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Maria Luigia Borsi - Songs of Tuscany’s Masters: Maria Luigia Borsi (soprano), John Novacek (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 1.10 2010 (BBr)

Puccini: E l'uccellino; Sole e amore; Salve Regina; Sogno d'Or; Foglio d'album; Terra e mare
Catalani: Ave Maria; Senza baci; Chanson groënlandaise
Mascagni: La tua stella; Ave Maria; Serenata; M’ama ... non m’ama


I have often thought that choosing the repertoire for one’s London debut must rank as one of the most traumatic experiences ever. Maria Luigia Borsi proved herself to be a mistress of programme planning here because for her London debut, the young Italian opera singer gave a recital of almost operatic proportions without actually singing any opera!

Songs by three of Italy’s opera composers was quite an ear opener, musically as well as from a performance point of view. None of these songs are at all well known but Maria Luigia sang them as if they were repertoire works, which to her, of course, they very probably are. The quality of the music was uniform, none of the songs ever ranking as highly as Schubert’s or Wolf’s Lieder but the insight offered into each composer’s mind was fascinating. Whether in a lullaby or on a large, almost operatic song, scale, Maria Luigia was totally at home, understanding which special vocal inflection to offer, realising exactly the right colour for the words she was singing and delivering everything with an enthusiasm seldom heard in any recital. This was a very special occasion indeed, and the audience, filled with many who knew, loved and understood the vocal art, quite rightly went wild at the end. Two moments really stood out as true highlights : Catalani’s Chanson groënlandaise – a setting in Italian of words by Jules Verne – is a big operatic aria of a song (Catalani used it later in his opera La Wally) ending with a jubilant top B, and Puccini’s Sogno d'Or, a lullaby of exquisite tenderness in which Maria Luigia displayed the most perfect pianissimo.

Of course, after such a fine recital we were loathe to let Maria Luigia go and she offered two encores, the second of which, a real barnstorming performance of O sole mio, ended with an exuberant top D which just about shook the dust off the Wigmore Hall rafters.

Maria Luigia told me that she was happy to be working with John Novacek for she felt that she would be working with the very best, and Novacek told me that he doesn’t get the chance to work with singers very often and so this had been a very satisfying and rewarding recital for him. Certainly they worked very well together and we deserve to hear them again. We also need to hear Maria Luigia on stage, and sooner rather than later. This is an evening which will live long in the memories of those of us lucky enough to have been at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday.

Bob Briggs

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