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By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 2 MAY 2007

Aria Cantilena
Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano); with Adrienne Pieczonka and Diana Damrau; Staatskapelle Dresden
Fabio Luisi, conductor
DGG 477 6231 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Elīna Garanča’s third recital album demonstrates a mastery that was certainly missing from her first cd dating from 2001, however bizarre the program might be. The Aria from Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas brasileiras No. 5 (here played in an orchestral arrangement) and Montsalvage’s Madrigal sobre un tema popular are somewhat out of place in this context, other than to show off the singer’s voice, as listeners would certainly prefer further operatic excerpts. Some of these are from roles already in the singer’s repertoire (Cenerentola, Werther, Rosenkavalier), others indicate paths to follow (Italiana, Hoffmann), and we are fascinated throughout. No expense has been spared with chorus and secondary singers in excerpts from Cenerentola, La Grande-Duchesse de GĂ©rolstein, Italiana) not to mention two such exceptional voices as Adrienne Pieczonka and Diana Damrau in the final trio and duet from Rosenkavalier. Fabio Luisi and the Staatskapelle Dresden offer a luxurious cushion for the lush mezzo-soprano voice. 


Joseph Calleja: The Golden Voice
Joseph Calleja (tenor); with Anna Netrebko and Tatiana Lisnic (soprano); Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Carlo Rizzi, conductor
Decca 475 6931 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Two years ago I reviewed Joseph Calleja’s first recital and can perhaps repeat verbatim what I said at that time. The voice is well-schooled, the vibrato even better controlled, the ability to do a diminuendo on just about any note in his range even more prominent, so that we are always impressed by the control. At the same time, we are bothered by the choppy phrases in the French arias, and surely Nadir’s aria from Bizet’s PĂŞcheur de Perles should be sung throughout in a mezza voce. The humor of Offenbach seems to elude the singer, and the aria whose absence I questioned two years ago is present here, winningly sung ("Una furtive lagrima" from Donizetti’s Elisir d’amore). One might question why two Donizetti arias are sung in Italian translation when the operas were written for the Paris Opera (La favorite and Dom SĂ©bastien), and why the aria from Il Duca d’Alba is credited to Donizetti when it was written (perhaps) by Matteo Salvi, and is more ersatz Ponchielli than anything else. Anna Netrebko joins in a duet from La Sonnambula to good effect, but there is nonetheless a slight disappointment in that the tenor has not progressed significantly in the two years between the recordings. We are now two years further on and it would be interesting to hear Calleja today, but perhaps the gap before the next recording will be shorter.


Vivica Genaux: Arias by Handel and Hasse
Vivica Genaux (mezzo-soprano)
Les Violons du Roy
Bernard Labadie, conductor
Virgin 7243 5 45737 2 9 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Once again Vivica Genaux shows us that she has few rivals today when it comes to velocity, but at the same time she makes music, for not all is upbeat on this CD. Genaux is also capable of sustaining a long lyric line, essential for both the composers featured here. There are three arias from Hasse’s Arminio and a cantata, while Handel is represented by two arias from Orlando (including the amazing mad scene), one bravura piece from Alcina for two obbligato horns alongside the singer and a cantata. The baroque/bel canto mix that dominates the mezzo’s career seems to be doing no harm as she finds the way to make the music expressive while her virtuosity is given full reign. Bernard Labadie and the Quebec-based Les Violons de Roy are full partners in music-making.


Donizetti: L’Elisir d’amore
Anna Netrebko (Adina); Inna Los (Giannetta); Rolando Villazón (Nemorino); Leo Nucci (Belcore); Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Dulcamara)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper
Alfred Eschwé, conductor
Otto Schenk, stage director
Katrina Fibich, video director
Virgin DVD 00946 363352 9

Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón are the new onstage pair that steals the headlines, for they do exude a chemistry that is all too rare today. Donizetti’s comedy is tailor-made for their talents, but this production "after" Otto Schenk and dating from the 1980s is given over to a great deal of mugging, especially by the tenor. We can appreciate his involvement in what he does, but someone should really tell him that a 50 percent reduction in his mugging and hyperactivity might just be a tad more productive, and far more restful for him and the audience. Where this production goes astray is that Villazón plays Nemorino as the village simpleton, so that it is difficult to imagine why the much sharper Adina should even fall for him. That aspect is skirted and the two are finally paired off as Donizetti intended. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo is a much younger Dulcamara than is customary and he can sing the role. Leo Nucci, twice as old as anyone else in the cast, blusters his way through the role of Belcore when some degree of vocal nicety is required. Alfred Eschwé’s traditional reading, complete with the usual theater cuts, suits the production, which is worth watching at least once to catch Villazón’s turn at juggling.


Donizetti: Dom SĂ©bastien, roi de Portugal
Vesselina Kasarova (Zayda); Giuseppe Filianoti (Dom Sébastien); Carmelo Corrado Caruso (Camoëns); Simon Keenlyside (Abayaldos); Alastair Miles (Dom Juam); Robert Gleadow (Dom Henrique); John Upperton (Dom Antonio/First Inquisitor); Lee Hickenbottom (Second Inquisitor); Andrew Slater (Ben-Sélim); Martyn Hill (Dom Luis); Nigel Cliffe (Soldier); John Bernays (Third Inquisitor)
Royal Opera House Orchestra & Chorus
Mark Elder, conductor
OPERA RARA ORC 33 (3 cds: texts and translations in Italian and English)

Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien is one of those operas that carries a reputation as a masterpiece but with little documentary proof in the way of performances or recordings. This first recording of the complete opera in the original French makes use of Mary Ann Smart’s critical edition, so that we can now hear the work as Donizetti intended.

Sébastien is probably the most somber work Donizetti ever penned, from the funeral march that makes its first appearance in the short prelude (which Mahler must have known, perhaps through Liszt’s pianistic adaptation or even performances in Vienna, with its pre-echo of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen ) to the moments where the Inquisition is present, to the rapid dénouement that may very well outpace even Verdi at his most concise. There is but one female role, perhaps a privilege demanded by Rosine Stolz who was also the mistress of the Director of the Paris Opera. Sébastien was sung by Gilbert-Louis Duprez, the inventor of the high C sung in full voice, but no longer performing with his earlier facility, so that he has only one aria—but an aria unconventionally placed at the end of Act 2 and fiendishly difficult, to boot. The character with the most solo opportunities is the poet, Camoëns, perhaps Donizetti’s most grateful baritone role. Abayaldos is a killer baritone role, relentlessly emphatic at the top of the staff, while Dom Juam, like so many of his bass predecessors in other operas of the period, has few solo opportunities but must nonetheless be imposing vocally and scenically.

Mark Elder is the master architect who holds together the various strands with no flagging of tension. The Covent Garden forces are in excellent form, the orchestra particularly enjoying the music and the many opportunities given to the first-chair players. Giuseppe Filianoti in the title role may not yet have the requisite power and subtlety to give us a rounded portrait of Sébastien, but he is not far off the mark. Vesselina Kasarova’s exotic timbre is here put to the service of the music, with the occasional bulge in the vocal line that is her trademark. Simon Keenlyside as the Moorish monarch handles the high-lying tessitura with no difficulty, but surely his role is Camoëns where his almost perfect French and impeccable phrasing might have been heard to greater advantage. Carmelo Corrado Caruso’s poet is gruff on occasion where required by the drama but his ode to Lisbon touches us deeply. Once again we are spoiled by the accompanying booklet in which Jeremy Commons gives us all the information we need to appreciate the work at hand.

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com

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