Ode to my Great-Grandmother….a True Italian Heroine.

9 years ago on July 19th, a major light extinguished after 81 years of living a life that represents many  lives of European immigrants.  My great-grandmother, Erminia Gualtieri, was a remarkable woman and it is my wish to remember her here, today.  Strong, sensitive, joyful, always pleasant, hardworking and, above all, loving, she bestowed on her family values that seem to have vanished in our modern time.  How lucky was I to have my great-grandmother until the age of 22?  I would not be the person I am today and I most certainly would not have the intimate connection to Italian culture that I retain and cherish every day of my life.

Born in Figline Vegliaturo, Italy, a small town near Cosenza in the south of Calabria, she met her husband, my great-grandfather Ernesto, at a young age and the two were married for 60 years.  If the term “soulmates” ever had a true representative, it was them.  Unfortunately, in the 1940s, Ernesto went to war to serve Mussolini’s army (Until the day he died, my great-grandpa had an innate respect for Mussolini and I yearned to know why, but as things were with my grandpa, he always had a good reason.  Certainly, there were many horrific things Mussolini did that Italian soldiers were not privy to, but he also did many wonderful things for the Italian State.  It was always interesting to hear his point of view on matters of politics).  Prior to this time, Erminia had become pregnant with her only child, a daughter, Ada.  Since Ernesto became a prisoner of war in Africa, he did not know his daughter until she was 5 years old or more.  During their separation, Erminia had no method of communicating with Ernesto, and yet she continued to help her neighbours by giving them produce from the family’s farm and homemade bread.  She was the type of woman who would get her hands dirty, and never eat unless her neighbours also had food to eat.  One day an envelope arrived for Erminia, and in it was a Pansy.  Pansy’s were her favourite flower and she knew that it had been sent, somehow, by Ernesto.  In his gesture, she knew he was still alive. She kept that pansy until the day she died.

Figline Vegliaturo, Calabria.

In 1949, alone with her daughter, Erminia took the long and often tempestuous voyage from Italy to “America,” as the Italian’s called North America.  Her brother was living in the Northern part of Ontario and so she found herself there.  Her husband joined her soon after.  Ada was 8 years old at the time.  After the northern winters proved difficult for the family, they settled in Niagara Falls where Erminia’s other brother was living and they remained in the city for the rest of their lives.

As a small girl, I often rode my bike to my great-grandparents and loved the smell of sauce simmering on Sunday mornings, with the scratchy sound of RAI radio playing.  Often, I would hear great singers singing and my great-grandfather would explain what this kind of singing was.  My great-grandparents loved culture, they loved opera, and they loved life.  They didn’t go to university and didn’t have the fancy shmancy degrees that in this day and age are almost a necessity in order to get by, but they were the most intelligent and culturally aware individuals I have ever known.  I fondly remember sitting with them in the backyard and listening to Pavarotti sing “Vesti la Giubba.”  They had a particular affinity for Gigli and Pavarotti.  My great-grandfather, a stoic man, would have tears in his eyes and my great-grandmother explained the story of “Colombina and Pagliacco” to me.  Little did they know that their great-granddaughter would be devoting her life to the study of this music.  When they died, I had not yet been to Italy and so when I did finally make my virgin voyage to Italy, in 2002, I felt their presence everywhere.  It was very emotional for me.  I recall bringing their photograph along and putting it on the mirror, in every room I stayed in.

“Ridi Pagliaccio”

Is it possible for someone to be gone for this many years and the pain of their absence is still overwhelming?  There isn’t one day that goes by that I don’t think of my great-grandma.  She was the greatest role model I ever had and a true Italian heroine.  Her death broke my soul and although life has never been the same for me, I try to follow in her example in every aspect of my life.  I know that she would be proud to know that I have devoted my life to everything that is Italian, of her culture, and of her values, the manner in which things were done–with delicacy, accuracy, and love.  If I can live to be half the woman Erminia was, my life will have been more than rich.

“Ti penso ogni giorno, carissima Nanna.  Non ti dimentico mai e sento il dolore ancora.  Quanto volessi sentire per un attimo la tua delicata voce ed a vedere il tuo caldo sorriso.  Qualche giorno, in un altro regno, ci vedremo….Un Bel Di.”

One to whom, Erminia often prayed.

Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Rising Tenor, Michael Fabiano, is the Voice to Watch.

Tenor, Michael Fabiano

Once in awhile, a voice appears on the scene that extends itself to a higher calibre than the norm.  The voice of rising tenor, Michael Fabiano, is a voice of this category.  A lyric, lush, sound with the perfect amount of colore bruciato (burnished colour) and squillo, Fabiano is making his mark in New York and internationally. Having recently performed on Aprile Millo’s 25th Anniversary Recital at Lincoln Center and having made his Met debut as Raffaele in Verdi’s Stiffelio, Fabiano is the voice to watch.  This past week, he performed in concert at Central Park.  The following is a review from the New York Times.  Bravo Michael!

Met’s Fare: Some Classic, Some Quirky (Anthony Tommasini)

Michael Fabiano’s Facebook Fan Page

Michael Fabiano’s Biography (CAMI)

Interview with Time Out New York

Arrigo Boito’s “meant-to-be” Opera: “Il Re Orso” coming to the Opera Comique in 2011

Quite possibly one of the most under-estimated and misconstrued artists of all time, poet, philosopher, and composer Arrigo Boito remains an enigma.  Known most widely for having composed the libretti for Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff, opera-goers are not as familiar with Boito’s own attempts at opera, Mefistofele and the troublesome Nerone. Although these last two works are at least known (and actually masterpieces), some of Boito’s other poetic works were clearly written in the form of opera libretti, therefore suggesting that those works might have been set to music.  Boito’s “secretive” manner of communicating and creating artistic works is another story altogether, however one work that belongs to this category is his grotesque and almost offensive poem, Il Re Orso (The King Bear).

Re Orso is an allegorical poem (for a throrough analysis of what it means and how it relates to operatic tradition of the 19th Century, you’ll have to check out my dissertation).  Essentially, Boito uses a specific language to communicate his philosophy and to manifest a type of poetry that was uncommon in the 19th Century.  Upon completing the poem, he sent it to Victor Hugo who responded with a letter of praise and encouragement.  Boito also sent the poem to Verdi (for other more personal reasons that relate to my research).

In the 1980s, Re Orso was set to music for the first time and was recorded.  The following is the recording with music by Margot Galante Garrone.

Although the recording captures what are aspects of “Scapigliatura” style, it is difficult to know what Boito might have done with the opera had he composed it himself.  I call it an opera, controversially, because it is only considered a poem.  During my research, I found evidence that suggests Re Orso is a libretto, meant to be set to music.  Excitingly, a new production of this work will be presented in 2010.

The Festival RE ORSO is set to occur at the Opera Comique in Paris in June 2010.  For any Boito fans, this event is a must. Here is some information on the event:

AVOLA PER MUSICA de Marco Stroppa
Livret de Luca Fontana d’après Arrigo Boito. Création mondiale à l’Opéra Comique le 9 juin 2011
Susanna Mälkki
Richard Brunel
Ensemble InterContemporain

Dans l’œuvre littéraire du compositeur et librettiste Arrigo Boito figure un poème épique âpre et mystérieux, Re Orso, publié en 1865. Ce texte écrit en vers lyriques d’un extrême raffinement musical raconte la légende d’un roi effroyable, Ours, qui régnait sur la Crète avant l’an 1000, dans les temps les plus sombres de notre ère. Mêlant le caractère légendaire de l’ancien roi des animaux au mythe du Minotaure, Boito bâtit une nouvelle figure de maudit plongé dans le crime et la démesure, et attendant son châtiment. Compositeur, chercheur et pédagogue à l’Ircam, Marco Stroppa se saisit de ce texte et élabore sa première œuvre de théâtre musical en forme de danse macabre.

Direction musicale, Susanna Mälkki
Mise en scène, Richard Brunel

Re Orso, Brian Asawa
Le Vers, Monica Bacelli
La Sécrétaire, Le Serpent, Marisol Montalvo
Papiol, Le Trouvère, Alexander Kravets
Réalisation informatique musicale IRCAM, Gilbert Nouno, Arshia Cont

Ensemble InterContemporain

Commande : Opéra Comique, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Ircam-Centre Pompidou, Ensemble InterContemporain, Françoise et Jean-Philippe Billarant
Production : Opéra Comique
Coproduction : Théâtre de la Monnaie, Ircam, EIC
Avec le soutien du Fonds de Création Lyrique.

Spectacle en italien surtitré
Introduction à l’œuvre 30 min avant chaque représentation

9, 11, 14 ET 15 JUIN 2011 – 20H

Festival Re Orso (Opera Comique) June 2011

The High Priestess of Italian Operatic Tradition, Aprile Millo, hears promising singers of the Niagara/Toronto Region.

It is not often that an individual of this calibre, world-wide recognition, and artistic excellence visits the Niagara Area. This past week, Metropolitan Opera and international operatic star, Aprile Millo visited Niagara Falls and Toronto with family members and agreed to hear a select group of singers in Masterclasses organized by Mary-Lou Vetere. Having artistically and personally admired Millo since I was a young girl, it was a great honour and privilege to accept her invitation to perform with her and be part of her sold out 25th Anniversary Recital at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Recital Hall last November. Since then, Ms. Millo has continued to perform and yet maintain a keen interest in young operatic talent. It was more than an honour for her to find interest in singers of this region.

Aprile Millo as Verdi’s Leonora

On July 5th, Ms. Millo gave masterclasses in St. Catharines at St. Thomas Anglican Church on Ontario St. and heard, Cynthia Konopka (soprano), Heather Thomas (soprano), Vicky Vlassis-Radulovich (mezzo-soprano), Shane Glabb (Tenor), Melissa Shriner (soprano), and Brittany Wilson (soprano). In Toronto, she heard Beth Bayley (soprano), Sarah Isles (soprano), and Jessica Lalonde (soprano). Ms. Millo in her own words stated on her Facebook Page:

“Celebrating with my fabulous sister in Niagara on July 4th, I got to hear the amazing vocal studio of a talented young colleague of mine, newly minted PhD grad, Mary-Lou Vetere. Pleased to hear, work with, and be inspired by her varied and very impressive studio. All seriously prepared, musically correct, full of promise. Brava, Miss Vetere & to all who came to be with me–music is alive in the hearts and hopes of these lovely people.”

She also posted the following:

“Thrilled to have spent time with you and your wonderful vocal studio this weekend. They are full of promise and show all the hard work and belief you have in lavished freely on them. Musically well prepared, very serious with a desire to learn and improve themselves in service to music. My compliments to you and them, and my prayers for a collective success for all. Brava, Mary-Lou, on this and again on your very talked about newly minted Phd – everyone here in NY is buzzing.”

Millo in Recital

Aprile Millo has long been associated with the authentic Italian Style, all over the world critics and fans alike have compared her voice with some of the greatest ever to sing in the Italian Canto Lirico tradition, singers such as Claudia Muzio, Renata Tebaldi, Rosa Ponselle, Zinka Milanov and Magda Olivero, and Licia Albanese. Tebaldi and Milanov would become her mentors, and Schwarzkopf, personally would bring her to Herbert Von Karajan. Her video recording of Verdi’s Aida with Placido Domingo has remained one of the staple performances of the 20th century, alongside the magnificent Un Ballo in Maschera with Luciano Pavarotti. Millo is scheduled for a series of performances and new recordings this fall, and yet continues to encourage young opera singers to maintain operatic traditions. She is to return to Toronto in Recital and plans a public master-class later this year. A direct line, carrying forward the great traditions and inspiring a new generation to do the same. What could be more fabulous?

Aprile Millo Official Website

Operavision: Aprile Millo’s Opera Blog