen idol Annette Funicello; but we won’t argue the point.) But she added, “I don’t even try to be part of the newer school.” Forget the celebrity couple, the touring “divos,” the barihunks. Millo is strictly Old School, which is exactly the way her fans like it. “Every age gets what it asks for,” she noted. “We’re celebrity crazed, everbody’s got to look good.

Opera singers weren’t necessarily beautiful. In this age, unfortunately, we’re bombarded by images.” Millo’s uncompromising vision of what real opera should be has put her in conflict with some general managers. She readily admitted that she has turned down roles in productions where the director’s reinterpretation was ridiculous. She cited one (blessedly unnamed) Otello in which she was expected to sing while Iago was masturbating. You can’t make this stuff up! Millo does have some projects in the pipeline. She is remaining mum for now, but check her blog.

In the meantime, those who wish to hear true beautiful singing, should rush to the Rose, where she’ll be joined by tenor Michael Fabiano and baritone Luis Ledesma. And lest you think Millo is stuck in some mythical Golden Age, note that the program also promises “special choreography by Melanie LaPatin from So You Think You can Dance.” Take that, purists! The recital will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Rose Hall, inside the Broadway and West 60th Street entrance of the Time-Warner Center on Columbus Circle. Tickets (if available) are being sold by Opera Orchestra.

Call 212.906-9137 or the company’s website. EDGE Editor-in-Chief Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of “The Q Guide to Fire Island” (Alyson, 2007).

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