[Attenzione! Tenor rave alert. Yes, another one...but please don't look away this time. You want to know about this guy.]
Yesterday our dear Fabio Armiliato was in hotter water than I'd thought. He was ill and didn't make it to the Wigmore after all. Cue a Rosenblatt Recitals call to a particular favourite of theirs who's done two of these very special concerts before, but isn't a household name among British opera buffs, never having sung in a British opera house (to the best of our knowledge) and certainly not at the Royal Opera House. He's a Sicilian bel canto tenor with no hair and an earring and his name is Antonino Siragusa. Above, in L'Elisir d'amore with Patrizia Ciofi...
He zipped over from Italy sometime around midday and is off to Japan this morning. And, wowing the hall with Italian songs in the first half and a range of magnificent virtuoso arias in the second, he won himself a standing ovation.
We thought about going backstage to spirit him off to Covent Garden, where we would have him sing "Ah, mes amis" from the rooftops, and we'd chain ourselves to the railings and wave placards until someone there books him. He sings pretty much everywhere else - the Met, Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, La Scala, Barcelona, Vienna, Tokyo (here's his current schedule). But not here. This is very odd.
He isn't your typical Wigmore performer. Unfazed by the last-minute gig, the hallowed space or anyone in it, he worked the hall with sunny mien, jokes, poise and evident delight. The little "Wiggy" is an interesting acoustic for big operatic voices - at first you think it's going to be way too loud - but once you've acclimatised, it's a treat to be at close quarters with the knock-em-dead high notes and the pianissimo serenades alike.
This voice is at the higher, stronger end of bel canto. He may not have the honeyed heavenliness of Florez, but his vivid, bright personality owns a sound to match, with an edge of stainless steel about it. He is a Rigoletto Duke, a Count Almaviva and a Guillaume Tell Arnoldo, to say nothing of Tonio from La fille du regiment - after keeping up the thrill for a whole evening, it then takes a special confidence and security in technique to wander on and ring out those nine jackpots as your final encore.
The programme in some ways could have looked topsy-turvy - the Tosti Neapolitan-type songs, de Curtis's 'Non ti scordar di me', 'Granada' and so forth took up the first half, while 'Una furtiva lagrima' opened part 2 the way he meant to go on. It worked, though; and maybe it makes sense to warm everyone up with the seductive stuff before moving on to the operatic numbers.
'Firenze' from Gianni Schicchi suited him from shiny crown to toe, as did the one French number of the evening, 'Ah! leve toi soleil' from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. (And how nice to learn that Flotow's Martha involves a heroine in disguise going to, er, Richmond - my neck of the woods.) Lovely, convincing characterisation; communicative diction - the programme notes contained short synopses but no translations, given the shortness of notice, and you don't need them if you can hear the words and all their emotions; it was all well chosen and wonderfully performed.
The pianist, the doughty Marco Boemi, who played brilliantly at short notice and received much grinning praise from his singer along the way, announced he was taking a break for the penultimate aria, 'Se il mio nome saper voi bramate' from Il barbiere di Siviglia - Siragusa strolled back in carrying a guitar and accompanied himself through Almaviva's serenade. 'Asile hereditaire' from Guillaume Tell finished the programme, but we didn't want to let him go, and along came the encores...
My Italophile pal was so overcome that she asked to be introduced to Ian Rosenblatt and gave him a very big hug.You've brought us so much joy by putting on this concert, she declared. She's right. This series is what enlightened philanthropy is really all about. And fortunately, with Sky Arts now on board to broadcast the Rosenblatt Recitals, there'll be a chance for many, many more to sample the joy of great singing close to.
Let's hope that Covent Garden wakes up sometime soon and brings Siragusa in from the cold.