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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Si, mi chiamano Mimi - La Bohème (Mimi)
Donde lieta usci al tuo grido d'amore - La Bohème (Mimi)
Un bel di, vedremo - Madama Butterfly (Butterfly)
Tu … Piccolo Iddio - Madama Butterfly (Butterfly)
Signore ascolta - Turandot (Liù)
Tu che di gel sei cinta - Turandot (Liù)
Vissi d´arte - Tosca (Tosca)
O mio babbino caro - Gianni Schicchi (Lauretta)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Pace, mio Dio - The Force of Destiny (Leonora)
Era più calmo?… Emilia, te ne prego … Piangea cantando … Ave Maria - Otello (Desdemona)
Joanna Kozlowska (soprano)
Symphony Orchestra of the Poznan Philharmonic/Grzegorz Nowak
Recorded at the Adam Mickiewicz University Concert Hall, Poznan, Poland in August 26-28, 30, 2004. DDD
CD ACCORD ACD 135-2 [50:00]

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This release from the CD Accord label features the Polish soprano Joanna Kozlowska singing arias from the operas of those master Italian composers, Puccini and Verdi. I have not been able to find out much information about this singer, however, we are told that twenty years ago she appeared at Covent Garden whilst still a student, to win the Gold medal in the International Benson & Hedges vocal competition.

Subsequently, Kozlowska has appeared in many of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, although in what roles we are not informed. I have come across the excellent voice of Kozlowska previously on a copy of a CD, from my collection, of the Mozart comic opera La Finta Giardiniera, K 196. The recording features Joanna Kozlowska in the role of Marchioness/Sandrina, in a 1989 recording, with the Théâtre de la Monnaie Orchestra, Brussels under the direction of Sylvain Cambreling, on Brilliant Classics 92348.

In the opening aria of the release, Si, mi chiamano Mimi (track 1) from Puccini’s opera La Bohème, Kozlowska, as Mimi, sits in the cold attic room telling the young poet Rodolfo about her life and her desire for the warmth of springtime. She is lively and flirtatious one minute, serious and tragic the next. Also from La Bohème, in the aria, Donde lieta usci al tuo grido d'amore (track 2), she is successful in conveying the memories of her joyful moments with Rodolfo, that are tinged with the bitterness of a farewell.

From Puccini’s opera, Madama Butterfly, in the role of Butterfly, Kozlowska sings the celebrated arias, Un bel di, vedremo and Tu …Piccolo Iddio most beautifully. Throughout the drama of her first Butterfly aria Un bel di, vedremo (track 3), the singer is steady and emotional and in Tu …Piccolo Iddio (track 4) she is suitably poignant showing tremendous despair at having to bid farewell to her little son.

In the aria Signore ascolta (track 5) from Puccini’s Turandot, Kozlowska is most convincing as the slave girl Liù, pleading with Prince Calaf not to marry Princess Turandot. There is a real sense of hopelessness with an abundance of anguish. Also from Turandot, in the aria Tu che di gel sei cinta (track 6), she passionately displays Liù’s determination in persuading Princess Turandot of the power of love.

On track 7, we hear Vissi d´arte, which is one of the most famous arias from Puccini’s celebrated opera Tosca. Sung at a moment of high tension in the opera, Kozlowska, with great beauty, reaches up to the skies with admirable control.

O mio babbino caro (track 8) is the highlight aria from one of Puccini’s lesser known operas Gianni Schicchi. Kozlowska, as Lauretta, is shown at her most sentimental singing superbly.

The final two arias on the release are from the pen of Puccini’s elder contemporary and fellow countryman Giuseppe Verdi. The opera The Force of Destiny, which Verdi wrote in 1862, is the earliest work on this collection. Kozlowska, as Leonora, in the aria Pace, mio Dio (Track 9) is in her mountain cave praying for relief from her anguish and tormenting dreams. This is superb Verdi singing of the highest order and she excellently negotiates the long swaying phrases and melodious legato of the aria.

On track 10, the final work on the release is Era più calmo?… Emilia, te ne prego … Piangea cantando … Ave Maria, from act four of Verdi’s Otello, which is Desdemona’s long scene in her bedroom. Kozlowska as Desdemona makes use of a wide range of tone colours with the lyrical passages interspersed with episodes of great dramatic tension.

This singer’s voice may not contain the strength, beauty of tone and richness of colour that her famous contemporary, the soprano Angela Gheorghiu, displayed in her prime. Nevertheless this is most moving, well characterised and colourful singing from a moderately weighted soprano voice which is highly appealing in her Puccini roles and especially breathtaking in the two Verdi arias. It feels rather like splitting hairs but I did find additional enjoyment in Kozlowska’s lirico-spinto roles of Tosca, Butterfly, Leonora and Desdemona.

We do hear Kozlowska’s vibrato, throughout the arias, which is mainly slight and never too obtrusive even in her most extended passages. With an agreeably rounded timbre, Kozlowska seems more comfortable and most effective in the middle to top ranges of her voice. Occasionally Kozlowska does rather dive upwards into the more dramatic notes but this tendency does not detract from the pleasure of her performances.

With singing as good as this it is easy to overlook the superb contribution from the Symphony Orchestra of the Poznan Philharmonic under the baton of Grzegorz Nowak. The orchestra and conductor are in outstanding form and are so sensitive to the requirements of Verdi and Puccini. I was especially impressed by the timbre of the woodwinds and the string sound was most appealing. Brief and informative booklet notes are provided. The sound quality is acceptable rather than outstanding and the total timing of fifty minutes offers short measure.

The career of Joanna Kozlowska is well worth following and her performance on this collection is worthy of praise.

Michael Cookson

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