November 7, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Russian Light (Olga Peretyatko, Ural Philharmonic/Dmitri Liss)

There have been a number of recital discs dedicated to Russian repertoire in recent years, most memorably Aida Garifullina’s solo debut on Decca. Peretyatko’s Russian Light is a slightly different project however. Less of a hotchpotch, it focuses on a few composers, allowing for a more coherent picture of the artist. What is shared, however, is a pleasing idiomatic delivery that goes a long way with an offering such as this. Peretyatko made her name in most of the typical ina-roles, known more for her coloratura than a real engagement with character or text. While this recording still reveals an artist finding her way, it gives listeners a taste of her developing lower register, shown off to greatest advantage in the Rachmaninov selections. The Vocalise is nicely done, demonstrating an attractive velvety tone and dark colours we don’t always get with lighter sopranos, while the inherent nostalgia of Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne shows that Peretyatko can sing with real intention when she chooses. Her overall precision and musicality is also to be commended. The soprano shines brightest in Marfa’s aria from The Tsar’s Bride. Marvellously controlled, she tosses off cadenzas and pianos with facility, building to an emotional climax…

November 7, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Écho (Joyce El-Khoury, Hallé/Carlo Rizzi)

Opera Rara was created to explore forgotten bel canto operas. Fifty years on it has an award-winning catalogue and a starry stable of artists. Two of these, tenor Michael Spyres and soprano Joyce El-Khoury, have released recital discs, each featuring guest appearances from the other. Écho, the Lebanese-Canadian soprano’s debut solo recording, is a tribute to 19th-century soprano Julie Dorus-Gras, whose dramatic and vocal range made her the soloist of choice for Donizetti, Berlioz, Meyerbeer and more. It’s easy to see the appeal for El-Khoury, whose craggy, smoky soprano carries unusual weight and depth of colour in this repertoire. She won’t be for everyone; fans of Sutherland’s silken smoothness will find El-Khoury’s texture too pitted and uneven. But the dramatic payoff is striking, especially in roles like Lucia (whose Regnava nel silenzio and the duet Verranno a te sull’aure both feature), where the heroine has a woman’s confidence and depth, as well as an agility that belies the size of her instrument. Which isn’t to say she can’t do simple beauty. Ils s’eloignent enfin from Guillaume Tell unfolds in a lovely long legato, and Benvenuto Cellini’s Les belles fleurs shows El-Khoury’s more youthful side, finding a piquancy so evident in…

November 7, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Espoir (Michael Spyres, Hallé/Carlo Rizzi)

Of the 19th-century singers who created the framework for what we consider the modern tenor voice, three stand out: Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839), Giovanni Battista Rubini (1794-1854) and Gilbert Duprez (1806-96). Each in his way explored the upper register using varying degrees of chest voice as opposed to the falsetto commonly deployed in the Baroque. As the instrument developed, so composers wrote increasingly demanding roles for their male stars – Rossini for Rubini, Bellini for Nourrit, and Donizetti for Duprez. Rubini’s membership of the famous ‘Puritani Quartet’ and Nourrit’s grisly end – depressed by his declining career, he leapt to his death from the roof of a Naples hotel – have rather eclipsed Duprez. A pity, as with his chested high Cs in a legendary 1837 performance of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, he can stake a greater claim to historical importance. But Duprez was more than just your standard ‘park and bark’ tenor as this fascinating recital by American rising star Michael Spyres goes to prove. Duprez, in fact, started out singing Almaviva in his native Paris, and that lyricism and flexibility would stay with him, informing his later Italian career and especially the close working and personal friendship the singer formed…

October 6, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Saint-Saëns: Proserpine

Proserpine is neither Classical nor a classic. She isn’t the queen of Hades but a 16th-century Italian courtesan who falls in love with the wrong man, tries to kill his fiancée, and stabs herself when he rejects her. Parisian audiences didn’t take her to their hearts. She appeared before them for a mere ten performances in 1887, briefly surfaced 12 years later, and then sank without trace until the Palazzetto Bru Zane, dedicated to the rediscovery of French Romantic opera, brought her back. Bru Zane’s standards are, as usual, impeccable. Ulf Schirmer’s conducting is lucid and elegant, and the recording stars the soprano Véronique Gens in the title role. I recently heard her sing Halévy’s Reine de Chypre in Paris, and was struck, as I am here, by her warm voice and insight into character. Proserpine itself isn’t easy to warm to on first or even second listening, but it’s interesting to hear a French composer grappling with Wagner. The melody lies in the orchestra – the vocal line is largely heightened recit, bar some exquisite ensembles in Act II. Contemporary audiences found the “advanced” composition difficult to grasp, but the orchestration, to a modern ear, sounds more like Gounod…

October 6, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Tim Minchin: Groundhog Day

After the huge success of Matilda The Musical, Tim Minchin’s next show Groundhog Day is yet more proof (if any were needed) of his gift as a composer-lyricist. Written with Danny Rubin, the musical is adapted from the cult 1993 film about arrogant weatherman Phil Connors (Andy Karl) who is forced to keep living the same day until he rediscovers his humanity and finds love. Many of Minchin’s melodies are instantly memorable, others repay repeated listening. The lyrics capture character and are smart and witty yet conversational. His knack with rhyming and inventive almost-rhymes also keeps things fresh. The overture is reminiscent of the pulsing chords that open Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but from there we’re into the altogether different world of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with the catchy ensemble number There Will Be Sun, juxtaposed with Connors’ cynicism. Numbers range from the dark rockiness of Hope, to country and western duo Nobody Cares for two loser-boozers, to wry comedy number One Day, sung by Rita (Barrett Doss). There are also several beautiful ballads including the aching Night Will Come about grief sung by insurance salesman Ned Ryerson (John Sanders). There are a few sequences where a lot is unfolding on stage,…

September 29, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Heroines of Love and Loss (Ruby Hughes, Mime Yamahiro-Brinkmann, Jonas Nordberg)

Are the heroines of the title the female narrators of these songs and arias, or are they the composers – women including Claudia Sesa, Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini and Lucrezia Vizzana – who surmounted impossible challenges to give voice to their music? They are, of course, both, and it’s a combination that makes for a charged programme. A natural storyteller never afraid to paint period music in rich hues, soprano Ruby Hughes delights in the expressive details of Strozzi’s arioso-like L’Eraclito Amoroso and Lagrime mie. Both are closer to opera than chamber music, the latter opening in a prescient clatter of chromatics. If Hughes takes risks, they only match those of the music. Sesa and Vizzana represent the women confined to convents, for whom music was a rare emotional and expressive outlet. Sesa’s Occhi io vissi di voi has all the erotic spirituality of Teresa of Avila’s writings – a love-song clothed in vestments, and while Vizzana’s O Magnum Mysterium is more restrained, the contrast of the chromatic wounds of the verse to the consonant balm of the Alleluia is a poignant as it is sophisticated. Leavening the vocal music with a thoughtful selection of instrumental works, Jonas Nordberg and Mime…

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