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By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 20 December 2006

Mozart: Mass in C Minor, K.427
Natalie Dessay, Véronique Gens (sopranos); Topi Lehtipuu (tenor); Luca Pisaroni (bass)
Le Concert d’Astrée
Louis Langrée, conductor
Virgin 00946 359305 2 8 (texts and translations in English, French and German; DVD included of recording sessions and interviews with sopranos and conductor)


Natalie Dessay’s horizons have broadened considerably since her return to the operatic and concert world. She is a spirited contributor to Mozart’s c minor Mass, though easily finding the poetry for the extraordinary Et incarnatus est. Véronique Gens encompasses the Handelianisms of her solo, and the sopranos have a wonderful time in their duet. Louis Langrée emphasizes the baroque elements of the score to our amazed enjoyment, but Mozart was then coming to grips with several of his predecessors whose music had fallen into oblivion. There is no evidence of the handicap under which the conductor is working, as we see in the accompanying dvd where he has his right arm immobilized in a sling. A joyful recording, with a solemn filler, the Masonic Funeral Music, K.477. 


Mozart: Arias
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano)
Jos van Imerseel, fortepiano
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Sir Simon Rattle, conductor
Archiv 00289 477 5799 (texts and translations in English, French and German)


Mozart’s concert arias are a domain that has not always been assiduously explored, but singers are slowly coming to realize the untold riches they contain. Magalena  Kožená is one of a new breed of singers, clearly fascinated by repertoire that is off the beaten track, but at the same time eager to show she can also dominate more familiar paths. She is also a singer who stretches far beyond her mezzo denomination, not always with total success but nonetheless always fascinating. Some of the blame here lies with Simon Rattle who has adopted a tendency verging on immobility in slow arias (Fiordiligi’s "Per pieta", the slow section of "Vado, ma dove") or an impossibly rapid pace in the latter part of "Alma grande"), in neither case particularly congenial for the singer. She is also obliged to take some unaccustomed breaths at times. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment of course offers a plush cushion for the straightforward tones of the singer, but why is the fortepiano so far in the background in the magnificent K.505 ("Non mi scordi di te") and the basset horn so close in Vitellia’s aria that you can hear the keys rattling.


Tutto Mozart
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); with Miah Persson (soprano); Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor
DGG 00289 477 5886 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Bryn Terfel’s latest Mozartean excursion is a voyage through a number of Mozart’s baritone roles, most of which he has sung on stage, and four concert arias, a genre in which the composer left a number of masterpieces, two of which can be heard here. The voice is as smooth as ever, the low end of the register called for in one of the concert arias perhaps a bit beyond the comfort zone, but this is magnificent singing, whether it be Papageno, Giovanni or Guglielmo, not to mention Count Almaviva. Miah Persson and Christine Rice sing the farewell trio from Cosi fan tutte, but alas the close miking deprives the listener of the magic that results when the blend between voice and orchestra is more subtle. But that is a recurrent complaint today. Charles Mackerras has now reached iconic status in this repertoire, though we think he might have encouraged Terfel to be a bit more generous with decoration. This is nonetheless a disc that will give pleasure to a large audience.


Russian Album
Anna Netrebko (soprano); with Zlata Bulycheva (mezzo-soprano); Dmitry Voropaev (tenor); Alexander Morozov (bass-baritone); Ilya Bannik (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theater
Valery Gergiev, conductor
DGG 00289 477 6151 (texts and translations in French and German; but presumably copies sold in the United States will also offer English)


Total delight! Despite the excessive mediatization, Anna Netrebko is capable of delivering the goods in this recording of music that is second nature to her. While many have relegated the soprano to a lyric coloratura limbo, she is capable of a far wider range, as this recording makes clear, where only one item falls into that category. Sopranos who can pass the test of Tatiana’s Letter Scene are no slouches and here the goods are delivered. How often do we get to hear anything from the operas of Rimsky-Korsakov: Tsar Saltan, Snegurochka and the Tsar’s Bride are not exactly daily fare and display varying facets of both the composer and the singer, from Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, who melts before our eyes to the deceived Marfa. Glinka, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev are present, not to mention Tchaikovsky, with the aforementioned scene from Onegin and also an excerpt from the rarely encountered Iolanta. Who else but Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky forces would be the obvious choices to accompany (in every sense) Netrebko on this journey, and they are major contributors to the success.


Homage: The Age of the Diva
Renée Fleming (soprano); with Yvona Skvarova (mezzo-soprano) and Kiril Terentiev (violin)
Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Decca 475 8068 (texts and translations in English, French and German)


After one or two disappointments among her recital discs, Renée Fleming gains high marks with her new program entitled Homage – The Age of the Diva. The repertory is almost entirely unfamiliar, most of it also first encounters for the soprano herself. (She admits in an interview that she has sufficient material for another three cds.) Known to all opera lovers are the arias from Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur and Trovatore, but we must be grateful for the opportunity to hear extracts from Smetana’s neglected Dalibor, sung with amazing thrust, Tchaikovsky’s Oprichnik, Strauss’s Liebe der Danae, Massenet’s Cléopâtre, two operas by Erich Korngold and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Servilia, unknown to virtually every expert in the field. The lengthy extract from Jenufa offers a serviceable Kostelnicka and an excellent violin solo, in support of a heartfelt interpretation. To my ears the least successful items are the most familiar, in which Fleming’s vocal idiosyncrasies are to the fore – I have rarely heard so vulgar a rendition of "Vissi d’arte". But this CD lives up to its name in that it is homage to sopranos of the past who were singular artists, but it is also homage to Fleming herself who once again demonstrates that her technique is solid (the coloratura of Mireille or Trovatore ), she can sustain a long line, she can trill, in short there is little she cannot do. Perhaps in emulation of her predecessors she too has what we today would call moments in which personality takes precedent over musicality – the end of Mireille’s Waltz, for example. Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra are ideal partners.


Natalie Dessay: Le miracle d’une voix
Virgin DVD 0094 6 363339 9 1 (notes in English, French and German; subtitles in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian)


Natalie Dessay is today’s favored coloratura soprano, though she has made it clear that she would prefer to enlarge her horizons to encompass roles that are dramatically more rewarding than many that otherwise come her way. This DVD offers 13 selections, many of which have not previously been available commercially, showing all facets of  this gifted soprano, from the comic (three different versions of Olympia’s aria) to the tragedy of Ophélie or Lucie. One can choose to watch only the musical portions of the DVD or see it with Dessay’s interspersed (mostly anecdotal) commentary, but the latter is something you will only watch once as it is filmed in the most dreadful arty-farty fashion. But what a joy from beginning to end, from her almost timid "Frühlingsstimmerwaltzer" interpolated in a Viennese Fledermaus performance in 1993, to the assurance brought to the above-mentioned Mad scenes, the two very different approaches to the Queen of the Night in different stagings, to the utter folly of Olympia as seen by Louis Erlo (bittersweet rather than comic) or the antic stagings of Andrei Serban or Jérome Savary. Two versions of Zerbinetta’s aria show two very different characterizations, while the "Duo de la mouche" from Orphée aux enfers remains hilarious every time one sees it. And for high-note fanciers, a must.

Related CK Archive: A Christmas Grab-bag Part One: Complete Operas 

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com

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