13 November 2005

Degrees of Despair, Memorable

Leoncavallo ZAZÀ; Teatro Grattacielo at Alice Tully, 12.11.2005; c. Silipigni; Millo, Powers, Gartner, Grunewald, Monaghan, Yoon.

Aprile Millo's Zazà is a supernatural achievement. In a career of countless landmarks, this may be the greatest yet. She was announced as just coming out of illness, which explained a frightening Act I, marked by fat vibrato during do-or-die leaps in the upper registers, and her alarming gargly coughs between acts. But by Act III, the meat of the soprano's work, and through the inevitable fall in Act IV, Millo overcomes biology and delivers the exact verismo animus. While both constitutionally melodramatic, there are two approaches to doing verismo: one is to come from elegance and post-romantic style (Tebaldi), and the other from base, filthy, almost subhuman crevices (Olivero). I dare say Millo, miraculous, takes both approaches without trickery, and shows that tonal beauty can actually thrive in hard incongruence. Highly histrionic for sure, but only as much as Leoncavallo wrote in. For this Zazà, Millo didn't need the grand stage of an opera house, towering sets, costumes and hair (though she came out with a number; another story for another time), complete choruses, competent costars and orchestra; she didn't need supertitles, Met titles, or libretto books: from her endearing pantomime, to her flawless articulation of the many layers of pain and happiness, a sure Italian stand, and that voice, unmistakable echo of past giants, Millo does art to make sense of all the excesses of verismo. She makes us believe. I don't need to say that I'm a fan of the Aprile, but only as far as she meets minimum requirements of music and taste: Sieglinde will maneuver to emphasize the little jewels over the rot any time for her: however, what I have seen at Alice Tully Hall this evening is a performance of a lifetime, by a sensitive worker, sadly fragmented by time and age, still fighting for a true place. Her sobs and cries alone can give masterclasses to the premiere roster of the Metropolitan: the density of shading of these sonic outbursts has more fire, more story than any other diva's 'Amami, Alfredo' or Liebestod: the range of despair explored by Millo's final sounds others can only dream of in their tedious lifetime of singing. And these were just the sobs! For those who weren't there, a 'transcription' of this historic evening will surely surface; rejoice; hear to believe; the operatic legacy is once again enriched by Aprile Millo immeasurably.