Joyce DiDonato – Stella di Napoli

 

Joyce DiDonato gives us here a collection of largely little known bel canto arias, some by composers such as Pacini, Mercadante, Valentini and Carafa who are hardly household names. It doesn’t get off to the best of starts as the heroine of Pacini’s Stella di Napoli sings a jolly little ditty, in which the heroine berates her lover for not being there to hear her dying breath. It is the sort of aria that gives bel canto opera a bad name and is exactly the thing Gilbert and Sullivan took such delight in parodying.

Happily we are on much stronger ground with the next item, a lovely elegiac piece from Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, and thereafter things greatly improve, though it is safe to say the best items are those by the more well-known triumvirate of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, even if the final item, a fourteen minute excerpt from Pacini’s Saffo does much to exonerate him.

DiDonato’s singing is supremly accomplished with a mastery of coloratura, scales, trills and legato which is second to none. Added to her technical accomplishments, she has a wonderful grasp of the dramatic situations presented and there is no doubt that she is pre-eminent in the field today. If I were nit-picking, I would say that her singing doesn’t quite have the sheer personality of some of her predecessors in this music, and the preghiera from Maria Stuarda doesn’t quite erase memories of Montserrat Caballé or Janet Baker in the same piece. But, that would be unfair and we should be grateful for what we have, which is a great deal; a singer at the height of her powers with a beautiful voice, technically proficient, put at the service of the music.

She is excellently supported by the Orchestre ey Choer de l’Opéra de Lyon under Riccardo Minasi and the disc comes with notes, texts and translations, though a little more information about the dramatic situations would have been welcome. Warmly recommended.

Agnes Baltsa – Famous Opera Arias

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Good to be reminded of Baltsa’s pre-eminence as a lyric/dramatic mezzo at the beginning of the 1980s, when this recital was recorded.

The recital shows off to advantage her keen dramatic instinct, a tangily individual timbre, and a voice that was, at this time at least, absolutely seamless from top to bottom. Though she had already recorded Eboli and Amneris for Karajan, this recital concentrates for the most part on her work in the field of bel canto.

Baltsa was an exciting stage performer, as I can attest, having seen her live on many occasions and a great deal of that excitement comes through on disc, the climaxes of the arias from La Favorita and Il Giuamento being particularly thrilling. She has a strong vocal personality, which comes across stunningly on disc, and she realises the different demands of classical, Romantic and verismo music. If there is a limitation, it is that she rarely colours or weights the voice to suit the character she is playing, something more noticeable in a recital disc than it would be in a complete performance.

Stand out tracks for me were the aria from La Donna del Lago, where she gently caresses the opening cavatina, and the aforementioned arias from Il Giuramento and La Favorita. Indeed, on this showing it is a great pity that nobody thought to make a complete recording of the Donizetti opera with her, though preferably in the original French rather than Italian as it is here.

To sum up, this is a great memento of an important singer recorded when the voice was at its peak. I seem to remember that it was issued in the UK originally on EMI, but the recording was made by Orfeo, and it is that issue I have.