The Concerti degli Angeli Custodi started their new season for this year with an inaugural concert on May 7th. I missed that one and the second one too. However, I was determined not to miss last night’s concert held in the baroque jewel of a chapel which is the oratorio degli Angeli Custodi. (Full season’s concerts at http://www.iconcertidegliangeli.com/oratorio.htm.)
Meaning “Guardian Angels”, the chapel reflects the seventeenth century’s increased interest in protecting spirits. I’m sure we all have had moments in our lives when we felt there was someone looking over us who we could not see!
The chapel is richly frescoed and there is a delightful series of paintings illustrating the help guardian angels are willing to give. The whole chapel does, however, need some considerable restoration and it is a great idea that it has been put to use as a concert venue since the public will be made more aware of another of Lucca’s lesser known wonders and contribute to its repair.
Last night’s concert celebrated a twinning between two choirs from Lucca and Berlin respectively, was the focus of the premiere of two works, gave us an insight into Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” (which will be on at Montecarlo’s Teatro degli Rassicurati from 13th to 15th June) and introduced us to that opera’s Norina, the stunning young soprano from Melbourne, Australia, Michelle Buscemi, of Italian origin.
Buscemi was indeed the star of the evening. Finalist in Australia’s most important singing contest she has, since 2006, sung important roles from Florence to Melbourne. Wearing a concert gown which the immortal Callas originally wore, Michelle proved brilliant both in serious and comic roles with a great stage presence and fine acting skills adding to a strong and flexible voice, fully in harmony with the nuances of Italian opera.
I particularly enjoyed her rendition of Puccini’s “Salve Regina”, an early work, “Ebben ne andrò lontana” from Catalani’s “La Wally” (also memorably sung by Callas) and “Puccini’s “O mio Babbino caro” which was give added poignancy by the fact that, since Michelle’s dad (and mum) had just arrived in time from down under to be present at the concert, there was a touching embrace between daughter and father at the end of the aria.
The two premieres could hardly have been more contrasting. Francesco Cipriano’s “O Crus Ave”, a choral work (first performed in Berlin earlier this year – this was its Italian premiere) was a solemn piece beginning with a majestically reflective modal introduction, then moving into a second section with ample space for Mattia Campetti to solo before the choir. Then an interlude for the piano (played by Cipriano) followed; virtuosistic but remaining in an elegiac mood and concluding with the choir. The words come from a Latin prayer which is especially said during the celebrations of Lucca’s Volto Santo on September 14th. The words praise the Cross as an instrument of salvation.
The other piece, an actual world premiere, expertly sung and acted by Maria Elena Romanazzi (who has also trained as a classical dancer) was a cheeky piece, very much in the contemporary idiom with clear Berio influences. I didn’t understand the words but was I meant to?
The concert didn’t want to finish. The last piece was meant to be Verdi’s “Va pensiero” but encores followed, including Neapolitan songs,and the toast from “La Traviata”, before the performers were allowed to leave, after having given us a most entertaining and revealing evening. Most applause, however, went to Michelle Buscemi who must certainly be watched closely as she conquers one operatic stage after the other. Clearly, that Callas gown she wore is bringing her good luck!