This is technically a compilation, but in fact (so
far as I can establish) all but four of the sixteen items come from
a single previous disc, Erato 0630 17071-2, which carried the title
‘Sole e amore’. That title (Sunshine and love) was derived from one
of three songs imaginatively included on the original release, in which
Kiri te Kanawa was accompanied by the Australian pianist Roger Vignoles.
In the quest (one imagines) for bigger sales, Warner have re-released
this disc without the items which initially caused it to stand out from
the crowd (the songs) and, to take their place, have incorporated additional
tracks by different artists. Whatever their strengths, these interpolations
could be said to disturb the flow of Kiri te Kanawa’s recital. And for
reasons unclear, the original (for the most part chronological) sequence
has been discarded too.
I’m baffled by all this, not least because two of Mimì’s
arias from La Bohème (‘Sì, mi chiamano Mimì’
and ‘Donde lieta uscì’) which were featured on the original issue
appear here in different versions, sung (admirably, it has to be said)
by Barbara Hendricks and Cristina Gallardo-Domas respectively. Of the
two added duets, Kiri te Kanawa is joined by Richard Leech as Rodolfo
in ‘O soave fanciulla’ – also from La Bohème, and also
conducted by Nagano. As the La Bohème tracks are grouped
together, we get three Mimìs in three consecutive tracks! The
final item on the disc (an odd way to conclude, you might argue) is
the Butterfly-Suzuki duet from Madama Butterfly, ‘Una nave da
Guerra’, sung by Jennifer Larmore (mezzo-soprano) and Hei-Kyung Hong
(soprano) and conducted by Lopez Cobos.
In referring to Warner’s ‘quest for bigger sales’ I
confess I am aware that this disc is already selling in big numbers:
innumerable Puccini fans, opera lovers and followers of Kiri te Kanawa
will doubtless already have acquired this. Knowing this dissuades me
from embarking on my pet rant about recital (or ‘excerpts’) discs, which
(by offering us only the big-tune cherries off the Puccinian cake) do
not enable us fully to experience the composer’s control of dramatic
pace, of theatrical effect, or even his mastery of orchestral colour.
The first track is a case in point: Lauretta’s little song ‘O mio babbino
caro’ (please don’t mention that television programme…) is an oasis
in the fast-moving Falstaff-like comedy which is Gianni Schicchi!
As long as we don’t pretend that we know Gianni Schicchi
because we know ‘O mio babbino caro’; or Götterdämmerung
because we know ‘Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’; or – whilst we’re talking
of such things – Beethoven, because we know the first movement of Op
27 No 1. Here endeth the lesson!
Dame Kiri brings a lifetime’s experience on the stage
and in the studio to this disc, which – though the voice doesn’t glow
quite like it used to – is as good as anything she’s recorded previously.
Such range, such presence! And Nagano provides sumptuous accompaniments:
indeed the two orchestral items (the Intermezzi from Manon Lescaut
and Madama Butterfly) positively ooze warmth and affection. The
tracks from their fellow artists are good, but perhaps lack the conviction
and authority that distinguish the main Kanawa-Nagano partnership. All
the recordings sound well. The CD booklet (one of those silly toilet-paper-like
strips with no end of folds) gives you the briefest of multi-lingual
synopses, rather than texts.
Self-limiting, perhaps, but self-recommending.
Peter J Lawson