VIAF 2022


The last concert in this series went off with a bang. I am not referring to a few bangs heard within the Aula. This was a mercilessly very brief nuisance. As Fr. George Frendo, Artistic Director of the VIAF said in his brief introduction, the festival tends to shun performances on Sundays because of the frequent parish Festa celebrations which in our islands are marked by many bangs from fireworks and I add those utterly hateful, senseless petards. It was because of this that as Sunday 26th June was the only free day Sanja Anastasia had to sing in Gozo, the concert was held on that day.

Yet what a blessing it was to have this magnificent, beautiful lady with looks matching her vocal and interpretative prowess, make her voice heard in that intimate Aula, so ideal for chamber recitals. In my last printed review, I had this title for it “OPERA AT THE ASTRA – SERB MEZZO DOMINATES IL TROVATORE. This time this singer dominated in another way, not by putting others in the shade but with her thoroughly well-prepared and symbiotic collaboration with Giulia Mandrazzato, her superb accompanist.

After Friday’s vocal recital dominated by the French, this one was completely Spanish, or let’s say Hispanic because apart from native Spanish composers there was some music by a Mexican composer and one by an Argentinian who genetically was 100% Italian. If I were asked which voice I prefer, I reply by saying none. I like any voice as long as it is capable of touching the heart and mind. Every voice is beautiful and so is the mezzo-soprano voice with can be so versatile in interpreting any kind of mood and emotions. It could be as gentle and tender as it could be sinuously sultry and seductive. Sanja Anastasja introduced the songs she interpreted beginning with Falla’s Siete Canciónes Populares Españolas. All about love she said, as she was to label all the songs she chose this evening. One could add that love hardly needs hardly any words, but, the emotions the words project make all the difference. Indeed she made each word count in these seven brief songs covering many regional folk traditions and rhythms. They were followed by the first of Giulia Mandrazzo’s solo pieces. This was the 5th dance, Andaluza from 12 Danzas Españolas by Granados. It was exquisitely performed and is best known via a guitar transcription and sometimes sung too.

The vocal part continued with meanwhile, the singer used a fan because of the heat. She looked to the manner born, as she sang and fanned herself nonchalantly. A selection of four songs by Fernando Obradors followed on the tracks of Granados. All are from his Canciónes clásicas españolas such as the delicately tender Del cabello más sutil (from Vol. 1), the turbulence and swagger of Canción del café de Chinitas( from Vol. 4, and two from Vol. 3, namely Aquel sombrero de monte and El vito. The former is rather nostalgic and acquiescent while latter reflects upon life’s changes

Another work often better-known from an excellent guitar transcription, was the second solo that Giulia Mandrazzato performed. To those who have been to that wonderful city, it is easy to be taken there as if on a magic carpet when listening to Granada by Albéniz, a highly gifted pianist who composed his Suite Espagnole beginning this set of tone pictures with Granada (Serenata).. It evoked personal memories of two visits which were 37 years apart and when all the magic was still there. This interpretation could not have been a better reminder of the place. This pianist seems to have a special affinity with Spanish music and looks Spanish too dressed up in red and jet-black hair packed in a low bun. I should also mention that the Spanishness in Sanja Anastasja’s living the songs could be seen not only by the way she handled the fan but also with her playing the casatanets in one of the songs she sang.

The final part of the recital sadly drew to a close with three works. The first was Ruperto Chapi’s feisty Carceleras from the zarzuela Las hijas de Zebedeo, full of verve and duende. The atmosphere changed completely with the tragic and defiant Yo soy María from Piazzolla’s María de Buenos Aires. A passionate, heartfelt outburst was delving deep into despair. The singer was also particularly attentive to diction and pronouncing the “yo” in the porteño way, as in castillano de la Plata. Finally, Sanja Anastasja, the great communicator who had the audience in her hands from the beginning, ended with a great flourish sing Mexican composer Agustín Lara famous showstopper, Granada. Needless to say it ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.

Albert George Storace