Antoinette Miggiani (5.9.37. - ) Maltese Soprano
Antoinette Miggiani was born in Sliema and educated at St Joseph's Convent. She studied both piano and singing and obtained an LRSM in both disciplines. Already a prodigy at sixteen years her singing was self-taught, a factor which Maestro Luigi Cantoni could hardly believe when she approached him for some lessons. The quality of her voice, her dramatic imposition and her extensive repertoire were impressive even though she had not yet received formal training. Cantoni's expertise in this field was unquestionable and he immediately contacted his great friend Arturo Toscanini in Milan insisting that Miggiani’s voice was a discovery. They planned that Antoinette would travel to Italy and understudy Callas at La Scala for Bellini's Norma. Unfortunately both Cantoni and Toscanini died suddenly within a month from each other and these plans were shelved.
Antoinette continued studying on her own obtained her LRSM in singing in 1958 and was offered a scholarship by the Royal Schools of Music. In the same year she won a British Council Scholarship which enabled her to proceed to the Royal Academy of Music in London where she studied piano with Denis Murdock and singing with Sir Norman Akin who was leading bass at Covent Garden A year later in 1959 she obtained her ARCM, thus becoming an Associate of the Royal College. She was immediately awarded a grant by the Gulbenkien Foundation and a scholarship at the National School of Opera where she started intensive training with well-known soprano and producer Joan Cross. Miggiani was just under 22 years of age at this stage and was encouraged to start competing. She took part in the Eisteddfod Competition in Wales and finished second, missing first prize by just one point. The next year she attended the International Singing Competition of Liverpool, where thirteen countries were represented and which included competitors like Gywenyth Jones. This time round she won first prize. She had sung with
"Telling authority of style and technique and occasional flashes of true vocal brilliance"
·Guardian, 6 June 1960.
"Antoinette Miggiani, the 22 year old Maltese soprano... her singing of Suicidio swelled triumphantly to a bold and convincing peroration."
·Music & Musicians, July 1960.
During that same year, Antoinette started voice production with the greatest Turandot of all times, Dame Eva Turner, who approached her immediately after the competition and took her under her wing. As soon as she won the competition Antoinette was also contracted at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden for the 1961/62 seasons where she understudied Duenna in Der Rosenkavalier and Leonora in Fidelio. During her contract, Sir David Webster, General Administrator of Covent Garden, also arranged for Antoinette to go to Paris for coaching with the renowned singing teacher Dominique Modesti. At Covent Garden Antoinette collaborated with personalities which are held in awe by today's standards. She worked with conductors Sir David Webster and Sir Georg Solti, bass Nikolai Guairov and tenor Carlo Bergonzi and tenor Charles Craig for La Forza del Destino, she also worked with Covent Garden's Sir Edward Downes, Sir John Prichard, Brian Balkwill and Norman Pheasey; James Loughran and Lawrence Leonard of Scottish Opera and Edinburgh Festival; Jani Strasser of the Vienna State Opera; Anthony Besch and Christopher West of Saddler Wells and film producer Sam Wanamaker.
In the meantime Miggiani was singing all over London - as the Countess for Lennox Berkely's A Dinner Engagement and as Magda Sorrel for Menotti's The Consul, as Julietta for Tales of Hoffman together with tenor Robert Dambrough and Sir James Loughran at the London Opera Centre in 1962; as Leonora for La Forza del Destino under the baton of Vice Oliver, during a live performance for the BBC in December 1961 as Elizabeth for Don Carlos in a production by the Arts Council of Great Britain together with the Northern Symphony Orchestra in July 1961.
"In the taxing part of Elizabeth, unhappy heroine of the opera, Miss Miggiani, who comes form Malta had a sure sense of the dramatic and all the ringing high notes so essential to Verdi. It will be surprising if more is not heard of this gifted young soprano in more august circles"
·North London Press, 7 July 1961.
Antoinette Miggiani 's voice graced the Manoel Theatre in Malta during the 1963 and 1965 operatic seasons when she sang Leonora di Vargas in La Forza del Destino and Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, both for Impresa Cantoni Forza del Destino was under the baton of no less than conductor Giuseppe Patane' while Ino Savini directed Cavalleria Rusticana. From 1964 to 1966, Miggiani was in Milan perfecting her art with soprano Renata Carosio, and working with Maestro Mario Macchio from La RAI and Maestro Enrico Piazza of La Scala. During this time she gave various recitals for Italian Radio, sang in concerts throughout Italy, and gave performances in France and Germany.
November 1967 saw her returning to Malta to sing during a Royal Gala Performance at the Manoel Theatre, for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. In 1968, Antoinette started an extensive recital tour of nine months in the USA, giving concerts and recitals in New York. Washington, San Francisco. Seattle, Boston and Florida. It was the busiest schedule Miggiani had ever run but wherever she sang Americans acclaimed her, be it the press or the audience, and she was given standing ovations on numerous occasions She was interviewed twice on American Television, during Johnny Carson's show, and during Sullivan's show. The highlight of her tour was her singing Maddalena de Coigny opposite tenors Franco Corelli and Eric Townsend in Giordano's Andrea Chenier , conducted by Anton Guadagno at the Seattle Opera House, Seattle, Washington in November 1968..
"Ms Miggiani manages dulcet, silvery tones - filled with colour and passion..."
·Post-Intelligence Seattle, critic Rolf Stromberg.
Miggiani's tour also included a recital for His Excellency Cardinal Cook (then Archbishop of New York) at Lincoln Centre, New York on 4 February 1969. She sang at Vineland in New Jersey for the Opera Society, in West Palm Beach, Miami, at Marymount College University and at Boca Raton, Florida; at White Plains, at Mercy College, at St Patrick’s Cathedral, at Waldorf, Astoria- New York and also at Fordham University
"She is a dramatic soprano of extraordinary ability, ranking with Regine Crespin and Brigitte Nilsson."
·Professor Robert Gleason of Fordham University, writing to the Metropolitan, N.Y.
Whilst in America Miggiani was working with renowned pianist Josef Rescigno and organist John Rayburn. She also attended master classes with famous mezzo-soprano and Coach Jennie Tourel, together with celebrity composer Leonard Bernstein.
"In my opinion she possesses one of the best voices heard in recent years. I am getting her ready for certain auditions including one which will be held at the Metropolitan Opera House. Miggiani has a dramatic soprano's voice which is a rarity these days"
·Jennie Tourel 15 February 1969 - c.c. Metropolitan Opera House.
"I wrote to Mr. Schick at the Metropolitan, noting that you would be leaving the country soon for Europe and that they should hear you"
·Dr John Rayburn after recital at St Patrick’s, New York.
Before leaving America Miggiani auditioned privately with Tito CapoBianco, principal conductor for the Metropolitan. Her voice was met with great enthusiasm and plans were immediately made. Zinca Milanov, the Met.'s leading dramatic soprano. was expected to retire and Antoinette was to step into her place. The Metropolitan had, however, already closed down for a major refurbishment and would remain so through 1970-71. Antoinette returned to Malta for a well-deserved rest before taking up final auditions for her most important contract to date.
In November 1969, Miggiani gave a Royal Gala performance for H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. in honour of the Bicentenary Celebrations of the Royal University of Malta. In April 1970 Antoinette was preparing to leave for the States again when fate took the upper hand. Her mother fell victim to a bad stroke. Her father had already gone blind by this time and the soprano decided to forego the Met.'s contract so that she could stay in Malta and take care of her parents. This was the last in a series of blows which fate had dealt her. Toscanini's and Cantoni's untimely death had been the first. During 1959-1962 when Antoinette 's agents were the famous John Coast and Mario Mario, she had been cast as the Mother Abbess for the film 'The Sound of Music'. Antoinette had to refuse because of other impending engagements and the song 'Climb every Mountain' reached world fame. On another occasion, Dominique Modesti, her professor in Paris, contacted the director of the Bayreuth Festival, Wieland Wagner and arranged Antoinette 's active participation in The Ring as one of the Walkieris. Wieland Wagner died in 1966, however, and the arrangement fell through.
Antoinette Miggiani was just 32 years old when her accelerating international career was brought to an abrupt halt because of her parents' ailing health. She continued singing in Malta, however - at the British Council, Radio City Opera House, the Manoel Theatre, the Cathedrals, the Palace and many other venues. She sang Verdi's Mozart's, Elgar's and .Rossini's Requiem, created the title role in Pace's L'Ipogeana, sang Dido in Purcells's Dido and Aeneas, Caterina for Pace's Caterina Desguanez, sang leading roles in Dvorak's Stabat Mater, Anton Nani's Requiem, Gounod's Messe Solennelle Ste. Cecile and Vivaldi's Gloria, among others. She was also noted as a fine singing actress and was in constant demand by Foreign Embassies in Malta for lieder recitals. and concerts. She is, in fact, credited with having pioneered lieder singing in Malta. Besides performing Miggiani has devoted a lot of her indomitable energy to coaching singers and trying to instill in them some of the rigorous discipline and artistry she was used to abroad. In this regard she has coached some of the best singers the island has produced and influenced Malta's perspective of music, in general.
One wonders what heights would have been reached had Antoinette Miggiani 's international career not been cut short at such a precarious moment. Her dramatic soprano voice had already graced some of the most important lyric theatres around the world and the people she worked with then, are considered megaliths, today.
Miggiani was awarded the Medal of Merit of the Confederation of Councils (Malta) in 1970 and the Malta Cultural Award by the Ministry of Education, in 1988. Her contribution to Music has been recognised by the Board of Directors of the Royal Academy of Music in London who kept track of this remarkable soprano and teacher throughout the years. She has been elected Associate of the Royal Academy of Music for achieving distinction in her profession.