South African soprano Pretty Yende’s Cinderella story of a career is like catnip to Sony’s marketing department, who have now ensured that the singer’s first two recital discs are part of an autobiographical narrative, and packaged in pastelly, pre-teen shades under wafty, abstractly aspirational titles. But both last year’s A Journey and this year’s Dreams deserve better. Yende and her recordings are each capable of standing on their own merits, as this collection of bel canto makes abundantly clear.
The rose-tinted title translates to a theme of heroines who are yearning to escape their situations, to find freedom and love. This allows Yende scope to include Gounod’s Juliette alongside Donizetti’s Lucia and Bellini’s Amina, as well as the less well-known heroines of Linda di Chamounix, La Straniera and Dinorah.
Yende certainly has the skills for this dramatic range. Her lyric coloratura is, as the booklet note acknowledges, heavier than most current international Lucias, but with it comes a wonderfully anchored quality, a sense of depth even in the fluffiest of filigree semiquaver passages. It really is a classy instrument, pure, lustrous gold with just a hint of burnished husk when required, and capable of narrowing down to the fluting silver of Lucia’s upper register for the mad scene (beautifully accompanied here by rising young conductor Giacomo Sagripanti and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano “Giuseppe Verdi”).
But what we lack here in this polished, impeccable recital, is a sense of true volatility of desperation. These are (mostly) women at the edge, but Yende never feels less than totally in control – her ornaments and cadenzas the stuff of careful repetition rather than seemingly spontaneous expression. It would be interesting, by way of contrast, to hear a live recording of a singer who is such a vital, charismatic force on the opera stage.
But there’s no faulting the artistry of this superb recording, which hits all the high notes (quite literally). The end of Ombre legere from Meyerbeer’s Dinorah is a defiant, gauntlet-throwing piece of bravura that shows beyond doubt anything her nimbler rivals can do, she can do bigger and better.