Joyce Guillaumier reviews mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna’s and pianist Emilio Gonzales Sanz’s performance at San Anton Palace.

There is certainly no doubt in my mind that Rossini was a consummate artist.

His song-like melodies, which are so evident in all his scores, earned him the title of the Italian Mozart.

An evening dedicated to Rossini’s Spain-inspired music was recently held at San Anton Palace, Attard.

The two musicians who interpreted Rossini’s music were Anna Tonna, a Maltese/American mezzo-soprano, and Spanish pianist Emilio Gonzales Sanz.

Their list of works consisted of songs and piano solos that showed Rossini’s love and fascination for Spanish music (and Spanish women) and so offered a repertoire which proved that he has more to offer than just the Gazza Ladra (I’m referring to the well-known overture, not the whole opera only a few Maltese opera afficionados are familiar with) and Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

The first work on the programme was Rossini’s Nocturne for piano solo from La Regata Veneziana (transcribed by Liszt).

This joyous work sets feet a-tapping and voices a-singing, although I would have preferred the music to be less forte, considering that the pianist was playing in a hall and not a theatre.

This also applies to the mezzo-soprano who possesses a strong, albeit expressive, voice which allows her to portray different emotions but which should be used with great caution (a little more polish would not hurt her nor the pianist).

This mezzo, who has a beautiful low register, warm and captivating, delivered well the Facut Portem from Rossini’s Stabat Mater.

The piano, with lid left open, also came across better in this work, which showed the pianist‘s softer side, less metallic than he sounded in some parts of the first work.

Assisa a piè d’un salice was Rossini’s gift to Spanish diva Isabella Colbran, who was perhaps the love of his life. This sad, yet florid and lyrical, aria transmitted Rossini’s emotions so well that I’m sure nobody wanted it to come to an end. But it did and from Othello the mezzo transported us to Beltà Crudele, composed in 1821.

In this work the thespian prowess of the coloratura mezzo came to the fore, as it did in Una voce poco fa, from Il Barbiere di Siviglia, certainly Rossini’s best-known work and still considered as the opera buffa to outdo all other opera buffa, even after nearly 200 years. Its lively, driving rhythms, together with the exciting vocal passages, make this work a gem of coloratura singing.

The third part of the programme again featured a work for piano solo when Gonzalez Sanz interpreted Granada from the Suite Espanola by Isaac Albeniz.

In this beautiful romantic serenade, the composer poured forth his love for all things Spanish, transmitted to us by the pianist who must hold this work as one of his favourites. By now, the audience was gripped by the beautiful Spanish idiom and so responded by a very warm applause at its end.

In the last three works, the mezzo interpreted Canzonetta Spagnuola, À Grenade and Tirana alla Spagnola , three more songs from the Romantic era that are mostly unknown.

The mezzo literally had a field day as the three works gave her and the pianist more opportunity to use different tonal colours on their new venture to narrate Rossini’s fascination with Spain,

As encore, the duo chose an aria from Nicolò Isouard’s opera Jeannot et Colin, which was especially meant to honour one of Malta’s greatest composers and who was also a contemporary of Rossini.

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