English soprano Ruby Hughes is the latest to record an album of works written for a past singer, in this case Giulia Frasi. Much of what’s here is tastefully done, with careful attention to the score and a sense of overall polish. But there’s much room for Hughes to extend herself interpretatively, with many selections given the right emotional tenor but with little imagination. The owner of a bright, mellow instrument without much tonal variation, her soprano can make for monotonous listening, but it’s ideal for those arias that require simple, unaffected singing.
Highlights include Why is Death for Ever Late from Arne’s Artaxerxes, where Hughes’ excellent diction, firm sense of line and attractive timbre come into their own. Equally effective is the opening track, Crystal Streams in Murmurs Flowing, which shows off a solid middle voice, surprising for a soprano that seems to find its sweet spot in higher-lying music. She also does some lovely piano singing here, introducing a welcome wistfulness to Susanna’s aria.
Less successful is a suite of arias from Theodora, which requires a singer with a greater sense of drama. Hughes sounds too much like an innocent beset by difficult circumstances, rather than a woman with strong principles who has chosen her fate with open eyes. This same placidity undermines Will the Sun Forget to Streak, sounding inappropriately girlish for the Queen of Sheba. A solid effort, but a ways to go.