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Carmen Giannattasio Soprano Star

By John Rizzo


y geography is usually pretty good, but I still had to look up Las Palmas, where I would talk with up-and-coming soprano Carmen Giannattasio. Las Palmas is off the beaten track, in the Canary Islands, close to and a part of Spain, not exactly as Carmen put it, “in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.” It is here that Ms Giannattasio is performing the role of Amalia, in Verdi’s I masnadieri. Like Las Palmas, I masnadieri is not that well known, but it has an interesting history and will probably be staged more often as the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth approaches in 2013. It was Verdi’s only London premiere and the prima donna role was written for the “Swedish Nightingale,” Jenny Lind. The part is decidedly Bel Canto, composed to exploit the famous singer’s florid and (to Verdi) antique style. Uncharacteristically, the composer left it to the prima donna to improvise her own cadenzas for two multi-movement arias. It gives us an insight into Carmen Giannattasio’s approach to her art that she happily follows this tradition—”I invented them myself.” For a young artist whose favorite part is the title role in Rossini’s Ermione, singing Amalia is not unexpected. It is also refreshing that Carmen faces this role with more than a purely musical perspective: “They [the opera’s characters] are Greeks. And Greeks and Italians are almost the same.” Neither is it surprising that she has sung in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, Spontini’s La vestale, Rossini’s Armida, Bellini’s Il pirata, Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia and Verdi’s Il corsaro. Bel Canto prima donna roles are often sung by young sopranos whose voices have yet to mature. But looking at her repertoire closely, there are some items in it that make you go “hmmmmm.” It certainly seems a bit strange that the same young lady who has sung the above Bel Canto staples has also sung some definitely more dramatic parts like the Contessa and Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, Amelia and Desdemona in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Otello, and Mimi and Cio Cio San in Puccini’s La bohème and Madama Butterfly. What sorcery is this? “Actually,” she explains, “it’s a gift from Mother Nature. My physical vocal apparatus is uniquely formed so I have the sonority of a mezzo but I also have the high range and the agility.” For this kind of voice she had the perfect teacher, the late Turkish diva, Leyla Gencer. This soprano was mainly noted for her Bel Canto roles, but she was also in demand for many dramatic parts, like her more famous contemporary, Maria Callas. Like these fabled opera legends, Carmen is always willing to interpolate the high note, like the

E-flat at the end of “Sempre libera,” but not necessarily every time. “It all depends,” she says. “If everything is going right and I feel comfortable, absolutely!” Ms Giannattasio is surely comfortable with English, but then again, she should be, having graduated with majors in English and Russian. Why Russian? “I fell in love with the Russian novels,” she muses, “especially Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I just had to read them in the original language.” This is yet another unusual trait for a singer—a serious literary bent. Besides reading she has another personal devotion, photography. “I have a very fine Nikon camera, and I love to take pictures—when I go to work, when I walk in the park. Carmen has a sunny outlook on things, and she should have, with all her talent. But she also has a serious side that she’s not afraid to show. For example, take the theater scene in Italy, which has been so adversely affected by government austerity measures. “It is a very bad situation,” she laments. “The government has to make budget cuts and will cut support for culture rather than health care. Health is just more important than culture.” Then there was that incident last year, when tenor Roberto Alagna was viciously booed at a La Scala performance of Aida, and he promptly walked out of the show. Most comments were very negative about this behavior, but Giannattasio loyally stands up for Alagna, with whom she has worked before and will do so in the future. She heard that, “even before the show, his replacement was warming up, and some people outside the theater had threatened to boo him regardless of his performance.” Carmen Giannattasio is originally from Avellino, near Naples. Her parents still live there but she lives further north. “I have an apartment in Verona,” she says “near the Arena. But I am getting ready to move to London.” This would not be inconvenient because she is scheduled to debut at Covent Garden in 2012 and, of course, her English is flawless. I told her that London was great, although I could not find one of the many Italian restaurants there to be any good. “That’s no problem,” she says brightly, “I’m a good cook.” Now I’ve never heard her sing, so I can’t tell you how good she really is, but from her background, her repertoire and her future prospects as we know them, I wouldn’t hesitate to attend one of her performances. Besides, Vittorio Grigolo (the subject of this issue’s cover story) says that he likes to work with her, so that’s good enough for me! Summer 2010 / 25

Carmen Giannattasio  

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