Names are strange labels – some disappear on the wind, others lodge like shards of sunlight in the memory. I met such a name, one that lingers, in an apartment in an old palazzo in Naples, Italy.
The apartment belonged to Michael Aspinall, and the name was Serena Malfi.
Michael Aspinall is a ‘maestro di canto classico‘ and a respected connoisseur of old Italian opera. He’s also a performer, teacher, critic, and collector – a frontline bel canto expert with a huge private library of musical literature and recordings. He’s been in Italy for decades, first Rome and now Naples.
Serena Malfi, the owner of the name, is a mezzo-soprano from close to Naples, who studied at the Conservatorio and Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome.
She, her name at least, appeared in the palazzo when I asked Michael Aspinall if he had ever come across a student with an outstanding voice.
He never answered the question directly, but he did lead us across his apartment to the television where he selected a DVD, and showed us a young singer in the middle of a concert performance.
“London,” he said, as the piano played and a voice like liquid tapestry flowed its soul into the room.
The singer’s name was Serena Malfi.
You might never have heard of Serena Malfi as in opera terms she’s still a youngster, but she’s easy to find on YouTube and she’s well worth the hunt. She doesn’t just sing, she is her voice, and she has courage and a stage presence that reach out from the flash of her eyes to the wide spread of her hands.
Once you see her you might wonder what a quiet English gentleman had to teach such a passionate singer. You might even ask … did he really teach her? He says he did, but so sotto voce it’s easy to doubt him.
To clarify this I tried to contact Serena Malfi directly. There was no response, so I telephoned her Edinburgh-based agent, Patricia Greenan who told me that the young singer was on stage at the Met in New York. The star was out of reach, so was the answer to the singing lessons, but her agent did tell me that she knew Michael Aspinall had found some little-known Neapolitan music for Serena Malfi to use in her first solo performance in London in 2011.
Close enough – I published the article on my blog, using the careful words ‘worked with’, and imagined that was the end of it. But it wasn’t … late last week I got an email from Serena Malfi herself, who confirmed that Michael Aspinall did give her five or six singing lessons.
Was there any more she could tell me? It turned out there was, and she did. Here it is in full:
Yes, it’s correct 🙂 I had some lessons with him for a year or less and he helped me choosing the repertoire of my first soloist concert in London in 2011. He is a very gentle person and I love his house-museum! He showed me really unknown music’s pearls 🙂
To discover ‘pearls’ and then to coat them with ‘gold’ and send them out into the world – can there be any greater pleasure for singer or teacher?
Serena Malfi has not forgotten those pearls nor the man who found them for her. And I don’t think Michael Aspinall will ever forget her.
My thanks to Serena Malfi for taking the time to get in touch, and to Michael Aspinall for telling us about her.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018