Lucia Popp was, still is, one of the world’s most loved soprano. I only had the pleasure of hearing her live once, in the mid 1980s at a recital at the Barbican at which she sang Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben at around the same time most of this disc was recorded. Though she didn’t speak until introducing her encores at the end (gorgeous Strauss songs, if I remember correctly), she had a winning personality and a sort of relaxed, casual manner that made you feel you were one of a few friends she had invited into her living room for an evening of song.
She was an accomplished Mozart singer and the first part of this recital was recorded at the time she was making the transition from roles like Zerlina, Blonde, Despina and Susanna to the Countess, Konstanze, Fiordilgi and the two Donne in Don Giovanni. She had an immediately recognisable sound, the voice bright and silvery, though, by the mid 1980s, it is possible to detect a slight tarnish on its purity at the very top, which I don’t hear in the sacred arias recorded in 1967 when she was in her late 20s. Nonetheless she makes a convincing Fiordiligi managing the wide leaps with dramatic aplomb. Both Donna Anna and Donna Elvira also go well. Not surprisingly, considering her early prowess as a coloratura, she tosses of Anna’s flourishes with an ease that would be the envy of most dramatic sopranos.
I don’t know if she ever sang Cherubino on stage, but his character is caught beautifully in a wide-eyed Voi che sapete, whilst the Countess’s Porgi amor is not only sung with poise but captures her aching loneliness. However, my favourite tracks in this first recital are the opening L’ameró, saro constante from Il ré pastore, Illia’s ideally floated Zeffiretti lusinghieri and, best of all, Susanna’s Deh vieni, non tardar, which captures to perfection the tender ambiguity of the piece.
When we move to the sacred arias from 1967, it is to hear a voice which is brighter, firmer and purer, perfectly suited to the music she is singing here, but it is still recognisably the same voice. Occasionally one is aware, both in 1967 and 1983, of what John Steane referred to as the “tooth-paste squeeze” method, her legato not quite perfect, but for the most part this is a lovely voice, well schooled and with a strong personality.