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Opera and Vocal CD Review: Tenors, Sopranos and a Mezzo

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 24 January 2005

Magdalena Kožená
Magdalena Kožená, mezzo soprano
Malcolm Martineau (piano); Paul Edmund-Davies (flute); Christoph Henschel (violin); Jirí Bárta (cello)
Henschel Quartet

Ravel - Chansons Madécasses; Shostakovich - Satiri; Respighi - Il tramonto; Schulhoff - Drei Simmungsbilder, op. 12; Britten - A Charm of Lullabies, Op. 41

DGG 471 581-2 (notes in English, French and German; texts in the original language and translations in English only - other languages via internet)

Magdalena Kožená

Magdalena Kožená's new calling card shows her facility in five languages other than her own, three of the five works included requiring instruments in addition to the customary piano. The results are generally excellent even though we might prefer other performances of individual works. Schulhoff's Drei Stimmungsbilder are, I believe, new to the catalogue and are in the same vein as contemporary pieces by Berg or Schoenberg, and equally effective. The Ravel is perhaps a shade too matter-of-fact, the Shostakovich Satires not as pointed as the incomparable Vishnevskaya made them, Il Tramonto lacking the sensuality brought to it by others. This is not to disparage Kožená's considerable talents on display here, nor the contributions of her collaborators, in what is a fascinating program.

Joseph Calleja - Tenor Arias
Joseph Calleja, tenor
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Milano Giusepe Verdi
Riccahrdo Chailly, conductor

Excerpts from Verdi - La Traviata, Macbeth, Rigoletto; Donizetti - Elisir d'Amore, Lucia di Lammermoor; Cilea - Adriana Lecouvreur, L'Arlesiana; Puccini - Madama Butterfly

Decca SACD 470 648-2 (notes in English, French and German; texts and translations in Italian and English)

Joseph Calleja-
				 Tenor Arias

Joseph Calleja is a young Maltese tenor (under 30) who is beginning to come to prominence. Previous exposure in a DVD of Maria Stuarda had me worried because of the insistent bleat in his voice, but that has now been tamed into a tight vibrato that is expertly captured by Decca's engineers. Calleja's light tenor is heard in excerpts from operas he has already sung on stage, with the exception of the three verismo excerpts; the charm he brings to his work is apparent, as is the schooling, while the contribution of Riccardo Chailly and the Verdi Orchestra of Milan is superlative. The only negative aspect is that 55 minutes is really short shrift these days, and one wonders why "the" aria from Elisir d'Amore was not included.

Natalie Dessay: Richard Strauss - Opera Scenes & Lieder
Natalie Dessay, Felicity Lott (soprano); Sophie Koch, Angelika Kirschschlager (mezzo); Thomas Allen (baritone)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Antonio Pappano, conductor

Excerpts from Ariadne auf Naxos, Arabella, Der Rosenkavalier, Brentano Lieder Op. 68

Virgin 7243 5 45705 2 0 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Natalie Dessay

Natalie Dessay's newest CD is devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, not only operatic Strauss but also the composer of lieder. Dessay is in excellent form, her interpretation of Zerbinetta constantly deepening, and with Sophie Koch as the Composer in the final scene of the Prologue to Ariadne we hear two singing actors at their best. Felicity Lott offers her now somewhat worn Arabella and Marschallin (the duet with Zdenka, the trio) but the remaining selections from Rosenkavalier with Angelika Kirschschlager are the essence of Strauss, even though Dessay has claimed that she really does not like Sophie. Four of the six Brentano lieder round out the disc, "Amor" the highlight. Antonio Pappano and the Covent Garden Orchestra are just the luxury surroundings to make this an eminently worthwhile acquisition.

Juan Diego Flórez - Great Tenor Arias
Juan Diego Flórez, tenor
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Milano Giuseppe Verdi
Carlo Rizzi, conductor

Excerpts from: Gluck - Orphée et Euridice; Verdi - Un giorno di regno, Rigoletto; Rossini - Semiramide, L'Italiana in Algeria; Donizetti - La figlia del reggimento, Lucrezia Borgia; Halévy - La Juive; Cimarosa - Il matrimonio segreto; Puccini - Gianni Schicchi

DECCA (CD; texts and translations in English, French and Italian)

				 Diego Flórez - Great Tenor Arias

Juan Diego Flórez's third recital album ranges further afield than his first two, one devoted to Rossini, the other to Bellini and Donizetti. We can appreciate that the tenor wants to widen his horizons, and it is conceivable that all the arias are from roles he might add to his repertory, though it sounds to me as if he is pushing here and there, rather than relying on the charm so amply displayed until now. The Gluck aria, in French (this is the tenor version), strides relentlessly forward, with little breathing space and no decorations. Léopold's Serenade from La Juive is sung without the requisite grace, but once back in Italian Flórez seems more comfortable. The Rossini selections are home territory, while the Donizetti offer novelty. The aria from Figlia del reggimento is from the Italian version and is in fact taken from an earlier work of the composer, Gianni di Calais (and not Gianni di Parigi as stated in John Steane's notes), while the aria from Lucrezia Borgia was written for the tenor Mario and has never previously been recorded. As with Joseph Calleja, Flórez is aware of his potential and is not squandering his voice in roles beyond his capacities, husbanding his resources so that we will have pleasure for many years to come.

Rolando Villazon - Italian Opera Arias
Rolando Villazon, tenor)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester
Marcello Viotti, condcutor

Arias by Cilea - L'Arlesiana; Donizetti - Elisir d'Amore, Lucia di Lammermoor; Salvi - Il Duca d'Alba; Verdi - I Lombardi, Don Carlo, Macbeth, Rigoletto, La Traviata; Puccini - La Bohème, Tosca; Mascagni - L'amico Fritz; Nerone

Virgin 7243 5 45626 2 4 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

				 Villazon - Italian Opera Arias

Rolando Villazon is one of the contenders in the tenorial stakes as to the succession of the now aging generation. He is gifted with a magnificent voice, a good technique, stylistic awareness, in short much of what is needed. He is also good-looking, a good actor (something of increasing importance in our times) and even sings well in French (not necessary for the cd under review). Villazon seems to be in control of his career, not going beyond his limits, stretching them on occasion but careful not to program heavier roles too often. Contributions by the Munich Radio Orchestra and its chief conductor, Marcello Viotti, are serviceable. I would point out to the artistic supervisors that the aria from Il Duca d'Alba is not by Donizetti but most likely Matteo Salvi, who completed Donizetti's unfinished score - Donizetti's aria found its home in La Favorita as "Spirto gentil". It is also strange to hear the tenor's aria from Lucia without its concluding section, but that would have involved the extra expense of a bass soloist and a chorus. Don't be put out by my nitpicking - Rolando Villazon is already an accomplished performer whose talents are clearly represented here.

Deborah Voigt - Obsessions
Wagner and Strauss - Arias and Scenes
Deborah Voigt (soprano); Natascha Petrinsky (mezzo)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Richard Armstrong, condcutor

Excerpts from Tannhäuser, Die Walküre, Tristan und Isolde, Elektra, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Salomé

EMI 7243 5 57681 2 4 (notes in English only; texts and translations in English and German)

Deborah Voigt - Obsessions

Deborah Voigt's first solo album allows us to hear her in her repertoire of predilection, some of which she has already recorded complete (Isolde, Chrysothemis, Ariadne, Kaiserin). The soprano occasionally finds it difficult to convey the mood of the character in these extracts, something that poses less of a problem in a complete performance. But the voice soars where necessary, carrying us along of floods of tone. Richard Armstrong and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra offer solid support, so that anyone wishing an introduction to the soprano will certainly find accommodation in this disc.

Schubert - Die Winterreise
Ian Bostridge (tenor); Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

EMI 7243 5 57790 2 1 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Ian Bostridge
				 (tenor); Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

It was only to be expected that Ian Bostridge would not wait too much longer before giving us his version of Schubert's masterpiece. The performance has certainly been deeply considered, as Bostridge explains in his notes to the CD, but the performance does not quite meet the standards set by previous recordings. Bostridge's mannerisms often get in the way of our enjoyment: his way of leaning into a note, thereby disfiguring the vowel sound and not always to any purpose, too often detracts from the music. Andsnes is effective, making much of the piano part but never unnecessarily draws attention away from his partner.

Vivaldi - Motets
Patrizia Ciofi, soprano
Europa Galante
Fabio Biondi, violin and conductor

Laudate pueri Dominum RV 600; In furore giustissimae irae RV 626; In turbato mare irato RV 627; O qui coeli terraeque serenitas RV 631

Virgin 7243 5 45704 2 1 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

				 - Motets

Patrizia Ciofi is rapidly becoming one of our favorites among the younger singers with her ability to encompass not only the coloratura repertory but also the lyric. This CD of Vivaldi motets captures her warmth in the slower movements but also the vitality she brings to the chains of fioritura. Fabio Biondi is an ideal leader for this music, while the occasional bursts from the bass trombone liven up the otherwise strings-only accompaniment.

.Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com.

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