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).

“Ode Saffica” for the 21st century


As of late, I have been immersed in my writing and continue to ponder my mentor, the philosopher/poet/composer and most controversial “scapigliato”, Arrigo Boito.  In 1863, Boito wrote a Sapphic Ode to art in which he addressed the state of opera post Risorgimento.  He often wrote emotionally about art, and perhaps we don’t do this enough.  When one is engulfed in the trials and tribulations of academic research and writing, it is usually unnecessary to write emotionally, but factually.  Perhaps I’ve reached my boiling point and need to be emotional about my art and I chose to do it here.  Maybe I’ve been influenced by Boito…or maybe I have come to understand him so much so that I’ve chosen to adopt his “disheveled attitude.”

Art and the properties that define it swing on a constantly shifting pendulum.  But, what it is that controls the motion of that pendulum, where it stops and where it ends, where it pauses, and how quickly it shifts from side to side?  From the onset of this all-encompassing art, the shifting has been unavoidable, sometimes welcome, sometimes dreaded, but always, always a constant.  The one thing you can be sure of in art is that things are in constant flux.

Many nights I lay down my heavy mind, filled with continuous thought, and ponder this art and my place within it.  I suppose we all question our places within any grand structure to which we play part.  Simply, without it I would not want to live.  There is nothing to hear if music not be present; if the human voice were to end its plentiful expression, as it were, what else would there be for me?  To some, maybe this is too serious a proclamation.  To them, I say, “art is life.”  To them I say in the words of Adorno, “We do not speak to music, music speaks to us.  And, when we think ourselves closest to it, it lingers and waits sad eyed for us to answer.”

Have you ever stood next to a human being whose body vibrates with the splendid energy that the singing voice exudes?  A metaphysical entity if ever there was one, it is from this world and yet from another.  Consequently, I have had this opportunity to stand next to voices that bleed golden shimmer from within their fiery souls.  It is in those moments that I am humbled and awestruck to serve this art that is often surrounded by media and popular culture.  Art is not autonomous and yet it could exist as such.  For me, this is religion.  This is sacred for me.  Somedays I feel completely unworthy; others, ready to fight for the truth that art retains within its deepest self.  And how, you might ask, do we find that truth? Open yourself and expose yourself in the most vulnerable of ways, sing from your soul without shame, care not what others say or what critics think is right or wrong, maintain the values of those whose art you perform, and always, always with the most fragile and courageous love.

When someone you love is gone, and you hear music….does your heart not cry the most painful of melodies? When you fall in love and you hear music, does not every song you hear remind you of that person? How music plays in the soundtrack of our lives….and how often are we oblivious to it?

When the violin weeps its last, when the piano’s soundboard resonates for the last time, when the tubas growl no more, when the timpani are silent, and when the voice has exhaled its last vibrant exaltation, what remains….is love.  O’ gentle and destructive art, wise are you to select your warriors.  I, for one, kneel in humble respect of you that overwhelms me every day of my life.  Your devoted servant……

Published in: on October 24, 2009 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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