With tenor Fabio Armiliato cancelling his Rosenblatt recital due to illness, the organisers were very fortunate to be able to offer another Italian tenor, Antonino Siragusa as replacement. Siragusa's recital at the Wigmore Hall on Monday 14 January 2013 (his third for Rosenblatt Recials) took place in a very narrow window in the tenor's diary, between engagements in Vienna and in Japan, so we were lucky indeed. His poised recital, with pianist Marco Boemi, showed no signs of the last minute nature of the arrangements. For the first half he offered a selection of lighter Italian songs from the early 20th century, starting with Tosti and including one from one of Beniamino Gigli's films. Then in the second we were treated to a selection of arias from Siragusa's significant roles.
His recital opened with Tosti's A vucchella and L'alba separa dall luce l'ombra, both setting words by the poet Gabiele D'Annunzio. Though Tosti (1846 - 1916) was born in Italy and trained in Naples, he travelled to England in 1875 and remained there, becoming a British citizen and being knighted, until he returned to Italy in 1913. Siragusa offered beautifully shaped performances, which combined a lovely sense of line with fine diction, and which took the songs entirely seriously. The second song of the pair rather larger in scale and more operatic than most of Tosti's songs, being much darker in tone.
Stanislao Gastaldon (1861 - 1939) was another Italian composer of salon songs and Musica proibita is his best known song. The piece itself is rather sentimental, but Siragusa and Boemi offered a beautiful performance which was totally committed to the song. This sense of taking this repertoire seriously and applying both beauty of tone and intelligence to the music continued with the pair of songs from films. Not ti scordar di me by Ernesto de Curtis (1875 - 1937) from a film of the same name featuring Beniamino Gigli and Parliami d'amore Mariu by Cesare Bixio (1896 - 1978). Siragusa showed great sympathy with the songs, handling them delicately, always willing to shade his voice off and sing quietly with perfectly placed phrases.
Siragusa finished the first half with a pair of popular songs, the Neapolitan O paese d'o solo by Vincenzo D'Annibale (1894 - 1950) and Granada by Agustin Lara (1897 - 1970), charming the audience both with his voice and his entrancing stage manner. In Granada, Boemi joined in the fun, contributing an outrageous piano part.
The second half opened with simply beautiful accounts of Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore and M'appari tutt'amor from Flotow's Martha. Siragusa displayed a lovely mezza-voce, at times caressing the line, but always conveying the expressive sense.
For all the items Siragusa used a score, but he barely glanced at it and was always highly communicative, with superb diction. This was especially welcome as, because of the last minute change of programme, we did not have the words. We didn't need them, such was his ability to convey meaning and expression to his audience.
This showed particularly in Firenze e come un albero fiorito from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, where Siragusa's story telling came over quite brilliantly. When he switched to French for Ah! Leve toi soleil from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette his diction was not quite as clear, but he preserved the great beauty of tone. In all the arias, it gradually became apparent that Siragusa's voice held reserves of significant power and steel, which he used with admirable care. Here was a singer who was happy to sing at all volumes, and for whom climaxes did not have to be belted out; a complete, intelligent delight.
For the penultimate aria in the recital, Siragusa accompanied himself on guitar, singing the serenade, Se il mio nome saper voi bramate from Act 1 of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. The lighter guitar accompaniment enabling Siragusa to sing the aria in a quiet, intimate manner but still with some nicely tight passagework. Conte Almaviva is a role which requires the singer to combine lyric beauty with great facility in passagework, something that not every singer manages; but it was clear that Siragusa could do both, and I would love to hear him in the complete role.
Finally, he showed us what he could really do when combining power and beauty in his voice, giving a stunning account of Arnold's Asile hereditaire from Rossini's Guillaume Tell and showing a fearless command of the high tessitura complete with top C's which were nicely integrated into the line. But singing in a marvellously stylish way, perfectly capturing the French inflections in Rossini's writing.
We were treated to two encores, first an extremely fine performance of La donna e mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto and then Ah, mes amis from Donizetti's La fille du regiment complete with its outrageous series of six top C's. Though Siragusa did a bit a stage mugging about the difficulty of the piece, there was never any question of him nailing the line perfectly, with the top C's again beautifully integrated. This was a performance which was stylish and characterful.
Siragusa was well supported by Marco Boemi who did his best to turn the piano reductions for the arias into real music. Both were extremely well appreciated by the capacity crowd. We must be extremely grateful to Antonino Siragusa not only for standing in at the last moment, but for providing such an enchanting recital, so finely sung, which gave not a hint of the alarums and excursions behind the scenes.