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Joan Sutherland - Bel Canto Arias
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848) Il castello di Kenilworth: Par che mi dica ancora ... Fuggi l’immagine;
Giuseppe VERDI
(1813 – 1901)
Attila: Liberamente or piangi ... Oh! Nel fuggente nuvolo; 
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835) I Capuleti e I Montecchi: Eccomi in lieta vesta ... Oh! Quante volte;
Betly: In questo semplice modesto asilo; La Favorite: L’ai-je bien entendu? ... O mon Fernand ... Mon arrêt descend du ciel;
(1791 – 1864)
l’Africaine: Sur mes genoux;
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868) Guillaume Tell: Sombre forêt; Il barbiere di Siviglia: Una voce poco fa
Joan Sutherland (soprano)
Welsh National Opera Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
Recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, September 1985.
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 2444 [49:25]


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Born in 1926 Dame Joan Sutherland was already approaching sixty when she made this recording in September 1985. Half a year earlier I heard her when she made her comeback at Covent Garden, singing a glorious Lucia di Lammermoor and a couple of years later in Stockholm at a concert performance of I puritani. Her voice was still in fine fettle although the lustre was not quite what it had once been. In the flesh she was still something to write home about. On recordings, where the merciless microphone is more objective than the human ear, other less satisfying features had gradually become more prominent, most obviously a marked beat in the voice on sustained notes which, besides being unbeautiful also made the legato line sag. There was also a certain hollowness in her tone. These characteristics are also conspicuous here, together with an increased unsteadiness and a widening of the vibrato. Against this can be set her still remarkable ease in the florid singing, her phenomenal trill is there and when singing softly, which she often does, the legendary purity of tone is well preserved.

It is also interesting to find her in new repertoire at this late stage of her career. None of these arias had been recorded by her before and two of the items are rarities by anyone’s standards. The first track is from a three-act opera based on a Walter Scott novel and first performed in 1929. Not a forgotten masterpiece, maybe, but fine nevertheless and interesting in its use of the glass harmonica, which Donizetti was to return to for the famous mad scene in Lucia di Lammermoor. From Verdi’s Attila Sutherland recorded another scene, Santo di patria, in the mid-1960s. The romance, recorded here, is less about fireworks and more about inwardness. Once again we hear her trill and there are many fine shadings to be appreciated as well. Today Bellini’s Romeo and Juliet opera is heard and seen not infrequently. It would have been fine to have a complete recording by Sutherland when she was at the height of her powers. Giulietta’s entrance aria is a lovely piece of bel canto writing, but it needs the long unbroken line that Sutherland was unable to produce at this stage in her career. The other rarity, In questo semplice from Betly, finds her in much better shape. This lively piece with its wide leaps seems much better suited to her actual vocal status.

It should be noted that the excerpts from La Favorite, L’Africaine and Guillaume Tell are all sung in the original French and produce a deal of wobbly and hollow tone from La Sutherland but also some exquisite shadings and – again – that masterly trill. The last item is Rosina’s Una voce poco fa from Il barbiere. Here in buffo repertoire she seems rejuvenated. There is such obvious joy in her singing and even though there is some strain, it’s a winning performance. She actually made a couple of very successful excursions into lighter repertoire back in the ’sixties, documented in two highly recommendable recordings of L’Elisir d’amore and La fille du régiment.

Her famous, or infamous, lack of diction is no great problem here. There are far more consonants audible here than during her heyday, although the lack of texts is still a nuisance.

The Welsh National Opera Orchestra play well and Richard Bonynge is always at his best in bel canto. He also provides excellent notes in the booklet.

It is hard to give this recital a wholehearted general recommendation. There is too much compromised singing. Nothing of what I have written will deter die-hard Sutherland fans from acquiring the disc. Others may be interested in the rarities and, even though this is a far cry from what Dame Joan accomplished before she was ‘Damed’, there is still enough evidence that by 1985 the old lioness was still roaring.

Göran Forsling




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