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Juan Antonio Muñoz H.


We could start in many places. La Ferdinanda in Artimino, Cannes, Rome and Paris. Nella glitters everywhere.

In Poggio a Caiano, a town near Florence, you can find the favorite villa of Lorenzo the Magnificent, imagined by Giuliano da Sangallo. From that place, climbing the smooth hills in La Toscana, you can get to Artimino, town stayed in times of Leonardo, just in front of which is La Ferdinanda, a Medici house designed by Bernardo Buontalenti, and in which Ferdinando I has settled from 1596.

Placed in a site of esoteric connotations (it is constructed on Etruscan ruins and there is an Etruscan museum in it), La Ferdinanda glitters, from May 19, 1999, with a special light, different from sunlight striking it from all sides: Monteverdi, Caccini, Dante and Ficino are there, face to Plato’s Sun.

Turned into a sort of lighthouse, into a kind of abbey in the middle of the current technological medioevo, this medicea villa received to perpetuity the “Annibale Gianuario” Museum, which is dedicated to one of the main experts of XVI and XVII Italian musical poetry. 

It was Nella Anfuso, its follower, who was behind everything, acting as priestess and human lighthouse.

When Nella Anfuso’s name began to shine in the middle of the 80s, the audience, surprised, got to know better a composer as Claudio Monteverdi. This is fundamental to understand how voice creation advanced. But the surprise was double, because all of that not only came from a soprano, but also because Nella Anfuso is a musicologist and she has dedicated her life to study and perform golden centuries Italian vocal music.

She was worried because Monteverdi had been made a myth and specially “because, instead of thinking about music and its aesthetics, everything is translated in terms of ideology, which is easier than reasoning on purely scientific bases”.


‘‘Didone’’ and the deepest human expression


Being arbitrary - as Nella Anfuso is not - I propose to visit Francesco Cavalli. Faithful to Virgilio’s original work, Cavalli (1602-1676, whose real name was P.F. Caletti di Bruno) composed his “Didone” based on the figure of the Queen of Carthage, who is sung in “The Eneida”. It is supposed that its premiere was in 1641. Nella Anfuso’s recording is the first one and it gathers a selection of big scenes composed for the three feminine characters in piece: Cassandra, Ecuba and Didone, who find a common place in the voice and dramatic personality of soprano, the only one able to perform - with all ornaments - musical pages written for the famous Carlo Broschi, Farinello.

Owner of a voice of great extension (she reaches three octaves) and who has a timbre as a contralto and a soprano, Nella Anfuso, with an amazing naturalness, describes the high lines of Dido and Casandra, and also Hecuba’s grim gravity. The famous Monteverdian Seconda Pratica is present here (Claudio was Cavalli’s teacher) and is followed by Nella Anfuso according to her long musicology studies, that she developed in a parallel way to those of singer. Also “Didone” is a good example of stile rappresentativo, whose center is the expression of the deepest emotions.

With no doubts, Nella Anfuso is a unique singer in our days. And is not only because of her wide and rewarded discography (that includes Peri, Caccini, Monteverdi, Porpora, Scarlatti, Vivaldi and many others), but also for her writings. In interpretive terms, she astonishes for the special quality of her voice, her technical control, her dedication in the search of musical facts historically undeniable and for her deep devotion to all the composers’ notes in question, and treaties of singing of the time. Nothing is at random with Nella Anfuso: “Didone” is a Cavalli’s score, but here it is a historical referring disc - a work of art in  itself -, necessary in any complete discotheque (Stilnovo - Fondazione Centro Studi Rinascimento Musicale edition).

Let’s go now to Porpora. Nicolò Porpora. A musician born in Naples in 1686, dead in the same city in 1768, and who dedicated a big part of his life to teach singing, to the extent of founding, in 1712, reputable school. Many of the biggest European singers in that time were his students (including Carlo Broschi), and among his disciples - exclusively in the musical field - he counted with nothing less than Haydn.

Porpora composed 53 operas, oratories, cantatas, symphonies and sonatas for violin, and Nella Anfuso dedicated her first album only to cantatas as of 1735: “Oh! Dio che non è vero”, for contralto and bass continuous, “Queste che miri o Nice”, for soprano and bass continuous, and “Dal povero mio cor”, for contralto and bass continuous. She is both contralto and soprano. No doubt about it!

Displaying a homogeneous register, of musical and interpretative ductility, and an absolute control of the ornaments of that time, the singer - together with the harpsichord player Laura Alvini - reconstructs a forgotten sound and proves how virtuosity of such a Baroque was going hand in hand with the highest expressive power. Then it was not a question of putting in scene emotions in the romantic sense, but of shaping in voice the deepest internal passions. Not an easy task.

The musicologist Annibale Gianuario, upon presenting the album, makes a detailed analysis of everything is convenient to know about prevailing singing styles in XVIII century. He also focus on a type of agility, already in disuse about 1777 (as it is registered in Giambattista Mancini’s writing), that Porpora incorporates in his works along with many others. It deals with the “agilità martellata”, displayed in the first aria of cantata “Dal povero mio cor”, kind of difficult to explain without listening, and to which the adjective “martellata” (hammered) fits perfectly well.

In the three cantatas offered here, Nella Anfuso delivers us a clear demonstration of the art of singing as understood by theorists and performers between XV and XVIII centuries. Art whose aim was the production of “perfect voice along the whole register as also the uniformity of chest and head registers”. Attention besides with works themselves, which are full of dramatic expression and extremely refined, and in which durezze (dissonances) have an aim of expressive character.


It is the word that rules


Penelope, Olimpia, Ninfa, Proserpina and Arianna are the heroines that the soprano and musicologist Nella Anfuso compiles on her two CDs “Parlar Cantando I” and “Parlar Cantando II”, where she shares main roles with Margherita Dalla Vecchia (organo di legno) and Pier Luigi Polato (chitarrone-tiorba). She also adds the most affectionate Monteverdian “Lettere Amorose” with the famous “Lamento d’Arianna”.

It is about two CDs that gathers moans, musical dramatic scenes in which leading roles tell some passional misfortune. The accompaniment changes according to cases, but in general it is an organo di legno and/or tiorba, instruments that with their dynamic versatility and their grave registry collaborate in accentuating features of Italian musical drama.

As always, Claudio Monteverdi submits his singers to a hard test. First of all, because it is about a strong commitment scores, which they must be performed intimately, with a contained expressiveness and always pending on the word sense and syllabic time. From there comes the essence of the so called Seconda Pratica, the “parlar cantando”, where the word itself is that which makes work musicality and is a vehicle through which the deepest human emotions are revealed.

Studious of Maffei, Caccini, Rognoli and Brunelli, and owner of a strange expressiveness, that disconcerts and conquers, amazes and charms simultaneously, Nella Anfuso has led workings concerning Monteverdi’s recovery. Her interpretative work stands out because it turns out to be a radical trip with no affected nicety to former vocal treaties, with all the implied costs for nowadays audiences, so used to reinterpretations without study. And as well as she has persisted in obtaining the so called affetti, she also rejects positions of certain contratenors and falsetistas who work this repertory, by considering that the real displayed affections opened in works like these cannot but to arise from a properly femininevocalità”.

The Italian artist shares with Annibale Gianuario the idea that the “Orfeo” composer is linked to neoplatonism and reunion of uniqueness between poetry and music. It is why Mediceo Festival in 2000 was dedicated to Dante and Ficino, and to their links to Plato. But there was also theatre, dance, “theatre in music” (as Nella Anfuso severely distinguishes), a propaedeutic course and a closing feast on Messisbugo recipes (XVI century).

The theatre topic was “Amori nella Commedia dell’Arte”, leading idea of a polyphonic series dedicated to Commedia Harmonica. The point was to think about the madrigal “rappresentativo” (representations of the “affections”) without forgetting neither Oratio Vecchi (“Amphiparnaso”) nor Adriano Banchieri (“Il festino del giovedì grasso”).

Nella Anfuso decided to assembly Dafne by Ottavio Rinuccini and Marco Da Gagliano, which dates back to1608. “I chose it because it is about a pastoral; the word opera did not exist then and it has nothing to do either with Florentines or with Monteverdi. It is almost  30 years that I’m trying to make understand this and to bother even ... Plato so mentioned by Florentines and Monteverdi. Dafne is very interesting for me because it shows the interest in the new style by musicians that operated in Florence”, explains the artist.

It is from poetry that musical notation is born and, in fact, Peri and Caccini musically intoned Rinuccini’s verses, each one with his own sensibility and personality. It is because of it that Peri’s Euridice is more austere, halfway between singing and ‘parlato’, whereas that of Caccini is, in a sense always poetical, more cantabile and rich in fondness, more pathetic and less tragic with respect to that of Peri”.

Her propaedeutic course was based on Giulio Caccini’s “Euridice” (1600). And in this Nella Anfuso is again very direct: “For me, it exists the ‘Euridice’ by Rinuccini, the poet, and not that of Peri or Caccini librettist, as it has been erroneously defined. I think of that he himself writes in the preface to an edition of his word: ‘Music must serve and enforce poetry; therefore, music must be at service of poetry’ .

This one is a topic that Vicentino was raising already at the beginning of XVI century. Anfuso says that from Vicentino to Monteverdi we follow the same cultural vein: “We must not forget that at this time a musician was also a man of culture. The real work of the musician - and it is what Monteverdi’s genius is all about - is to reveal the musicality hold in the text; as well as a bass continous is not only, as it is usually believed, a simple support, but it has as an aim which is the accomplishment of this musicality”.

“It is the word that rules; therefore, the metrics of the verse. Hence, such a need of rhythm freedom: it is necessary to bear in mind the own time of every syllable declamation. Music must strengthen poetry. It is the Platonic aesthetics”.


Arianna and the interpretative intensity


Nella Anfuso’s interest in Monteverdi began in 1965, when she was studying history and musicology. She was attracted by the scientific precision and she wanted to try a sort of complete picture of the time. Thus, she came in very natural way to the basic problem at that time: the relationship between music and poetry. Simultaneously she was making historical, literary and aesthetic researches. She started studies of singing, expecting to find other singers who were passionate about theoretical topics as it. Then she had the opportunity to study with Guglielmina Rosati-Ricci. “For one year and a half I only worked the emission technique for every note. The emission must be natural; a good, perfect emission is the essential basis through which it is possible to face all singing problems”.

Thus, when she wanted to make an applied research, taking account of the treaties of singing by Caccini, Mancini, Tosi, Maffei and others, she realized that, thanks to the education given by her teacher, she could execute everything she was reading.

Nella Anfuso’s professional mind is not exactly that of a singer. Her business is not the theatre just for taste, and the emotions do not pursuit the great effect. She prefers musical poetry and the “parlar cantando”, that is, that in music it should intervene intellect. “Arianna is not in scene to sing her pain to the audience; she must be the representation of loneliness itself. It is not the externalisation that counts but the intensity”.

Anfuso began with “Arianna”, her musicologist work, starting with the search for the sources that transmit it to us contemporarily, up to coming to the phonetic researches on the word as musical entity also, made in the humanistic - Renaissance age (Vicentino). This one is the key that allowed her to enter the unique world of the Second Practice. If the Italian language is known musically - Italian language musicality, which is different from the Spanish, French, English or German -, then one can be sure of carrying out Monteverdi’s “singing without baton” and, therefore, the representative styles of the affections understood as Vasari understood them in painting, that is, human passions.

Since Monteverdi does not put in music “Lasciatemi morire” (“Let me die”), but he makes his natural phonetic musicality, any “Lasciatemi morire” recited as it should be, with the tonic and atonic accents and relative duration of the syllabic time will always be the same. And, therefore, an objective and valid for all and in all time. Another Nella Anfuso’s achievement.

Therefore, her watchfulness is neither the fashion nor the great spectacle. Her interest in this matter is too little. On the other hand, singing in its pure condition. That is why her work has centred in how to make things in style. That is why also she must be one of the few who knows and has practiced frottole with diminutions according to Bovicelli, madrigals by Luzzaschi, arias that Haendel assigned to Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni... She is the only singer who can boast of performing cantatas and motets by Vivaldi with all the ornaments asked by Tosi...

 At last, Nella Anfuso defends the historical premises, but not capriciously. She lives the fact that, in specific times and authors, it exists a problem of aesthetic character that must be absolutely known and respected in order to not betray the artistic message. Furthermore, it is necessary to take in account technical-executive problems that also determine the artistic accomplishment. That is why she sees the differences between the Italian and the Spanish manners of performing with regard to German or English groups as something absolutely with no real importance. There is no historical serious speech in them and the differentiation is only a comfort varnish.


(Translated by Juan Antonio Muñoz H.)


Periodista, titulado en la Universidad Católica de Santiago de Chile. Actualmente es Editor de El Mercurio en Internet y crítico de ópera y teatro. Ha sido corresponsal y crítico de las revistas ‹‹Opera International›› (Francia), ‹‹Monsalvat›› (España) y ‹‹Operactual›› (España). Desde 1996 conduce el espacio de televisión ‹‹Invitación a la Opera››, de ARTV (Filmocentro). Participó como redactor del libro ‹‹100 Grandes Momentos del Arte Nacional›› y en 1997 y 1998 creó los proyectos, escribió y editó los libros ‹‹Un Siglo en la Escena›› y ‹‹Sociedad Chilena Siglo XX›› (El Mercurio). Ha dictado charlas y conferencias en el Teatro Municipal de Santiago, en la Biblioteca Nacional, en el Instituto Cultural de Las Condes, Goethe-Institut y en el Palacio Vergara de Viña del Mar. Fue editor de la revista “Wikén”’ entre 1994 y 1999, y en el año 2000 recibió el Premio Ernesto Pinto Lagarrigue al mejor periodista del área Cultura, otorgado por la Corporación Amigos del Arte de Santiago de Chile.  Durante su carrera ha entrevistado a artistas como Pierre Boulez, Nella Anfuso, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Alfredo Kraus, Birgit Nilsson, Alicia de Larrocha, Frederica von Stade, Elisabeth Söderström, Simon Rattle, Emma Kirkby y Jordi Savall, entre muchos otros. Desde septiembre de 2002 es editor de general de Emol / El Mercurio en Internet, donde ha desarrollado el área noticias y los sitios La Música, Especiales, Tiempo Libre, Documentos y Mujer. En música se ha especializado en la obra de Monteverdi, Purcell, Verdi, Bellini y Britten, mientras que en literatura sus trabajos principales son acerca de Shakespeare, Novalis, Henry James, Oscar Wilde y García Lorca.


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