He said/She said: Aprile Millo at Trinity St. Paul'sReview
This is a joint review with contributor Greg Finney. Read more by Greg.
Jenna: On Saturday night I went with go-to concert date Greg Finney to Trinity St. Paul’s Centre on Bloor Street to hear the great Aprile Millo in recital. Upon opening sitting down and flipping through the programme, I was a little humbled to find out that I really should have known more about Aprile. She had a collection of photos from her impressive career, including shots of her at the Met with Pavarotti, Domingo, or hanging out with Marilyn Horne, Michael Jackson, and her friend Elizabeth Taylor. In 1984, Aprile had a dramatic debut at the Met when she filled in for an ill soprano to sing Amelia in _Simon Boccanegra _with James Levine. The reviews were rave, and she became a staple at the Met. Serious credentials indeed. In this second of two recitals she gave here in Toronto, Aprile was joined by pianist Linda Ippolito, mezzo-soprano (and accordionist!) Mary-Lou Vetere, baritone Gustavo Ahualli, tenor Giacomo Folinazzo, and harpist Merynda Adams.
Greg: So, yeah. I done got schooled in Opera on Saturday night, yo! HOLY CRAP!! Jenna and I bounced over to Trinity St. Paul’s to hear Aprile Millo in “The Toronto Recital”. Not gonna lie, I felt like I did her a great injustice by not being terribly cognisent of her career to date. I apologize, Ms. Millo, from the depths of my heart. Flipping through the programme to see what repertoire I was in for we found a collection of photos with Millo with Pavarotti, Domingo, Tebaldi, Horne, Elizabeth Taylor, and Michael Jackson (THE WOMAN IS IN THE SAME PHOTO AS MJ!!! #internalscreams). Needless to say, as the house lights went down, my excitement went way, WAY, up.
Jenna: The evening with Aprile Millo was exactly what you’d expect from someone who’s sung with everyone, in every major opera house: it was a night with a true professional. She was delightful to watch, cracking jokes with an endearing air of honesty. When her voice first rang through the amazing acoustic of Trinity St. Paul’s, it was like hearing a real culmination of Aprile’s full life as a singer. The 56-year-old soprano showed off a voice that had been meticulously maintained; she had a warm, raw sound that was always spinning through really satisfying legato. When she rose into her top range, it was that really thrilling thing where smart singing gets you the best result; she nearly tore the roof off above the staff, and I loved it so much.
Greg: She took the stage with Linda Ippolito (who was phenomenal all night!!!) at the piano for the first half and from the very first note she sang, I knew I was in the presence of what I like to call “The Real Effing Deal”. Full sound, flawless technique and OMG the diction! I felt like I was chewing through every consonant along with her, and for a concert laden with foreign language works (to anglophones) the lack of translations was no issue. Her communication was so clear and focused; I had no trouble following the narrative of some of the pieces with which I was less familiar (here’s looking at you, Rachmaninoff, and believe you me - for a guy from Cape Breton Island to understand a story in operatic Russian is a big deal).
Jenna: Aprile really does come from that school of singers who simply feed us sound, relentlessly. She sang every single letter with what felt like endless sound. It reminded me what it meant to be drawn in by a human voice; I couldn’t tear my eyes or ears away from her. She sang grand renditions of Strauss Lieder, and one of my favourite Rachmaninoff songs (“Ne poy krasavitsa”). In a beautiful change of sonority, Aprile sang a set of English songs with harpist Merynda Adams, including a show-stopping “Danny Boy”. I loved what the sound of the harp did to the sound of her voice; I wondered if her huge power would drown out a delicate harp, but instead Aprile proved that power wasn’t her only tool.
Greg: I don’t want to talk about technique or selection or anything like that. I’d like to talk about Ms. Millo as a treasure we should be mining. Her breadth of experience (predominantly at, oh, nowhere huge, just the Metropolitan Opera). This woman was a tour de force, singing with a quality of voice that hearkens back to a bygone era of glorious soaring voices that sung for the rafters. I felt like I was being transported back to the glory days of the 70s. Her colours, her timbre and her extreme facility throughout her entire vocal range, tell the story of a true, seasoned professional with years of hard-work and top notch technique. I was floored by her Verdi, and her La fanciulla del West did not disappoint.
Jenna: She earned applause, shouts, and whistles with all of the Strauss and Rachmaninoff and Frank Bridge, but it was with the Italian rep that Aprile really showed her stuff. She gave us Neapolitan songs twice during the evening starting off with a set of Donaudy, Tosti, Donizetti, and Verdi that brought me plenty of nostalgia. Later in the program, with Mary-Lou Vetere on accordion (perhaps the most glamourous accordion-playing I’ve ever seen in my life), Aprile sang some songs I didn’t know by Arturo Buzzi-Peccia. They were so fun. I remember being wowed by how agile Aprile’s voice was, racing up to touch the top of her range without forgetting to bring her whole voice with her. I also remember wondering how anyone can play the accordion, let alone with the skill and attitude (and great dress) that Mary-Lou showed. Definitely a highlight of the night.
Greg: She had some special guests show up: baritone Gustavo Ahualli joined her for the duet “Ciel, mio padre” from Aida. He kept his own with a full, warm, caramelly baritone with an easy top that was exciting and calming to listen to, and he stood his own with Millo, a powerhouse of the genre. I saw a harpist listed in the program and thought, “This might be where we get lost”. Not so, neither. Millo showed she’s more than just a cannon ready to fire off massive dramatic rep, but also an intelligent and artistic singer who really makes music with compatriots on the stage - and I’m a tough sell on “Danny Boy” (Irish heritage, learned it at 6 years old, have to sing it for Mom every time I’m home, grew up with hardworking men singing this song - which is how I believe it should be heard), but I tell you, I was back on the cliff overlooking Sydney Harbour watching the caribou sail off to Newfoundland for about 4 minutes during the piece, and I can’t thank Ms. Millo enough for that.
Jenna:Aprile brought us back to opera several times during her recital, with “Laggiù nel soledad” from Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, and the Aida duet “Ciel, mio padre!” with baritone Gustavo Ahualli. Gustavo had a great Verdi-baritone sound with a menacing top; he held his own against Aprile’s cannon of sound, so that’s pretty darn impressive. The night closed with the trio from Norma, “O di qual sei tu vittima!” with Mary-Lou Vetere, tenor Giacomo Folinazzo, and a chorus of the Vetere Studio. Mary-Lou, freshly back from the accordion-playing, sang Adalgisa with a rich, dark sound (in another beautiful gown). Tenor Folinazzo had some moments of wild tuning and edged on shouting, but he sang with surprising power in the Norma trio.
Greg: Now let’s talk about Mary Lou Vetere and her rockstar accordion. AWESOME!! I love me some accordion all the time - nothing makes a tango better - but this was out of this world. The Neapolitan songs (Yes, “Funiculi, Funicula” was sung) were the highlight of the night for me. So nice to hear a unique instrument accompanying the voice for a change. Vetere’s playing was the right mix of classical, jazz, rock n’ roll and opera. I loved every second of it.
Jenna: At the piano, Linda Ippolito filled Trinity St. Paul’s Centre with a confident sound, the kind that lets me hear the instrument’s real potential. I loved her touch with the Strauss set (what pianist doesn’t indulge when they’re given Strauss?), and she showed some wicked chops in songs like “Love Went A’ Ridin’”, by Frank Bridge. She was also a great orchestra; there was absolutely no wimping out on the Aida duet and she had a beautiful Puccini-friendly sound for the Fanciulla aria. I kept thinking how fun it must have been for Linda to play for Aprile. The two of them together had a really elastic connection, with room for playing on both sides and lots of intuition. It’s the kind of duo work I love to see.
Greg: I believe we need to make an effort to celebrate treasures like this in our operatic community. It may be to late for us to hear Pavarotti sing live, but make sure you hear her before she retires - not that it sounds likely anytime soon - you’ll be the better for it.
Jenna: I always love watching a singer with such rich experience take the stage as if it’s their home. When you get a chance to hear something like that, it’s like you’re seeing something rare, you’re privy to some privileged insight into a singer’s life. I think I needed this night with Aprile Millo; it was one to be remembered. Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre is a hub for concerts, where you can catch Tafelmusik, the Toronto Consort, and Soundstreams events (and more). It’s a beautiful space, and I’ve seen only great artists perform in it.