Anna Bonitatibus and friends (Wigmore Hall, 25 January 2018)
This was part I of a two part event where Boni (with and without co.) introduced some of us to lirica italiana.
Anna Bonitatibus mezzo-soprano
Serena Farnocchia soprano
Paul Nilon tenor
Rocco Cavalluzzi bass
Margaret Campbell flute
Vincenzo Scalera piano
Girolamo Crescentini (1762-1846)
Il primo amore
Giovanni Battista Perucchini (1784-1870)
Taci, invan mia cara lole
Vieni, t’appressa all’urna
Se i sospiri degli amanti
Odi d’un uom che muore
Luigi Gordigiani (1806-1860)
Alberto Mazzucato (1813-1877)
Il pensiero della sera
Il canto d’amore
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Notturno (Guarda che bianca luna)
Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870)
Virginia: Cantata for soprano and piano
Cupo è il sepolcro e mutolo
Vincenzo Gabussi (1800-1846)
Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Sir Michael Costa (1808-1884)
Ecco quel fiero istante
Maria Malibran (1808-1836)
Nel cor più non mi sento
The cat quartet (Rossini)
Though Wiggy has of recent been making a habit of getting together singers, orchestras and instrumental soloists, here is no doubt that managing any number of people larger than two is no easy feat. Originally the performance was supposed to include Jeremy Ovenden (last heard by me in that not quite Tamerlano from Brussels) and Riccardo Novarro (whom you might remember from last year’s Dario and Giulio Cesare) but they had to cancel.
Due to people changing into higher gears on their own time and also perhaps due to the choice of songs, the first part of the evening was rather mixed. As one would expect, our host Boni, in what I already called a pink gelato dress (with very nice pink floral embroidery), held her own from the getgo and had a heartwarmingly gentle moment with one of the songs (don’t ask me which, sorry, I’m really not versed in lirica italiana) ending in something I translated as “don’t worry, I’m right here”. And indeed, she let her friends take centre stage through the night, popping in and out to let us know just that.
The turning point for me was the Mercadante cantata, which I did not know, but had the easiest time following the voice-piano dialogue. I was quite stunned, in fact, given that usually when I hear a new piece I’m left with a soup of feelings and maybe the main tune, rather than being able to clearly “read” along with the people on stage. Great job Farnocchia and Scalera, for the mutual communication and ability to impart to us some vintage belcanto writing. We should hear more Mercadante, shouldn’t we? We should also hear more of Scalera, who I have heard before but I’ve started to rate very highly as accompanist since this concert, where he generally seemed to be having a ball.
The first best moment of the night was Boni and Farnocchia’s duet in Donizetti’s Il giuramento – their voices work so well together. You could tell they’ve sung together a lot, too, but their tones are wonderfully suited to each other. Farnocchia, though billed as a soprano and in possession of some piercing high notes, has a very fetching middle, quite related to Boni’s, though brighter. I would not say no to hearing her in some high mezzo roles.
The second high point was Boni’s rendition of Malibran’s Nel cor più non mi sento, which, for those who don’t know, is an excuse for the singer to show off their versatility, as each return of the main tune is done in a different style, from contained pathos to operetta silliness, through trills and octave jumps. Boni had no qualms about taking the piss out of herself as much as of the text, when attempting to reach the highest highs.
Cavalluzzi has a very opaque bass which sounded to me – at least at the beginning – like a Korean-type bass, very dark and rather large and not particularly subtle. I was then very surprised to hear how comfortable he sounded in I gondolieri.
Nilon has the smallest voice of the bunch and not particularly colourful but Italianate all right. He had the least effect on me (I napped through some of his efforts during the first part, having misjudged my energy levels the night before) but then I’m not the biggest tenor fan.
The night ended on an ensemble high with a really well balanced I gondolieri, where we got to hear some of Rossini’s strengths normally reserved for opera act finales done justice by Boni and Co. Lastly, they put decorum aside and regaled us with the Cat quartet.
The night took a bit of warming up and perhaps the selections presented during the first part could’ve been thought over a little but the second part was certainly well worth it. Boni proved a very gracious and generous host and with a hilarious knack for comedy. She can do the dramatic bits no problem, but I think zany comedy is her true calling.