A lot of things have to align perfectly in order to create a Michael Maniaci. There’s that miraculous voice of course, but in a man with no desire to perform it would be no good.
And of course the man in question, if he does wish to sing on stage, must be courageous enough to recognize that special voice as a blessing and not a curse.
Couple that with excellent musicianship and the ability to get the most out of such a voice, and the extraordinary ambition and drive needed to make an acclaimed, global career in just about anything. Much as one may love performing, no one loves an 11-hour plane flight, strange hotel food, nor jet lag.
The voice, the courage, the musicianship, and the drive. When they align, we get a miracle, and one willing to share his gift.
Add to that the manifold gifts of the Con Gioia early music ensemble, and it makes for an incredibly wonderful way to spend one’s 45th birthday.
The program consisted of the following:
- By Henry Purcell:
- Fairest isle
- If music be the food of love
- Ah! How sweet it is to love
- Dear, pretty youth
- By Giulio Caccini:
- Amor, ch’attendi, amor che fai
- Amor, io parto
- Con le luci d’un bel ciglio
- Amarilli mia bella
- By J. S. Bach:
- Schliesse mein Herze
- Laudamus te
- By Barbara Strozzi:
- Lagrime mie
- By Nicola Porpora:
- Alto Giova
- By Haendel!!!
- Chaconne in G for Harpsichord
- Cara speme(!!!!!!!!!!!!)
- Che bel content sarebbe amore
- Quando invita la donna l’amante
- Se potessero i sospir miei
- Encore: Ombra mai fu(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
It’s hard to know where to start without exploding with joy.
The venue was nothing I had ever seen before — a very well-banked private home in an expensive area of Pasadena, with an enthusiastic hostess with a great love of the arts, and music in particular. It was attractive but not overdone, and my slight fears of feeling like rabble that had forgotten to come in through the servants’ entrance never materialized. I had fears of asking a skeptical-looking tuxedoed valet to park my dusty little Suzuki with the dinged-up right rear fender and the wine bottle bag in the back seat between a Lexus and a Mercedes.
The room was perfect for fewer than 100 people, which was about how many showed up. A beautifully decorated harpsichord stood next to an equally beautiful high-polish ebony finish parlor grand piano, and it was with a bit of a start that I realized that the Modigliani-style portrait in the corner was quite probably a Modigliani.
All in all, it was an amazing venue in which to hear one of the 21st century’s real miracle voices, and I’m extremely glad to have taken the opportunity.
I was very pleased to see the Purcell on the program; I’m more a Baroque fan than an early music fan. The Baroque music is just edging into the modern aesthetic enough that it was be enjoyed as a native tongue while the Renaissance/Elizabethan stuff takes a bit more intellectual effort to look past the quasi-Great Vowel Shift that music passed through at around the mid-1600s. However, every time I’ve heard something from that era that I’ve liked, it’s been by Henry Purcell.
It was all wonderful, especially the last one, “Dear pretty youth,” that Maniaci put a nice, petulant twist on at the end (or seemed to). The song itself had a lot of liveliness and joy in it as well and his interpretation was great — very jaunty and energetic but again, ending with a bit of aw-come-on style petulance.
The next one to catch my ear was the last one by Caccini — one of the creators of opera with Peri and Monteverdi if I recall correctly — “Amarilli mia bella.” It was again beautiful, and just like “Dear pretty youth,” Maniaci really nailed the interpretation. It was so sincere and genuine and just wah, I’m going to gush now, excuse me …
The next one to really catch me was the “Alto Giove” by Porpora, not a shock since he was one of the big teachers and composers of the golden era of the castrati, who trained up many of the best singers and worked at the best conservatories as well. If anyone would write top-flight music to exercise and showcase such a voice, it would be him, and this was a beautiful piece, beginning to move into the type of music that doesn’t sound quite so unusual to modern ears.
And of course, when I saw “Cara speme” on the program, I almost died. Tuva Semmingsen will forever own this for me, but I was already sniffling at the intro. His voice was so sweet and so rich and absolutely beautiful that he got every drop of emotion that can be gotten out of this aria and more. His vibrato, trill, the texture of his voice, the sweetness with a hint of dark bittersweet … it was all so perfect for this, a gentle and heartbreakingly beautiful song about a very ungentle vengeance.
Aside from that, it’s hard for me to single out any particular Haendel aria since Haendel for me is pretty much the acme of the genius, hook-happy songwriter/composer, but “Se potessero” was another showstopper, and again a large part of that was due to Maniaci’s interpretation, given that Tirinto is such a tragic character.
And then the encore. “Ombra mai fu,” of course. And there was me sniffling again like an idiot, but it was worth it. As I’ve observed before, Maniaci marries clarity and richness like few other singers do, all of whom are either high male or low female voices, the Best of Both Worlds type of voices. He called out the lazy sunshine, fresh air, and rippling leaves just by singing about them.
Just in general, his voice has such a ringing quality, but without the pungency of many high voices, including the voices of men who sing very high due to endocrine reasons. There is no ringtone quality to his voice, not even on that delicate, crystalline high end of his. At all times, his voice retains real darkness, richness, and warmth together with a champagne glitter. His vibrato is brilliant, quick without being intrusive, and a real signature of his. His gift with a cadenza, his rubato, his modern, slightly cheeky musical-theater way of interpreting … all of it is something I am deeply grateful to have seen live in such an intimate setting, and with so many wonderful musicians.
I don’t want to slight the musicians either, by the way. Preethi de Silva, Head Honcha of the ensemble, made the harpsichord turn cartwheels and brought out all of the roiling meatiness in Haendel’s music that had been missing for most of the overly stuffy pre-Baroque-revival 20th century, when his music was performed more like robot clockwork than living music. The violinist, M. Anne Rardin, was wonderful on a Baroque-outfitted fiddle (which always amazes me), and with a young protegee (I’m guessing) named Danielle Rosaria Cummins on a modern fiddle — or what I’m guessing was a modern fiddle given the fine-tuner that I think I spied on her tailpiece and her cambered bow. The viola da gamba, always a favorite of mine for its depth and cushiness, was played by Denise Briese (who looked very familiar for some reason), and both archlute and theorbo were played by Jason Yoshida, who according to the program materials, I’ve already heard as he was in the pit during the LA Opera’s “Tamerlano.” They were all fabulous.
All in all, it was an incredible day, and one that I am absolutely stunned and delighted to have enjoyed. After complaining for so long that I always seemed to have heard about Maniaci two months after he went anywhere, I was overjoyed to discover this performance in time to attend, and in such a wonderful, almost period setting — a wealthy patron’s parlor, filled with a cozy, intimate number of other music-lovers and amateur musicians!
A magnificent day.