Recital Review



Bel Canto Singing: Very Much Alive at Salem College

September 20, 2003 - Winston-Salem, NC:


It pays to keep on the alert for word about the arrival of new musical talent. In conversation with a Salem College alumna and opera lover at a Foothills Chamber Music Festival Schubertiad at the Kuhn Gallery, we heard of the arrival of a major new vocal talent. My source was at an audition at Salem College in which the singer, who had come straight from the airport after flying in from Italy, simply "blew their socks off" with an astounding true dramatic soprano voice. Accompanied by a veteran violist who played under Karajan at the Met and with Eve Queler's Opera Orchestra of New York, I arrived early at Hanes Auditorium in the Salem College Fine Arts Center on September 20 for "An Evening of Italian Songs and Arias" performed by Barbara DeMaio Caprilli and pianist Barbara Lister-Sink. Standing in the lobby, we were astounded by the sheer volume of sound that poured through the closed doors during her pre-concert warm-up.

Between her printed program and two encores, Caprilli gave a broad tour of her substantial repertory, which includes all the great Puccini and Verdi soprano roles. Reflecting her stage experience, "Vissi d'arte," from Puccini's Tosca, was given a performance that fit the aria into its dramatic context instead of being a mere show. I have recently reviewed a number of fine voices that were even and firmly supported throughout their ranges, but how to describe a fully armed dramatic soprano close aboard? Her voice was Manhattan bedrock solid, from a relative piano, behind which one sensed enormous power held in check, through an even and seamless line to a soaring forte with no note showing strain. Despite stylish use of vibrato, every note was exactly on pitch - confirmed by my opera companion. In the entire program, I heard only one glitch, at the end of an aria, late in the program. Her enunciation of the texts was ideal.

Two sets of lighter songs allowed relative rest for Caprilli's voice in each half of the program. Most interesting were five songs by Ottorino Respighi given between the opening arias in the first half. "Musica in Horto," with the voice scaled back, was fast, light and playful and featured a fascinating piano score - sort of Mediterranean Impressionism with arpeggios and treble tinklings implying insects behind the roses. "Notte" is a slow meditation, given with a darkened voice that exploited the chest register. "Nevicata" begins quietly and soars dramatically as a lost love is recalled. "Nebbie" opens with stark piano chords and remains intense; Caprilli used her dramatic voice fully, plumbing its lower range. "Pioggia" is light, rapid and humorous with an elaborate piano part with lots of crossed hands and exploitation of the high treble. Respighi's less well known orchestral works are often pleasant, tuneful and forgettable. All of these songs had challenging keyboard parts and Lister-Sink's playing was superb.

Three major Verdi arias in succession followed the light Respighi interlude. Eighteen years after Macbeth premiered, the composer revised the opera and expanded the role of Lady Macbeth. From Act II, the aria "La luce langue" first reveals her pangs of guilt about the deaths undertaken but soon forces them aside in an exalted vision of power-lust. From Un ballo in maschera came Amelia's heart wrenching plea ("Morrò, ma prima in grazia") to be allowed to see her children once more before her husband murders her to avenge his honor. "Ritorna Vincitor!," from Aïda, is a tour de force, ranging from the intoxication of the celebration of her heroic lover, Radames, to horror at what his victory will mean to her father and people, to the hushed and poignant "L'insane parola," a prayer to her gods. This gave Caprilli wide scope to convey complex emotions and was superbly supported by Lister-Sink's skillful pianism, which managed to suggest Verdi's magnificent scoring. Throughout the recital, the piano's lid was fully up, but with a voice of Caprilli's magnitude, there was never a problem of balance.

After intermission, Caprilli's ability to weave long, beautiful lines of flowing melody was displayed in "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma . Perhaps the low humidity contributed to a slight flaw in the concluding line, the only one noted during the entire evening. Four pleasant English Songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti provided a relative vocal rest. Most memorable was the last, "Goodbye!," set to a poem by G.T. Whyte-Melville. Each stanza ended with a refrain: "goodbye to summer," "goodbye to hope," and "goodbye forever." The formal concert ended with Maddalena's "La Mamma morta" from Act III of Giordano's Andrea Chénier , recounting to Gérard how her mother was killed by the mob and how she came to love Chénier. This and the songs were superbly done.

Noting that all her characters either died, committed murder or both- Caprilli gave two encores to reward the enthusiastic reception of her recital. From Act IV of Ponchielli's La Gioconda, the title character's emotional devastation was conveyed in "Suicidio!," from Act IV. Somewhere in "a vast plain on the borders of the territory of New Orleans," a dying Manon Lescaut (in Puccini's opera) was filled with terror and fatigue in "Sola... perduta... abbandonata!"

With this extraordinary new voice in the Central Piedmont, keep an eye out in CVNC's calendar for future recitals. Go early, for the hall will surely be packed as word of mouth and reviews spread the news. Local concert presenters ought to pay heed and rush to take advantage of such a major talent! And, yes, my "socks were blown off" by this astounding concert that was a steal since it was also free.

Caprilli's website is http://www.barbarademaio.com/ [inactive 2/04] . Lister-Sink's, at http://www.freeingthecagedbird.com/ [inactive 4/08], has interesting information about her pioneering work in the field of injury-preventive keyboard technique.