|Miriam Cauchi for La Bohème at Teatru Astra|
We are reproducing an interview Dr Maria Frendo, chorus mistress at Teatru Astra held with Miriam Cauchi, who will be interpreting the role of Mimí in Teatru Astra's forthcoming opera, La Bohème which was published on the Sunday Times of 30 August 2015.
Fresh from her resounding success singing with Joseph Calleja in the latter’s annual concert in Malta, I manage to find a few quiet moments with soprano Miriam Cauchi who, despite her busy schedule is typically more than gracious to speak to me about her forthcoming performance of Mimí in La Bohème at Teatru Astra on the 29th and 31st October this year. Incidentally, the one duet she sang with Calleja earlier this month was precisely the hauntingly beautiful one from the first Act of Puccini’s La Bohème, and although it wasn’t exactly a “gelida manina” that I shook when I greeted her in a sweltering 38 degrees, her natural warmth was, as always, endemic.
Miriam’s Mimí will be her eighth appearance in a leading role at Teatru Astra. Patrons remember her wonderful rendering of Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello, Gilda in Rigoletto, Violetta in La Traviata, her superb Suor Angelica and, on that same evening, Nedda in Pagliacci. Teatru Astra, under the intelligent guidance of its Artistic Director Joseph Vella, has always been keen to engage Miriam, in the way that the same Maestro had launched an unknown young tenor called Joseph Calleja to the world when he took a well-calculated risk and asked him to sing the role of Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth at Astra almost two Opera is not for the faint-hearted, we know that. With its hyperbolic grand gesture and grand crisis, it’s a knock-out. Preparation is of the essence in such a forum and Miriam tells me that she engages with a great deal of background work, to include reading copiously anything that is relevant to the opera she is studying. Apart from her beautiful, warm voice which lends itself so superbly to Romantic opera, she is also highly intelligent, and listens to diverse interpretations which enable her to nurture a holistic approach towards the role she is tackling. With Mimí, she is particularly partial to Toscanini’s interpretation and finds herself lucky to have recordings of the 50th anniversary of the premiere performance which the legendary Maestro had himself conducted in 1896.
Our animated conversation turns to the verismo style that Puccini is so well-known for. Writing at a time when Naturalism was de rigueur in literature, particularly with French novelists such as Flaubert and Zola, Puccini, in like manner, does not spare the audience’s feelings. Taken from Henri Murger’s Scènes de la vie de bohème, the libretto is built on pictures, which are almost photographic, superimposed one upon the other depicting bohemian scenes in nineteenth-century Paris. These scenes are characterized by decadence and hedonism, beneath which glittering veneer lurk physical illness, moral depravity and, necessarily, death. It’s all credit to the genius of Puccini (and his librettists Illica and Giacosa) that such fragmentary scenes as one finds in the novel, which act like recollected but dispersed memory, in the opera come across as a perfect whole the likes of which, arguably, is difficult to find in any other Puccini opera. Miriam argues that in Puccini, youth can only survive in memory and, in fact, the opera is replete with retrieving moments of acute significance that enable the characters to overcome their present angst.
In this regard, Miriam pledges utter loyalty to the libretto; it is there that one finds the Puccini pathos, the pessence of the Puccini tragic moment. This allegiance to the words also asks for the singer to liaise closely with both the conductor and the artistic director, and she fully believes that not a single note, not a single rest, even, should be sacrificed for action or gesture. Miriam has been extremely privileged that at Teatru Astra she has sung along such greats as sopranos Pamela Kucenic in Un ballo in maschera and Liù alongside Francesca Patanè in Turandot, amongst others. She acknowledges that Teatru Astra has established itself as a landmark on the cultural calendar not only on the local scene but also internationally. She enthuses about the wonderful and innovative productions Astra has introduced to the islands and the theatre’s policy of bringing legendary singers to perform leading roles while at the same time scouting new local talent. This, she says, has always hit the right note, pun intended. She fully acknowledges that in her case, as well as in that of Joseph Calleja, Teatru Astra has been instrumental in many ways and she emphasizes that it certainly deserves all the support it can get to carry on this legacy.
We certainly look forward to La Bohème and although Miriam’s hand may not need “riscaldar” we know that our spirits will be more than ignited with her singing!
31 August 2015
Photo: Miriam Cauchi, with tenor Antonio Liberatore in La Traviata, October 2010.