Let’s get one thing out of the way. The engineering on this anticipated release does no justice whatsoever to the size, depth or colour of rising star Anita Rachvelishvili’s very fine instrument. A throwback to the past, it’s one of those rich, fruity mezzos with chest for days, but unlike so many of those golden age singers, it’s wielded with considerable taste and control. Although it’s not the most exciting offering in terms of repertoire, with most of the selections mezzo bread and butter, Rachvelishvili’s stylish singing and vivid characterisations more than make up for the fatigue of hearing the Habañera for the thousandth time.

Take Charlotte’s Letter Aria for instance, and listen to how distinctly she differentiates between Werther’s thoughts and her own. The smile in her voice as she recalls seeing him play with the children is lovely, while the dawning realisation of Werther’s troubled state of mind culminates in the spine tingling repeats of “tu frémiras”, each coloured with a different intention.

Dalila’s Printemps qui commence is particularly special, all tender solicitousness on the surface with just a hint of danger peeking through. Her breath control in this and Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix, one vocal caress, is something to behold, while her warm lower register comes into its own despite the poor capture, which tends to flatten out tonal colour and variation.

Elsewhere, O ma lyre immortelle from Gounod’s Sapho shows off her impressively secure, floaty top, and superb legato singing. She’s positively haunting in Lyubasha’s Aria from The Tsar’s Bride – one imagines the Russian rep would fit like a glove – her dynamic control and shimmering sound heard to great advantage. The only criticism one could make here is the sense that she’s taking the aria a bit cautiously, but it’s small potatoes.

Moving to more standard fare, Rachvelishvili turns on the smoulder for the inevitable Habañera and Seguidilla, but doesn’t overdo the femme fatale thing, painting instead a more introspective Carmen. Equally effective is her understated approach to Voi lo sapete, deeply felt rather than steeped in the usual verismo tricks.

Her Verdi selections are among the most exciting on this disc, with a powerhouse O don fatale seeing her rip into her chest voice with thrilling ease, a brilliant study in anguish and resolve. Her Condotta ell’era in ceppi makes you think how Verdi was right to consider naming his opera Azucena, while her Veil Song is simply delicious.

Composer: Bizet, Verdi, Gounod
Composition: Opera arias
Performer: Anita Rachvelishvili ms, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI/Giacomo Sagripanti
Catalogue Number: Sony 19075808752