Dwarfed, but not upstaged by a small forest of ficus and fern, Aprile Millo appeared at the Orange County Performing Arts Center Tuesday night, and, as she has in an increasing number of international appearances in recent seasons, conquered all before her.
The young Los Angeles-trained American soprano of the Metropolitan Opera repeated for the audience at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa a program she had given at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena in December.
This time around, becomingly gowned in a blue-sequined sheath, Millo communicated less with semaphoric movements, more often with the voice. Just as important, that voice seemed to be in pristine condition.
Millo's soprano, at age 28, remains the real McCoy: a dramatic instrument of power, effortlessness, stamina and remarkable natural purity. Technically, it is undamaged and still growing.
In matters artistic, the young singer shows good instincts and a native intelligence. She may err on the side of overstatement, but, on Tuesday at least, seldom on the side of oversinging. She sang no trills at this recital--not, at least, before the second encore. But she again displayed her strong command of dynamics, of diminuendo and of soft singing--as well as a sense of musical authority always present in her performance.
Visually, there were fewer distractions Tuesday than at Millo's last Southern California appearance. The singer does tend to make a vignette into a scene, or a point of characterization into a large gesture. In this, she follows a longstanding tradition that has given operatic personalities reputations as gauche recitalists--being bigger than life, they sometimes enlarge the musical materials at hand beyond credibility.
Yet, the tendency pays off for her, as it did on the Segerstrom Hall stage Tuesday, with the audience's rapt attention, long ovations and loud cheering. It shows that audiences like the obvious, cherish the dramatic and embrace the heroic.
The program listed arias by Gluck, Handel, Paisiello and Dvorak before intermission, plus songs by Bellini, Alessandro Scarlatti, Schubert and Richard Strauss.
Beethoven's "Ah, Perfido!" and Verdi's "Pace, pace" marked the borders of the second half; between them came Rossini's "La Regata Veneziana," charmingly characterized. Throughout, Eugene Kohn provided stylish, impassioned--even, in moments, overwrought--support at the piano.
The first encore was "La mamma morta," from "Andrea Chenier"; Liu's second aria, from "Turandot," followed. Millo ended with a Neapolitan folk song.