And then they said.....
Gramophone Magazine Alan Blythe
Il Trovatore with James Levine and the Met Opera Orchestra and Chorus. June 1994
"The Levine/Verdi cycle, as we now must term it, is turning out to be an important and worthy contender in a highly competitive field. The latest version is the most recommendable among the modern versions of Trovatore, with a reading all-round that finely balances the lyrical with the melodramatic elements of the score."
"Once Leonora appears the reading takes on a true Verdian style. Millo floats "come d'aurato" effortlessly on a fine line, then her account of "tacea la Notte" matches the very best on disc, i.e. Those of Milanov, (Cellini), Price (Mehta), and Callas (Karajan) on CD, her style and tone recalling most potently those of Milanov. Throughout her part is replete with the right kind of Verdian spinto sound, the correct phraseology, the inner feeling for the role. Outside the Convent she fills the recitative beginning, "O dolce amiche" with just the right plaintive note. Leonora's Act 4 aria is glowingly sung and, as elsewhere, the ability to manage Milanov-like pianissimos is arresting, nowhere more so then in her affecting accented "Prima che d'altri vivere" in the finale. The phrase is on a perfectly judged diminuendo. This is a reading to please the ear and move the heart."
ALAN BLYTHE AIDA JAMES LEVINE AND METROPOLITAN OPERA ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS. VERDI SERIES FOR SONY CLASSICAL
"THIS IS A DISTINCTIVELY SUNG, VIGOROUSLY, OFTEN SENSITIVELY CONDUCTED AND PLAYED, FAITHFULLY RECORDED READING OF THE OLD FAVORITE THAT SHOULD PLEASE ANYONE LOOKING FOR A MODERN VERSION."
"My enthusiasm goes rather further in the case of Millo's reading of the title role, In the Interview on page 1968, the diva tells us that she has listened to most of the notable interpreters from the past, distant and not so distant, and the study shows not in any imitative way but in an authentically spinto kind of singing that has been hard to discern in other recent renderings. The firm yet vibrant, dark-hued, voluptuous tone is leavened by an appealing brightness at the top and an ability to float that is wholly natural, never contrived. Listen to the "Pieta ti prenda" in the scene with Amneris or the "Numi pieta" at its end and you'll hear how Millo is able to shade her timbre and her phrasing that ideally suits the music.
The conflicting emotions of "Ritorna vincitor" are faithfully delineated, the reflective, elegiac mood of "O patria mia" perfectly caught, with the final awkward passage managed par excellence. Still better is the instinctively right shading in "La, tra foreste vergine" in the Act 3 duet with Radames and the poised singing of "O terra addio" in the finale. In these examples the voice is all a piece and the legato is seamless. All this confirms the excellent impression Millo made on me when the opera was televized from the Metropolitan Opera a few years back, a performance that not a few seasoned buffs. After hearing the whole interpretation, I took down form the shelves some famous prima donne on disc:
Millo was shown more youthful than Milanov on the Perlea/RCA (but it's that great diva at her best that Millo most potently recalls), more vocally appealing than Tebaldi for Karajan Decc, more reliable of voice than Callas for the Serafin/EMI (though not as unique in accents) more involved and technically skilled than Price (in her first version on Decca under Solti), fuller of tone than Caballe (Muti/EMI). I wouldn't claim that in every respect Millo is superior to these great sopranos or to Giannini on the old HMV set now on Rodolphe/Harmonia Mundi and Pearl, simply she is at least their peer based on this evidence. Millo is the most urgent reason for acquiring this set.....
I shall not be dispensing with my Callas/Serafin set or my Caballe/Muti or the readings headed by Gianinni (Sabajno) and Milanov (Perlea), all of which are well tried treasurable experiences. But the new contender, which has many similarities with the grandly sung Solti (down to the feeling that one is sitting rather near the brass), deserves to be heard in their company, most of all for its very special Aida.
Bajo La Lupa Magazine (Translated from Spanish)
1.- How did you become involved in opera? Do you come from a musical family?
That is my earliest exposure to music, my mother had a great soprano voice and was a great actress in the mode of Claudia Muzio/ my father had a great tenor voice, (which is up on youtube singing Canio and a Brahms art song) with true tenor greatness. I loved their faces and their faces radiated when they even spoke about opera. I wanted to go where there souls went, where they faces went….when you see something as a child that makes your parents look that transfigured and happy, of course you want to share in it as well, you want to feel it too. Thank God I grew up in the family I did. My Grandmother was so supportive and my mom and dad, and eventually my brother, Rick Wilder, became involved in music as a real pioneer in PUNK rock music, helped create the punk rock music scene in LA in the late 70’s early 80’s…very famous and a real authentic in the Berlin Bratz and then the Mau Maus….still performs today to sold out houses… My sister Grace Millo is a great Shakespearen actress who wrote original music for the wonderful Amanda’s Waiting band…and is writing now a very well received musical called “Connections the Musical” which should be up and running quite soon. Full of great melody and beauty…. so we all were bit by the love for the arts and I am so grateful to my mom and dad for their greatness and example and we are just little matchsticks from their bon fire….
2.- How would you describe your voice?
A voice formed in principles of the the past. How you speak is how you sing with legato, and noble sound and dramatic utterance.Equal from top to bottom… Old school all the way. Warm in the middle and a little dark in the center but gleaming and bright on the top. To my ear a perfect example of a lyric spinto with agility…perfect for Verdi and Bellini and later of course for the Puccini that I am now assuming..I made my debut in 1978 in opera and I just recently had a wonderful success in Italy with Puccini’s Il Tabarro , that is almost 35 years….The Tabarro had the pleasure of the presence of the granddaughter of Puccini in the ninth row, Simonetta Puccini…. she was most enthusiastic and said it had changed her perspective of the opera. We had lunch and many great conversations, one of the loveliest and smartest people I know. She keeps his true message alive and was gracious enough to give me a personal tour of his favorite home and resting place…Torre Del Lago, that I fell in love with with rain falling and the waters threatening to reclaim their original positions right outside his windows… a virtual operatic tempest whilst we were inside happy and warm in the company of Simonetta as she recounted fascinating stories of her genius Grandfather over fabulous cups of expresso. What a great museum and what a feeling of life and creation still by the great man himself.
3.- What are the most important tools needed to become a successful singer?
The ability to say no. To rest and keep your body as healthy as possible. It is your instrument, we are a living stradivarius and must hope to find Maestri to teach us correctly the style, and then to rehearse with great rest and concentration and humility. Knowing your voice, stretching carefully on occasion but staying to what is your unique message and what you serve correctly. I never sang outside my fach…..occasionally with Von Karajan I did arias from Lohengrin and Tannhauser…but not yet the full operas…. being authentic and caring about the music and your service to it and the composers ….plenty to think about. Staying away from the glad hands that are ready to praise you one day and kill you the next. Keep a select group of truth tellers around you who love your gift as much as you and listen to them, because fame can be very deafening.
4.- Do you believe that talent should be highly educated in Music Schools, or it could develop with practice and exposure?
I am a maverick on this. The old school found a teacher and they prepared, scena and music, day in and day out, and when the teacher felt it was ready, they found a theater in the provinces and they debuted. Always in a leading role. These days the schools confuse a lot the singer, but offer also great study of languages. I do not know of a school that teaches the correct Italian traditions, which is not a dirty word. It is merely an arch of service from which you take the very best for yourself and carry it forward. I had a great teachers in my Mother and Father, and at the Met with Dick Marzollo who had been with Toscanini and Serafin at La Scala, and David Stivender, a Mascagni scholar and so very brilliant about the psychology of singing…. and then my great teacher was Rita Saponaro Patane’, fantastic soprano herself, as well as a student herself of famed voice pedagoue Maria Carbone. I also coached with great pleasure with Ponselle’s wonderful coach and pianist Igor Chicagov. Truly great people. And I listened to everyone on recording. Ponselle, absolutely, a must for young Verdi to bel canto, Claudia Muzio, for everything, voice expression soul…. Tebaldi, for harmony and beauty and great singing….she became for me a shining light, and a great friend, also I listened to Flagstad, and to Nilsson, and to Caniglia, to whom I was compared to often she I sang in Rome. To Gina Cigna, and to Caterina Mancini. Clara Petrella and Maria Vitale…. Madga Olivero for so many pieces, always original and full of transcendent sound and thought….. Zinka Milanov for beauty and line and lush tone….singing for Elizabeth Schwarzkopf opened me up to so much lieder and German music, she felt like I sounded like a young Elisabeth Rethberg, which her husband at the Met,George Cehanovsky agreed with as well… so many greats to teach you even now.
These young people who say they do not listen to old records are really missing a chance to improve their own talents. You do NOT copy, but you allow yourself to be immersed in a world and tradition closer to when the composers lived. You accept the influences of a great school of singers and conductors…The performance styles were very different, but the music was treated more like a living breathing creature then it is today. The words mean everything, and the melody mirrors what you are saying because the composer was brilliant and the librettist was brilliant. The over the top nature of today’s intendants looking for ballerina’s to sing, I will say is ruining a lot of young voices…. you cannot expect the voice of a strad to come out of the body of a ukelele.
5.- What is the secret of performing a good audition?
Not seeing it as an audition, because every time your sing someone is auditioning you, general public, critics, your colleagues… so every time you sing, you sing to tell a story. Someone has not heard before, and you are privileged to carry that story colored by your soul, and sound. Keeps it noble that way and send ego out the door. Sing for God and the music. Basta.
6.- How do you learn a new role? Do you start by analyzing the music, the lyrics, the meaning of the character, the diction or what do you consider is the most important approach to memorization?
I listen first as a member of the public. What strikes me first, what makes me excited. What do I dislike… then slowly I sing the music very straightforward. Try to, at least. For the rhythms. Then I speak it though out my day, trying to make it real conversation. this is a huge help. Playing the music every day, be it just with piano, or listening to performances….every day till it becomes my soul’s melody. It becomes a part of you. Understanding why the character does what she does, and then seeing the hidden messages in the music accompanying the voice. A good composer always leaves messages in the music under you… and then just singing, so everyone can understand the story with you. With God’s help, it is successful.
7.- As you grow older your voice may go through a metamorphosis. Should a singer change his/her repertoire or keep the same old one and maybe change the placement of the voice? Is there a difference in technique?
As you grow up, in music, your fach remains the same. There are beginning, middle and end parts to it. A voice like mine should be able to sing most of my rep till I finish. I had a rare chance to sing and be capable to sing a lot of bel canto, which I can sing still, but bigger. It has grown into a more dramatic sound than when I was in my early twenties. The technique remains the same, you just have to account that the breathing and the body itself becomes more fragile. In a woman she undergoes a lot of physical changes, which must be diligently dealt with, and practice and discipline are more constant than when you are young. It is a muscle after all, and the battle is like that fought by a great golfer. The battle goes on in the space between his or her two ears. It is a mental battle. the rest is logical and can be approached without panic and great humility. So far so good.
8.- Do you believe a singer can have two registries, that is, for instance, can a soprano be a mezzo as well, or a tenor combine baritone/tenor roles?
Many greats have begun as baritones and gone up to tenor, Bergonzi, Varnay, Domingo… sopranos to me are best staying where they start. One must be careful not to confuse oneself. If you are a soprano with a lovely middle the temptation is to try and sing some of the mezzo soprano repertoire. The truth is can you stay there comfortably. I cannot, my voice likes to go up… but there are very successful examples of people doing both.
9.- Should a big voice start with a very light baroque type of music, or is it appropriate to perform heavier roles from the beginning?
The bigger voices should be like a wild horses disciplined. Not in Mozart which is not for a young voice, that is for a master voice, but in the rigors of Bel Canto. It teaches great singing, healthy singing, line legato and freedom. Baroque music is often treated to those who believe it should be straight tones and very white a sound. How does this help a young voice? Not at all. If one sings the proper progression for your voice type, you will get there safely. Bel Canto, then on to your voices destiny employing always the very sane and proper techniques used in your early studies of bel canto. A win win.
10.- An opera singer is constantly traveling to different parts of the world and altering his/her sleep hours and dietary habits. How do you stay healthy and how do you keep your voice from exhaustion when faced with so much stress?
Arriving in a good time to have rest. When you arrive alerting all to the fact that you are there with great good faith but asking them to protect you, especially the young, I know many Maestri are young too, and do not know as much about voice as they used to, but I think only a bully would not understand to protect the young singers under their care. It is a voyage together like a family in service to a form of art greater than all of us put together.
Taking time between jobs and enjoying life. No matter the need for money, the need to be a complete person is more important and that complete soul in service to the music gives a much deeper performance than ones that know nothing about the magic and the tragedy and the poetry of life. The audience can always tell. To all the wonderful people in Latin America and all over the world, THANK YOU for your love and support for the mythical and magical world of opera. You recognize yourselves in it, don’t you? The passion the love and depth, the emotion. You have long been brave to feel these things, and you love to see it magnified and sanctified by the music onstage…. could anything be better than that? God Bless you and thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with your wonderful public….. Viva L’Arte!!!!!!