Friday, January 10, 2014


I love the Italian word assoluta, attached sometimes to the Italian phrases "prima donna" or "prima ballerina" to mean the absolute best in those arts, in singing or in ballet. It signifies a notch above even the very best: the very best skill and performance, plus with a divine, personal finish or mysterious perfection added. (Why can't there be assoluta writers? Maybe because the Italian scrittrice, woman writer, sounds horrible. Maybe because we are all understood to be tweedy and myopic.) Margot Fonteyn, for example, was honored with the title prima ballerina assoluta. The other day when surfing YouTube to learn about opera, I found, in the comment section on a ten-minute video about June Anderson, some anonymous had similarly dubbed her "la prima donna assoluta."

Do you know of June Anderson? I am embarrassed to say I did not. Look at the whole set of videos uploaded on YouTube from what appears to have been an hour-long public television documentary called June Anderson: the Passion of Bel Canto (1985 or so). Look at the spectacularly beautiful face, all cheekbones and tiny nose and plump but deep-set lips, and a jawline fully able to do battle with the scarves and big shoulders of '80s fashions. Look at the dazzling eyes and the impossible hair, and listen to the voice, ethereal in singing, plush and silvery in talk. "I love how calm she speaks" a commenter said five years ago, "like a priestess," agreed another a year later. 

Now the comparison may seem a bit precious, but she comes to mind because a lovely wine like the Clos du Val chardonnay, above, fits in with the word assoluta, with things that are -- I can almost hear Miss Anderson saying it during her on-camera interview, while a fresh wind blows her hair in the shade of an Italian garden -- with things that are just beautifully done, and right. The winemaker labored in his cellar, exactly as June sang and tapped her foot alone in a room, sight-reading from a score of Donizetti. The end result is something of the very best and then some. Art. That the art existed and exists whether or not we knew about it is pleasantly comforting too; for we have only to keep surfing to find more.

June Anderson

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