Monday, September 13, 2010

Quando m'en vo

Franco Corelli buying zeppole in Little Italy, (c) unknown
This past Sunday, despite a steady, drizzling rain, saw my neighbor-hood celebrating Ferragosto with restaurants adding sidewalk tables and menu specials, lots of music from stereos and bands alike, and more zeppole than you could shake a stick at.  The evening was finished off by an event sponsored by the pastry shop (the owner is a retired professor of Italian literature who likes Puccini and Pavarotti.)  After working at home, resisting the blandishment of riotous goings-on in the streets for most of the afternoon, I rewarded myself with this.  And it was a joy, an insouciant smörgåsbord of Sinatra hits delivered by the resident specialist, Neapolitan song by a second resident specialist, piano selections by Tchaikovsky and Debussy, and arias and duets from Verdi, Puccini (of course,) and Donizetti.

Dina Pruzhansky was a rare treat for the Enrico Fermi Cultural Center (a small venue with a big heart.)  She proved that even if collaborator is an awkward term (see this blog post by Mark Berry), accompanying makes a crucial contribution to the musical success, not to mention the emotional power and subtlety, of a piece.  She also played one of her own compositions, "The Wind," (evocative, in a style which I would call late-nineteenth-century with a contemporary twist), in addition to the playful Debussy, and a rendition of Tchaikovsky's Nocturne in F-major which was lyrical but not maudlin.  The advertised star of the evening, however, was Maria Fraccola, whom I think it is fair to describe as a rising soprano (possibly a rapidly-rising soprano; rumors of Lincoln Center abound, but I have not yet been able to quiz the pastry shop owner on this.)  As yet, she has no website, and the only video of her on YouTube is of her singing Bachanas Brasilieras No. 5.  Her voice has what I think of as a warm, earthy quality, which I am not sure is the best match for the above, but of course works a treat for Puccini.  (Also, whether it lies in the quality of the video or a year of epiphanies and hard work, I was surprised by how much more impressed I was with her voice live.)  Macedonian tenor Bilen Eminov partnered her for "Esulti pur la barbara" from Elisir (so cute) and the folk song "Io te Vurria Vasa' ", as well as offering "Quanto è bella" (Elisir) and "Lunge da lei" (Traviata.)  Coming in with neutral expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of his voice, and alarmed by his technique; I expect and hope that study will correct the latter and let the former emerge in all its glory.

Maria Fraccola makes me feel like a bit of a dull idler: recipient of music prizes from earliest youth, she has degrees in piano and bel canto from the Conservatorio di Musica Licinio Refice, and has also studied classical guitar and dance (on the side??  And she appears to be happy and healthy withal.  Extraordinary.)  And she sang her way smiling through "Quando m'en vo" (Bohème),  "Je veux vivre" (Romeo et Juliette), "O mio babbino caro" (Gianni Schicchi), and "Regnava nel silenzio" (Lucia), winding down with "Torna a Surriento" and "Non ti scordar di me."  She sang with engagement, and her audience responded.  In previous events at the same venue, with a similar audience, Puccini has sometimes been greeted with scarcely more than a polite applause of respect for cultural landmarks; not so here.  Laughter of delight, and bravas galore, rewarded the wide-eyed giddiness of "Je veux vivre," the affectionate, almost pouting plea of "O mio babbino caro."  And "Regnava nel silenzio" (with Alisa's part filled by the piano) was something else again.  The pastry shop owner, as master of ceremonies, informed the audience in tones of reverence that this was a difficult piece.  I prepared myself to cut Maria and her coloratura some slack.  Usual caveats about my lack of specialist knowledge in place: I didn't feel I needed to.  Her sound seemed fluid and unforced; I was expecting to at least see, if not hear, some effort, but on her face was nothing but joy.  And no opera house could have bested the hundred-odd souls who heard her in enthusiasm.  They let her finish without cutting her off, and then erupted into applause, laughter, shouting her name, brava, bravissima; those who could sprang from their seats, and those elderly enough to be unsteady on their feet helped each other and were helped to stand.  Although perhaps few things are more fun than closing out an evening of opera excerpts with "Libiamo nei lieti calici" with an audience familiar enough to happily fill in for the chorus, the Lucia remained the highlight of the evening.


  1. I found this intriguing & very useful. I have Ms. Fraccola & Friends performing on 10/10/10 here in Poughkeepsie, NY for our first annual, " A Taste of Little Italy ".

  2. I'm honored to be found intriguing, delighted to be useful! All of the singers had really engaging presence and fed well off the audience; I wish you all the best for your event.


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