“Panis Angelicus,” Performed by Van-Anh Nguyen, Featuring Giovanni Palminteri and Lucia Conte

‘Panis Angelicus,’ the penultimate strophe of the hymn “Sacris solemnis” that Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in the 13th century, holds a special place in Van-Anh Nguyen’s heart. Since she was 8, the Australian-Vietnamese concert pianist and guest entertainer has accompanied her mother – also a professional musician and opera singer – in performing this piece. Today, however, Nguyen is accompanied by the voices of her Italian colleagues soprano Lucia Conte and baritone Giovanni Palminteri, as the talented trio recorded a remote rendition of the ancient hymn earlier this year from their respective homes.

“We felt like this piece reflected peace, which was something we wanted so much to instill in everyone during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Nguyen, who recorded her part from her apartment in the Northern Beaches of Sydney on her Roland GP607 digital grand piano. “It’s a song of hope,” adds Conte, a native of Lecce but who recorded her vocal performance from the city of Bologna in northern Italy. “Even if it is a church hymn, the meaning goes beyond religion and we wanted to share the positive message with as many people as possible”.

For Palminteri, the religious roots of ‘Panis Angelicus’ hold a special significance during these unique times and played a key role when selecting a song to perform. “I wanted to dedicate this prayer to all the people affected by Covid-19,” says Palminteri, “and to remain close to the heart of all our lovely Silversea guests.” The Sicilian baritone explains that the hymn, famously set to music by Belgian composer César Franck in 1872, is one of the very first pieces that he studied during his musical career.

The challenge of recording remotely from Sydney, Bologna and Palermo added to the artists’ drive and enthusiasm to collaborate on this project. “Earlier this year, Giovanni and I had done a performance on Silver Whisper together and so it was obvious for us that we wanted to do something remotely,” says Nguyen. “I was lucky enough to be able to record, send my parts across to Giovanni and Lucia, and then they sent it back and I edited it. Music really does bring us all together.” Echoing his colleague’s sentiments, Palminteri described the process as “very interesting and fun. The music united us despite the distance.” Conte highlights the fact that the combined performance was the first time she recorded something from home, and that she relied on one phone to record the video and a second phone to capture the audio track. She admits it took a few takes, but “when put all together, it all magically makes sense.”

Award-winning concert pianist Van-Anh Nguyen first performed onboard a Silversea Cruise in 2010/Courtesy Van-Anh Nguyen

A Silversea-forged friendship

As evidenced by their lockstep performance of “Panis Angelicus” despite being more than 16,000 km apart, their common love of music is the rock-solid bond that binds these talented artists together. But their friendship is also rooted in the common experience of having shared their talents as guest entertainers onboard Silversea cruises over the years. Nguyen, whose first performance on a Silversea cruise (or any cruise, for that matter) took place on Silver Shadow back in 2010, met Palminteri four years later during a World Cruise. “I went to her first concert and it was love at first sight,” recalls Palminteri. “Her beauty and professionalism enchants at every concert. From that day we became friends and every time we saw each other on board, we played and sang together.”

Conte and Palminteri met for Luna Rossa Productions as they were both rehearsing for an upcoming voyage on board Silver Wind. Both vocalists recall that first encounter as an electrifying moment forever etched in their memories. “I remember we met during a duet and from that moment, we understood that our voices were meant to sing together,” says Palminteri, who has since teamed up with the soprano on numerous musical projects, including the vocal duo Passione. “The first time we sung together, we were surprised by the powerful chemistry that our voices have,” Conte reminisces. “Giovanni is a very special person, and he helped me a lot during my first time on the ship.”

Baritone Giovanni Palminteri performing as Figaro in Gioachino Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville/Courtesy Giovanni Palminteri

It was through Palminteri that some time later, Conte met Nguyen onboard a Silversea World Cruise. “She was amazing just like Giovanni told me. I appreciated her a lot during her shows.

All three artists describe their experiences performing for Silversea guests in practically identical terms. “Silversea feels like home,” says Nguyen. “The intimacy of the space and being able to get to know the guests during the short period I have onboard, then being able to continue those friendships and relationships for years to come, is something I appreciate so much.”

Conte also highlights the warm and attentive nature of the Silversea audience, as well as pointing out that the shows are held to a very high standard. “To be a performer on board Silversea was really a privilege”. 

Palminteri, whose latest experience on Silversea for the 2020 World Cruise was cut short due to the global pandemic, is hopeful to soon return to the bright lights of The Show Lounge. “You create a direct contact with the guests, it’s really like a family,” he adds. “It’s a fantastic experience.”

Italian soprano Lucia Conte performing with an orchestra/Courtesy Lucia Conte

Meet the artists

Van-Anh Nguyen is a Universal/Decca Records-signed concert pianist, composer, producer and fashionista. Born in Sydney to Vietnamese refugee parents in 1987, Nguyen started learning the piano at the astounding age of 15 months with both of her parents (of whom are both professional musicians). By the age of 4, she was accepted into the Young Artists Program for gifted & talented musicians at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. By the age of 9, she had obtained her Associate Diploma in Music (Australia), and at aged 12, received her Licentiate Diploma in Music (Australia), making history as one of the youngest in her generation. A classical pianist that is also known for her multi-genre performances, she has won numerous awards and frequently features She frequently features as soloist with the Ho Chi Minh City Symphony Orchestra in Vietnam and the Vietnamese-American Philharmonic Orchestra in the USA. To date, she has released 7 albums across all major digital music outlets, and her next one is set to be released on October 16.

Giovanni Palminteri is a Sicilian-born opera singer with training in acting and music. He studied at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, under the tutelage of the famous baritone singer and vocal coach Lucio Gallo. Palminteri has performed in Italy and abroad, including performances at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Teatro Vincenzo Bellini in Catania and Hurghada, Egypt, with leading baritone roles in operas such as Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Charles Gounod’s Faust. He recently debuted with one of his favorite roles – “Figaro,” of the Barber of Seville, at the Teatro Politeama Greco in Lecce. He was selected to perform on board Silversea’s Silver Wind, Silver Shadow and most notably on the Silver Whisper for the World Cruise.

Lucia Conte studied Opera, Baroque and Vocal Chamber Music in Italy, attending prestigious academies such as Santa Cecilia in Rome, Scuola dell’Opera in Bologna and Celletti in Martina Franca. Additionally, Conte graduated in Foreign Languages from the University of Salento and speaks Italian, English, French and Spanish. In her career, she has cultivated a varied repertoire ranging from Baroque to contemporary music, including performances of La Traviata, Boheme, Carmen, Don Giovanni, Elisir d’Amore, Il ballo delle ingrate, La serva padrona and Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck. Conte’s dance and acting training has also allowed her to sing in operettas like Orphee aux Enfer and others. For over 10 years, she has also worked with Argentinian Tango, producing shows and concerts where she sings, acts and dances as part of the production Mi Noche de Tango.