In a Royal Line
‘An Evening with Rosina Storchio’, recital of songs and operatic arias sung by Ermonela Jaho, accompanied by Steven Maughan at the piano, Sunday 2nd February 2020, Wigmore Hall, London, reviewed by Leslie Jones
This was soprano Ermonela Jaho’s Wigmore Hall debut, on the 50th anniversary of Opera Rara, for whom she undertook the title role in Leoncavallo’s Zazà in 2015 and the part of Anna, in Puccini’s first opera Le Willis, in 2018. A CD containing the repertoire featured in this recital, entitled Homage to Rosina Storchio, will be released later this year.
Opera has its own rich history, enhanced by the availability on the web of classic performances by its luminaries. Musicologist Ditlev Rindom reminds us in the official programme that Puccini and Toscanini were passionate admirers of Rosina Storchio, whose stellar career lasted from 1892 to 1923. She also appeared in the world premieres of Leoncavallo’s La bohème, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (the latter in Milan, in 1904). How appropriate, then, that Ms. Jaho’s encore was ‘Un bel di vedremo’.
Rindom refers to Storchio’s “superb technique, nuanced acting and sheer expressive range”, words that apply no less equally to Ms. Jaho. Her eloquent body language, especially hand movements, were much in evidence in Mimi’s opening aria ‘Musette svaria sulla bocca viva’ from Leoncavallo’s La bohème and in Verdi’s early song ‘In solitaria stanza’, which prefigures the role of Violetta in La Traviata. Apropos her performance of the latter, at Royal Opera in January 2019, we commented “A svelte and striking figure, Ms. Jaho has a commanding stage presence and looks perfect in the part”. Evidently nothing changes (see Quarterly Review, January 19, 2019). She has the leading female roles in bel canto and verismo nailed down.
Maestro Pavarotti, for one, always emphasised the importance of legato. Storchio’s was reportedly “immaculate”, likewise her “gift for melancholic expression” (Ditlev Rindom). Ditto Ms. Jaho, as in her moving renditions of Bellini’s ariettas ‘Vaga luna, che inargenti’, and ‘Malinconia, ninfa gentile’. The former piece has a memorable part for the piano.
By the time she performed Francesco Paolo Tosti’s exceedingly sad song ‘Tristezza’, Jaho had warmed up and she pulled out the stops to rapturous applause. Toscanini’s ‘Nevrosi’ and Mascagni’s ‘Un dì ero piccina’ provided further opportunities to display her remarkable vocal range and dramatic ability. Part one of her recital featured Italian repertoire but she is equally at home in the French, as in her rendition, in part two, of the touching aria from Massenet’s Manon ‘Allons! Il le faut…Adieu, notre petite table’. As Ditlev Rindom points out, Manon was one of Storchio’s most admired roles.
Ermonela Jaho promised that in her Wigmore Hall recital, she would give us “a piece of theatre and a piece of our soul”. In the beginning was the word…