I had to make an unscheduled trip to Mumbai this month. Whenever I visit the city, I try to take in a few concerts as well. The concert calendar at the NCPA is far fuller than ours in Goa, especially when it comes to classical music.
So when I looked up “What’s On” while I was in town, I was glad to find two events: A Bel Canto Portrait, a vocal recital featuring Nelly Miricioiu soprano, with Maciej Pikulski at the piano; and Opera: Past and Present , an illustrated talk by Miricioiu on her life in opera.
At this point I have to confess I had not heard of Nelly Miricioiu before. Nevertheless, I looked her up, as I do whenever I am confronted by my own ignorance in a subject. And her biography as well as her Youtube clips were really quite impressive.
This definitely made me want to attend both events. But I had not expected to have my socks knocked off, and to be smitten so not only by Miricioiu’s marvellous vocal prowess but also her absolutely wonderful personality, sense of humour, her attitude to life.
I reproduce here what was on her programme, to give you an idea of the range and level of difficulty she covered in one evening:
Lagrimas mias from El anillo de hierro D. Marco Zapata & Miguel Marqués (1843-1918)
Me llaman la primorosa from El Barbero de Sevilla Miguel Nieto & Gerónimo Giménez (1854- 1923)
SONGS BY VERDI
Perduta ho la pace (Wolfgang von Goethe) Giuseppe Verdi (1813- 1901)
Il Tramonto (Andrea Maffei)
La zingara (S. M. Maggioni)
Somnoroase pasarele (Sleepy little birds) Nicolae Bretan (1887- 1968)
Ce te legeni codrule (O forest, why do you sway) Tiberiu Brediceanu (1877- 1968)
Cântă puiul cucului (The Song of the Cuckoo’s baby)
SONGS BY TOSTI
Chanson de l’adieu Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846- 1916)
Non t’amo piu
Pace non trovo (Petrarca sonnets) Franz Liszt (1811- 1886)
Come per me sereno (La Sonnambula) Vincenzo Bellini (1801- 1835)
Col sorrisi d’innocenza (Il Pirata)
Com’è bello, quale incanto (Lucrezia Borgia) Gaetano Donizetti (1797- 1848)
Crudele? Ah no mio bene (Don Giovanni) W. A. Mozart (1756- 1791)
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (La Rondine) Giacomo Puccini (1858- 1924)
Pace pace mio dio! (La Forza del Destino) Giuseppe Verdi
It gave the audience a whole spectrum of the bel canto repertoire.
It was a stunning performance. Miriciou’s intonation was impeccable, her technique rock-solid, and she still had formidable command, power and agility in her voice. Her cantilenas, legati, trills had all the youthful vigour of someone far younger.
I heard predictable whispers behind me during performance and after as well, by self-styled ‘experts’ among the audience: “She’s past it”, “she’s not got it anymore,” etc etc.
At one point in the performance, I turned back and confronted one of the whispers: “On what basis are you saying this?” And there was a loss of words from the whisperer: “We-ell…. she’s a little… screechy”. SCREECHY? Are we really sitting so close to each other, and hearing such different things? He obviously had no clue, but was just trying to be knowledgeable to his date. I ignored him after that, although I did turn around again to shush the whispering during the performance.
Here’s a Youtube clip of her singing Chi il bel sogno di Doretta:
The concert was peppered with anecdotes along the way:
For example, after she returned to the stage following a break, she told us how important it was for singers to drink water as they performed. Apparently the great tenor Franco Corelli would have water-soaked wads of sponge sewn into his costume when he was onstage. He would turn around, weaving the action into the drama unfolding, and surreptitiously imbibe the water, and then turn around to deliver a particularly high note or difficult passage.
She told us of the similarity between the Romanian and Indian love of emotion and drama, why she feels at home here, and of course how she was exposed to a diet of Bollywood films in the Soviet era (back in the days when the word Bollywood wasn’t as fashionable as now) and the heart-throb was Raj Kapoor.
She asked us if we knew the difference between a soprano and a Rottweiler? Just the lipstick!
Miricioiu’s talk the next day was just as entertaining. Stick around to read about it!