January 11, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Habanera (mezzo: Elina Garanca, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai/Chichon)

The concept gives her access to unexpectedly diverse repertoire. Several hits from Carmen appear, of course, including not only the Habanera everyone knows, but also Bizet’s rarely heard (and very different) first version of the aria; and there are songs from Falla, Obradors and Montsalvatge. But the gypsy angle also allows for surprises like I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls from Balfe’s Bohemian Girl, Lehár’s Hör ich Zymbalklänge (Zigeunerliebe) and even the Old Woman’s Tango from Bernstein’s Candide. Across this broad range of language and musical styles, Garanca’s voice is voluptuous and velvety as ever, as she revels in the sensual possibilities of tangos, habaneras and the odd csardas. Limpid, legato beauty abounds, and yet, as the disc progresses, Garanca’s arias seem to start to melt into one another. Perhaps it’s that Spanish sun, or perhaps the urge to unify so many diverse musical strands, but each selection, whatever its origin, is imbued with roughly the same sultry colours. The result, while eminently listenable, and with moments of loveliness, has a certain superficiality to it. Garanca has proven her ability to compel, but in Habanera, seductively as she sways, the glamour mezzo of the hour sounds like she might…

January 11, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: For Eternity (Celine Byrne, RTE National Symphony Orchestra)

Byrne had her big break in 2007, when she won the Maria Callas Grand Prix, and she’s maintained a busy schedule – if not massive stardom – ever since. Her website’s calendar shows a preponderance of concert peformances in the last three years, with just a scattering of operatic engagements. The repertoire selected for this disc reflects that: Byrne’s chosen arias are of the warhorse species, ideal for a gala if not always for her light, lyric soprano. She sings sweetly in Micaela’s Je dis and Marguerite’s Jewel Song, but sounds shrill and pressurised in heavier fare such as Un bel dì and Vissi d’arte. No surprise that Mimì is the only Puccini heroine currently in her repertoire. Byrne’s enthusiasm for Spanish comes through engagingly, while still lacking the last degree of idiomatic finesse. A lilting rendition of Granados’s La Maja y el Ruiseñor is the most successful of these selections. There’s a sense of the concert performance about Byrne’s delivery, too. Her phrasing and diction are mostly admirable, but her approach seems to focus more on dazzling climaxes than characterisation; her singing is extroverted and personable, but a sameness creeps in, with everything from Rusalka’s Song to the Moon…

January 3, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: MOZART Die Zauberflöte (Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin / Jacobs)

Jacobs goes to town in this new Die Zauberflöte, with sprightly tempi, unconventional vocal and instrumental flourishes and sound effects aplenty – all of it backed up at length in the lavish booklet. The singing is excellent: Daniel Behle (Tamino) and Marlis Petersen (Pamina) are an ardent, lyrical pair, Daniel Schmutzhard a witty Papageno, and Anna-Kristiina Kaappola an edgily effective if slightly unruly Königin. It’s very much an ensemble piece, however, with no single, dazzling standout; if this recording has a star, it is Jacobs himself. In his inimitable hands, this is Zauberflöte as you’ve never heard it before, and in all honesty, may never hear it again – a curiosity, but realised with a talent and conviction that are hard to resist. Only one major caveat remains: Jacobs has, true to form, retained what seems to be every last speck of dialogue, and while it’s handled with as much imagination as the singing, its interference may be a dealbreaker for some.

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