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FRESH AND FAMILIAR VOICES: NEW RECORDINGS FOR A NEW YEAR

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 7 JANUARY 2009 - During my sabbatical from Culturekiosque's Operanet, I have not been totally absent from the operatic world. From time to time various recordings and CDs come my way - which helps explain some of the idiosyncrasy of the following selection, based on what has been sent for review.

Universal is doing its best to corner the tenor market, and it is the first solo album by Jonas Kaufmann (B0010837-02) that is virtually self-recommending. It is not only the voice itself, solid from bottom to top, but the stylishness with which it is used that captures our attention. When we realize that most of the selections are from operas he has already sung on stage, we appreciate his seriousness as we wait for him to tackle, for example, the lighter Wagnerian repertory, yet at the same time that he maintains in his active repertory Verdi's La Traviata in which Alfredo is the least significant of the three principals. His ventures into the French repertory demonstrate his chameleon-like ability to take on the colors associated with Faust (Berlioz and Gounod), Des Grieux and Don José.

Listening once again to the reissue of an early Marilyn Horne album dedicated to the Garcia sisters (Souvenirs of a Golden Age - 475 8493) is at the same time homage to Horne herself. The breadth of repertory (from Gluck to bel canto to Meyerbeer, Gounod and Verdi) reminds us of how versatile were the Garcia girls but also Horne, however much their careers were centered on Rossini - Papa Garcia was of course the first Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. .

Once again we are reminded of the genius that emanated from the Benjamin Britten-Peter Pears partnership. From the BBC archives Universal has issued Billy Budd on DVD (074 3256) in which we can marvel at the clarity of the diction (so that subtitles are unnecessary) and at the dramatic force that both composer and interpreter are capable of eliciting. Had I received Peter Grimes, that would most likely have been at the top of my list of recommendations considering the historic significance of both the work and the interpretation.

Opera Rara continues along its chosen path of delving into byways with its recording of Ambroise Thomas's La cour de Célimène (ORC 37) that puts the lie to Chabrier's comment: "There are two kinds of music, good and bad. And then there's the music of Ambroise Thomas." The work is suffused with charm, the story is slight as is the cast, but Laura Claycomb, Sébastien Droy and Alastair Miles are characterful as well as accomplished singers.

Joyce DiDonato's first solo album for Virgin Classics, Furore - Mad Scenes From Operas, is all Handel, but Handel in all his veins, from Ariodante's plaintive "Scherza infida" with its bassoon obligato to Dejanira's mad scene, again the singer encompassing the multitude of emotions while not neglecting the heavy musical demands. Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques collaborate, as usual, on an equally high level.

Disappointments came with Renée Fleming's Strauss album that emphasized the singer's increasing delight in affectation, however beautiful the sound she produces and a BBC resuscitation of Schubert's Winterreise on DVD in which we see Peter Pears in Victorian overcoat in an abstract setting without subtitles (though the singer prefaces each of the songs with a summary of its content).

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque.com



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