It is a great pleasure to welcome again today our outstanding guest commentator Mr. Gioacchino Fiurezi Maragioglio, Italian industrialist, opera critic and historian. Mr. Fiurezi Maragioglio, an intimate friend of the great Italian tenor Giacomo Lauri Volpi, is possessed of a truly extraordinary knowledge of Italian opera and opera singers, many of whom he has known personally. I do not believe that there is anyone among my acquaintance whose knowledge exceeds his own, and there are precious few who could match it. Mr. Fiurezi Maragioglio speaks to us today of the remarkable dramatic soprano Giovanna Casolla.
During the twentieth century, the Italian dramatic soprano was a voice enjoyed all across the world. In fact, during one brilliant decade, Milanov, Ponselle, Raïsa, Cigna, Arangi-Lombardi, Scacciati and Jeritza could all be found singing the greatest roles of the dramatic repertoire: Amelia, Aïda, both Leonoras, and— excepting Ponselle—the most demanding of all: Turandot.
From her début in 1977, Giovanna Casolla has stood as an exceptional example of this great and very necessary kind of soprano. It was only after such disappointments as Katia Ricciarelli’s Turandot that people realized exactly what was missing. So, let us see Signora Casolla in this most demanding of roles, Turandot. Here is the Riddle Scene, with tenor Nicola Martinucci, cut in Torino in 2006, when the soprano was no less than sixty-one years of age, and her Calàf sixty-five!
She is in complete command in this role, and the size and power of the voice are immediately discernable. It is not difficult to compare these qualities to singers of the past, especially to Cigna! She puts forth a great effort creating Turandot, and in this rendition she is convincing as a proud and sneering princess. Her phrasing and control of dynamics, when she taunts Calàf on the final riddle, are particularly effective, owing in large part to the softness of her tone as she comments on Calàf's paleness; something ironically reinforced by the contrasting forte at the end of the phrase.
Casolla is well-known as the interpreter of difficult roles, and here she is interpreting another one: Minnie in La Fanciulla del West, singing her aria Laggiù nel soledad. As is immediately apparent, it is very hard to sing. Puccini demands the soprano move rapidly between a very lyric, reflective parlando expression and then a very dramatic, forceful expression, trumpeting out high notes. Once again, Casolla has her voice ready and waiting to assail the very difficult aria.
Her vocal coloring is particularly well-displayed in the big aria Suicidio from La Gioconda. This is a real chiaroscuro voice, with bright and clear overtones shimmering on top of what is a very dark and threatening core. This, combined with her firm legato and excellent breath control, allows her to show both the strength and resolve of Gioconda while at the same time reminding us that she is, after all, just a young and vulnerable woman.
In this next selection, Casolla interprets Verdi in a performance of Un Ballo in Maschera, in the big aria Morrò, ma prima in grazia. Besides a powerful high C, her legato and attention to text are most noteworthy. Once again, her vocal colouring is both beautiful and emotive, communicating the innocence and purity of Amelia. After such impassioned singing, it seems completely reasonable for Renato’s anger to change into mercy.
The richness and ease of production in the lower parts of Casolla’s voice also permit her to undertake congenial mezzo-soprano roles, so that in Don Carlo, for example, Eboli is her role of choice. rather than Elisabetta. She has also performed Carmen to great acclaim, and is one of the very few singers who can boast of having sung both Aïda and Amneris equally well.
I am sure you have all noted the word ‘traditional’ in the title of this article. I chose it purposefully, and in then next very short video, which is a recording of Casolla speaking, the concepts of traditional and modern Italian singing collide distressingly.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDIVY8GH9p8&feature=related
For some, this may seem a gratuitous observation; one which seems to favor what might be considered the cruder aspects of traditional Italian singing. I assure you, that is not the case. What it really represents is the frustration of the old order with certain aspects of the modern operatic scene. Casolla speaks of her own dream to sing Norma, a dream which remained only that: in her own words, it was not in her throat — not in her throat to perform with all of her roles, not in her throat to perform in the Arena di Verona, or in her native San Carlo, or in Scala. Thus, it is easy to understand why Bartoli’s recording and interpretation of Norma raises some questions for Casolla. Essentially, it is the collision of two very different worlds. Casolla’s traditional art takes place principally in the theater. Bartoli’s art is different to the extent it takes place largely in the recording studio, notwithstanding her many excellent concert and staged performances. The demands of recording a role such as Norma are less than what is required to sing it live. This is a point that I think is being lost today, and it is essentially a result of modern technology. It is not simply my observation—it is quite general, and has been made by no less a tenor than Giuseppe Giacomini, who has said he believes that live performance, in a theater, is de naturitate different than the art of recording; that it in fact has a certain relationship to the religious theater of Greco-Roman antiquity. With all these perfect studio recordings, it is easy to find fault with live singers like Casolla, but, in fact it is Casolla who has performed these demanding roles in large theaters for more than thirty years. Thus, when someone comes along and enacts your dream in what, from Casolla’s view, is a very diminished and artificial way, it would be natural to express your reservations.
I also feel that Casolla’s comment is directed essentially at some modern bel canto and baroque artists, who are frequently regarded and promoted as ‘superior’ or ‘better’ than artists who perform Verdi, Puccini or verismo works. This is a common frustration often felt both by spectators and singers of her generation.
All good operatic singing is worthy of acknowledgment, and thus I thank our dear Professor Edmund St Austell for allowing me to present this article on Casolla, whose singing masterfully continues the tradition — and temperament — of the great dramatic sopranos of the past. If that is not recognised as great singing, what can be?