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Josep Subirá


My first personal encounter with Nella Anfuso came about in May 1996 on the occasion of an interview for CD COMPACT. From this moment we have developed a particular personal relationship that continues to endure and has permitted me to enter a world unknown before, and that has influenced my work as a musical critic.

Never the less, the first time I listened to Anfuso was during my history studies at the University of Barcelona in the class of the History of Opera held by Dr. Roger Alier in the middle of the 80’s. I recall the professor talking about the style in the 18th century and the major protagonists: the “castrati”. To exemplify their technical mastery he made us listen, through a musical illustration, to a recording of a Italian singer capable of reproducing the integral cadences written in his own hand by Carlo Broschi “Farinello”, the example was taken from the Air “Quell’usignolo che innamorato” of the Merope by Geminiano Giacomelli. It concerns Nella Anfuso, of course.

A part from the ability to reproduce the famous 25 trills on the same breath, this way of singing was a real example of brilliance in a school of singing that combines the expressiveness of the voice with regards to the aesthetics of the “affects”, bound to the Neoplatonic philosophy, with the observance of song principles of whom the documented materials constituted one of the important points in the musical and philological works by Nella Anfuso.

In reality the Tuscan Singer is an unique phenomena, a mixture of theory and practice, putting together musicological research, looking through libraries hunting for documents that constitute textural support, including musical interpretations, through her recordings and DVD. Nella Anfuso is not only a patient and enthusiastic researcher, but she is also a fervent believer in the recuperation of the Italian classical school of singing florid above all in the XVII and XVIII centuries. This recuperation or rediscovery has been the principle means of her artistic path of whose fundamentals are to be found in the teachings of Guglielmina Rosati Ricci, pupil in his time of Antonio Cotogni (1831-1918) and who had the tenor Beniamino Gigli as his pupil.

Through the years she has used written sources that permit us to understand at first hand the singing works of various members of the Florentine Camerata, birth of the musical style like “recitative singing” (recitar cantando) or in the style of Monteverdi “spoken song” (parlar cantando)… Never the less her passion for the music that goes from the XV to the XVIII century, with interest in works up to the first decades of the XIX century, is spread to a specific form like “frottole”, madrigals, motets and the “cantata romana”, Airs from Opera, and chamber music…. Her recordings confirm this well.

Nella Anfuso stands up like a discoverer, after the didactic transformations in the song that appeared in the middle of the XIX century by Manuel Garcia, Duprez, Panofka…, of a vocal civilization in the golden age that goes from Renaissance to the first Romantics. Being a conscientious and precise person, Anfuso bases her interpretation on aesthetical and technical indications and understanding of the song from the works by Pier Francesco Tosi and Giambattista Mancini, respectively in 1723 and 1777, also on the indications and postulates by Giulio Caccini in the Preface to the “Nuove Musiche” (1601), without forgetting authors and composers like Vincenzo Giustiniani, Francesco Rognoni and Domenico Mazzocchi, besides the practical indications contained in the corpus epistolary by Claudio Monteverdi.

Nella Anfuso makes of her rediscovery of the authentic classic vocalism a revolution that can be compared to the musical interpretation on original instruments.

In the classical music panorama of today, commercialized and dependent on a star-system of a few recording companies that live faraway from Art and are only interested in commercial activities in a technological world they create difficulties for a traditional diffusion, Nella Anfuso offers an edifying example of work for the preservation and rediscovery of vocalism.

From here her driving force to the formation of the voice is like any physical instrument and above all her insistence on the oral tradition, because the comprehension of the singing style defended by her is not based only on the study of the texts, studied and assimilated, but necessitate oral traditions, because the pedagogy is bound by a relationship teacher-pupil, unavoidable and irreplaceable.

It is obvious that the physical disappearance of the interpreter implies irreparable loss to his learning, his readings, to his technical exercises, to the assimilation of aesthetical and stylistic concepts ….; in conclusion the loss of all his humanistic baggage. What has gone before in the interpretation of the pre-classic music, can not be applied to the song, because the existing documentation shows a praxis very elaborated, of whose complexity requires a global understanding, from a construction of a qualified voice that gives total justification to the composer and results applied by the singers of that epoch.

In an interview that she gave me for CD COMPACT published in March 2003, Nella Anfuso manifested with great clarity the gist of the problem, exposing at the same time the difficulties and solutions that young singers are confronted with:

“Even though theoretical texts explain how to perform the trill, if there is not a person to teach this mechanism, one can not realize the perfect execution. In musical matters there is an oral tradition, and we call this the ‘school of …’. I am the heir of an oral tradition, I have searched and found documents that prove this oral tradition; so that one could unite theory with the practise”. “One can not express themselves if one has not first constructed the instrument. Today we have a great number of singers who dedicate themselves to the pre-eighteen hundred music for the simple fact that they have not voice or schooling. To most students the teachers say: ‘because you have not the type of voice to sing Verdi, dedicate yourself to the antique repertoire’. It is evident, this is bad advise but also totally erroneous”.

With these words Nella Anfuso demonstrates to know well the problems in our age with regards to a lot of singing students confused of excessive offers by teachers, the majority of which have not any idea what singing is and the results are, they completely ruin the voice. More than obsessive research in the “voice” she is interested in encountering students that are involved in the serious and methodical learning of singing, students that ask to “construct” the instrument parting from the fusion of registers and so passing the rigidity of vocal divisions established beginning from the second half of the XIX century. Only in this way she will realize her desire to hear someone that sings the “Possente spirito” of Orfeo by Monteverdi with a vocal style described in his writings.

The understanding of the Song necessitates not only willpower but also patients to eliminate faults, to apply the technique and to understand the different styles. If a vocal school disappears it is impossible to recreate. Broken the bridges with tradition, we fall directly in to error, invention and distorting concepts or solutions of compromise with the consensus of recording studios and theatres, avid for economic success that justify great sums of money invested. We are witnessing an abnormal and in certain interesting cases ceremonial confusion, offering Airs arranged in the style not congruous to the period, distorting in this way the style of the song. Everything is converted to commercial operations and not in musical facts (contrary to Nella Anfuso).

Another factor that plays in favour of the musicological and artistic rigour of Anfuso is that the recordings of every disc implies years of preparation. The artistic creativity of Nella Anfuso is spread to an important circle of privileged and restless initiates, and through her will power faraway and extraneous to the chasm of media campaign, driven by a promotional campaign directed frequently by people without the necessary musical knowledge, only interested in the profits, like an prefabricated pop-rock artist, a phenomena unfortunately spread out in an agitated world of actual recordings.

Nella Anfuso does not search for easy success but looks for the causes and particular motivation of a certain period, without considering how long this effort would take. Only in this way it remains clear that the creation of a vocal instrument needs indissoluble union of two registers, head and chest, to arrive at three important objectives: homogeneity, gentle and marked virtuosity and a great extension. Only in this way we can guarantee the health and longevity of the voice, able to sing in total control and ease all the musical styles of song from the Renaissance period up to the first half of the XIX century.

For the recreation of sound it is fundamental total use of the parts of the human body that amplify this: the supralaryngeal resonators and paranasal cavities. The perfect resonance is given by a certain supporting mechanism (appoggio) through specific phonetic exercises, based on a characteristic respiration like the ancients practised on “sostenere il petto” (supporting the chest).This will result in a more fluid and natural voice, a part from other characteristics, that, in completing the fusion of the two registers in one, will give an extension of three octaves, permitting the realization of authentic virtuosity, without any limits typical of this period. A paradigmatic example is taken from an Air “Al dolor che vò sfogando” by Carlo Broschi “Farinello”, of whose own agility as a contralto live with acute passages theoretically for a soprano leggero. With the perfect union of registers there are no obstacles: one can sing even the most technically difficult pieces of the XVIII century.

Fiorituras like passages, groups, trills, calati and cresciuti trills, martellata agility, canto di sbalzo, messa di voce, legato, and many others… constitute singing of great expression that goes beyond any vocal characterization.

Anfuso offers abundant examples in her writings through the Foundation Studies of Renaissance Music, of whose reading and assimilation is the best guide to discover through research the authenticity in the study of classic vocalism of which she is the standard-bearer. In merit we must remember the words of Giambattista Mancini taken from his book “Riflessioni pratiche sul Canto figurato” (Practical reflections on figurative singing) published in Milan in 1777:

“Any pupil has to know, that this study needs time to perfect and untiring efforts not to leave it imperfect. This time and effort will not be in vain, but will serve to form a varied song, virtuoso and in consequence sublime and distinct”.

The realization of this varied song, virtuoso, distinct and sublime is today the pedagogic aim and vital objective of Nella Anfuso. It is very easy to succumb to siren songs of a media career based on commercial interests that consider extraneous and forgetting the artistic aspects and stylistic authenticity. The artistic truth is put aside by launching of commercial products. To privilege the sales is more important than the interpretive qualities of an epoch. Frequently I have heard her lament of going against the tide and seeing certain pedagogic initiatives thwarted, but her fundamental work is solid. It is necessary to discover and form young and valid interpreters, capable of being honest in their artistic and professional intentions.

The proof in this vocal recovery is through oral traditions and example. Anfuso dedicates herself not only going through the archives of the library, but also through her recordings. Anfuso, through her numerous recordings, presents the singing based on principles of Italian classical traditions that permits to completely render the musical interpretation prior to Bellini, and throw light on the obscurity, ignorance and confusion common to most when they have to interpret pieces from a vocal musical point a view, as mentioned before.

For me it has been very easy to understand the aspirations of our genial interpreter, through the interviews given to me and by the translation in the Spanish language of her book “Este arte non soporta la mediocridad”. “Principios para una regeneraciòn del conocimiento del canto”. In this way I got to know by first hand her musical personality.

It is difficult to select or propose one disc or an other, because personal taste is not always the best way to understand music of a certain period; the chronology permits us better to illustrate her singing and musicological talent, first steps are not only to understand but also to investigate a determined period in the history of music. To those who feel a vocation for song, a part from developing their own voice, will have an example worthy in style and technique to follow and develop.

In her discs dedicated to the Tuscan Monody, to Caccini, etc. it is evident how the diction and the art of modulation is based on a technique at the service of the poetics of the language. It is clear how trills, exclamations, gruppi, messe di voce, spiccati passages….are at the service of a few scripts were the voice runs parallel to the rhythm of the words, demonstrating the emotions of the beautiful poetries.

Nella Anfuso offers a new prospective even in fragments that we believed lost of whom she proposes a truthful interpretation like the examples of Monteverdi of seconda pratica; it is the case in the “Lament of Penelope” (Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria) and also the laments of Olimpia and above all of Arianna, citing the origins from the manuscripts that are found in the works of the libretti that accompany the recording. Anfuso does not limit herself to the musicology through her singing orthodoxy, but she recreates perfectly the humanistic atmosphere breathed in the courts and circles in the Italian cities of the XVII century, connecting literature and music, an example is the recording of works interpreted at Mantova at the time of Isabella d’Este in the beginning of the XVI century.

The evolution towards a more complex song, that reproduces the modes of the “sprezzatura” at the end of the XVI century, is present in recordings dedicated to the madrigals of Iacopo Peri, of whose Euridice is an example of “pure representative style”. The musical periplus that her recording offers takes us to the virtuosic world of the “cantata romana” with works by G. Carissimi, M. Marazzoli and L. Rossi of whom I was especially impressed by the “Lamento della Regina di Svetia”, a beautiful example of very virtuosic vehemence of these secular cantatas.

The cantata, a beautiful musical fresco, a true opera in miniature, is a style that Nella Anfuso studies in detail in many recordings dedicated to Antonio Vivaldi, Domenico Scarlatti and Nicolò Porpora. The refinement of these compositions in the XVIII century remains a reflection of a large range of colours in her voice. We can use the double album dedicated to the “figurato” song from Mozart to Bellini that is also one of my favourites, because it offers beautiful examples of classical singing like “Ridente la calma” by Mozart or “In questa tomba oscura” by Beethoven, were the ample extension of her voice shines, perfectly integrated in a register of notes very high and low. Her Mozart is sung with all the “appoggiaturas” and “fiorituras” , used in this period, banished by the central European conductors at the beginning of the XX century. In the interpretation of the “Ariette da camera by Vincenzo Bellini she demonstrates prolonged volatinas and fanciful variations in works like “Torna vezzosa Fillide” or the concluding section of “Quando incise su quel marmo” or “Il fervido desiderio”.

Anfuso uses the “bel canto” of the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and early Romantic period like a distinctive mark of a vocal civilization forgotten or neglected. Her singing endowments, research and recently teaching permit us to perceive a new light. The Medicean Festival in Artimino is a good example. The proof is it’s international importance, indeed Nella Anfuso intends to recuperate the vocal style, patrimony not only of  Italy but also of Europe and the rest of the world.

Josep Subirá García (Barcelona, 1967)

            Licenciado con Grado en Historia Contemporánea y del Arte por la Universidad de Barcelona. Crítico musical y colaborador en prensa musical (CD Compact, Ópera actual, Amadeus, Musica)Especialista en “bel canto” protorromántico. Ha entrevistado a personajes tan unidos al mundo de la ópera como el musicólogo Michael Aspinall, el barítono Carlos Álvarez, el contratenor Derek Lee, la mezzo Cecilia Bartoli, las sopranos Monserrat Caballé, Natalie Dessay, Renée Fleming, Leyla Gencer, Angela Gheorghiu y María Bayo, los directores artísticos Joan Matabosch y Luis López de Lamadrid, los directores musicales Konrad Junghaenel y William Christie, el tenor Juan Diego Flórez y evidentemente... la soprano-contralto Nella Anfuso.

Ha escrito artículos sobre artistas como Franco Corelli, Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Kiri Te Kanawa, Victoria de Los Angeles, Jaume Aragall, Teresa Berganza, teatros como el Gran Teatro del Liceo, la Fenice, el festival de Drottingholm y monográficos sobre óperas como Il Trovatore, Adriana Lecouvreur, The Saint of Bleecker Street, La Traviata, Madama Butterfly.

Colaborador en publicaciones de: Gran Enciclopèdia Catalana, Edicions 62, Editorial Planeta. Ha escrito artículos para los programas de las temporadas de ópera de la Asociación de Amigos del Liceu (Die Zauberflöte, Rienzi, Samson et Dalila, Aida, Norma, Maria Stuarda, Così fan tutte, Elisir d´amore).

Ha colaborado en el Concurso Internacional de Canto “Jaume Aragall” y ha sido invitado como comentarista radiofónico a varias retransmisiones operísticas de Radio Nacional de España (Radio Clàsica) en el Gran Teatro del Liceo.

Conferenciante sobre temas operísticos en Amigos del Liceu, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Amics de la Ópera de Sabadell, Fundació Banc de Sabadell....


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