Q & A: Aprile Millo On Her London Debut & Her Return To ‘Adriana Lecouvreur’

By Francisco Salazar

Newsday once described Aprile Millo as “the high priestess of that old time operatic religion.” Indeed, Millo is still one of the few remaining divas of the past who continues to thrill audiences with her passionate and intense voice and whose sheer honesty continues to bring audiences back to a different time in the opera chronology.

A huge exponent of Verdi, Bel Canto, and verismo, the American soprano excited audiences at the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Carnegie Hall, Teatro Colon, and across the world throughout her legendary career. However, there was one city that she never performed in – London.

Now Millo is making that belated London debut in a recital at the Cadogan Hall as part of the London Bel Canto Festival. She is also returning to one of her signature roles in Brazil.

OperaWire had the chance to speak with the famed singer on her exciting debut and her return to “Adriana Lecouvreur.”

OperaWire: Tell me about the London Recital and what excites you about it?

Aprile Millo: It’s very exciting. For many years I sang all over the world and the one place I never got a chance to sing was in London and at the Covent Garden. But here is a marvelous opportunity that arose with this new company and I said yes immediately. I’m very emotional and very happy about it.

OW: What will be on the recital and how did you go about choosing the selections?

AM: I wanted to tell the story of a relationship in Italian songs and at one point the audience will decide whether the relationship is a success or whether it’s not. And there are different songs for how it goes. It’s a bit of audience participation.

Then there is some Rachmaninoff and some Massenet for my tribute to Dmitri Hvorostovsky. I also have some beautiful German songs and some arias which I will dedicate in memory of Simonetta Puccini, who passed away. She was the granddaughter of the composer and I have an Irish harp and we’ll do some Irish and English melodies. Then just opera the rest.

OW: Alongside the recital, you also did some masterclasses with the festival. What is your approach to masterclasses?

AM: I was very happy to do a masterclass for the London Bel Canto Festival and they are trying to make a center for young artists to come and study the principals of Bel Canto, which are steeped in centuries-old tradition and which stems a lot from the vocal traditions that the Italians used to sing. And I thought it was very intriguing. It is important to have new creative people coming into the profession and I thought it was something wonderful.

What is your approach to Bel canto and how do you think it helps young singers?

I have an opera academy that I run out of Italy and we brought Maestro Richard Bonynge. As we know, he and his wife Joan Sutherland set the standard for Bel Canto singing with Luciano [Pavarotti] and other wonderful people. So when I started off I stayed within those lines listening to the examples set by Rosa Ponselle and Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, and the old school singing. When I started singing they recognized that I was pretty much of that school and I had a very lovely and tremendous career. It meant a lot to me to sing the Donizetti and Bellini as well as Verdi and Puccini because its a particular kind of singing that is very equal, very even and supposed to always be pretty. And unfortunately, that is not always explored today in an effort to just sing the notes. It’s a very expressive and very divine world that’s very different and unique and it’s always been a pleasure to be an exponent of that. I think young singers should sing this as much as they can before moving on to the heavier repertoire.

OW: You are returning to the role of “Adriana Lecouvreur” this year in Brazil. How did this come about?

AM: Brazil is my stomping ground. It’s a home away from home and they are a very tough audience. But when they love you they love you. But I came back last year and I did a beautiful recital and they went nuts over it. They said, ”You sound fantastic. Why don’t you come back and do a full opera with us?” So now I’m doing “Adriana Lecouvreur” and I think I will return for some performances of “Cecilia” and some other things. I would also love to have an evening of presenting some of the wonderful new stars like Ailyn [Pérez]. It would be nice to see the old school and the new singers work together and show a bridge of the continued tradition. And it’s fun.

OW: Tell me about “Adriana Lecouvreur” and how has the role developed in your voice over the years?

AM: I got to coach this with Renata Tebaldi and Magda Olivero. I also wanted to know exactly how it was done because they lived closer to the time ofthe composer. And when I went to them they said, actually you sing this as he would want and they gave me some suggestions. And the last time I sang it in New York, Magda Olivero gave me all the advice on what to do. She had worked with Cilea so I thought it eas going to be more fun because the real example of this kind of singing doesn’t really exist. So if I can keep it going for another generation of singers and inspire them then that is fun for me. It is a beautiful role and it calls for three powerhouse singers. So I’m glad to be one of them.

OW: What is your favorite moment in “Adriana Lecoureur?”

AM: It’s at the end. As she is dying and she doesn’t even know she is, he proposes marriage to her and there is a melody that is the love between the two of them that every time it’s played I go absolutely insane because it’s sensual and it’s the purest sense of love and a connection between two people. But this moment when you know she’s dying, she has the happiest feeling. It’s beautiful opera.

What is the biggest challenge of the piece?

AM: You have to know how to balance recitation and singing. “Adriana Lecourevur” has a lot of recitation that was made famous by Magda Olivero and Renata Tebaldi. It was supposed to copy an actress named Sarah Bernhardt and the composer wrote so it would be acting and singing together so you have to learn how to act, recite and declaim. There is a lot to do but when it works its hypnotic for the audience.

OW: How do you balance this without ever going overboard and hurting your voice?

AM: It’s a challenge because it goes very high in the Fedora scene when she is denouncing the Princess. You have to almost sing it in the Italian fashion. Some people make the mistake of shouting it and then it becomes very dangerous. But so far so good and it is a vocal highlight for the evening.

OW: Is there anything you still want to do that you haven’t? What’s next?

AM: I’m very proud to be an opera singer so I won’t be singing any modern music or crossover or Bernstein. But there is one wish. I have always wanted to sing with José Carreras, but I think unfortunately now we won’t be able to but I loved his voice. I love so many voices now especially Michael Fabiano, Ailyn Pérez, whose voice is magnificent, and I love Anna Netrebko. I don’t know if there are many opportunities to sing with these lovely ladies. But with the tenors, there are more opportunities. I will, however, have some work in Genoa and in the United States. There will be recitals and some operas.


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