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Christine Brewer - Great Operatic Arias 2
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
The Marriage of Figaro:
1. Hear my prayer, I humbly beg you (Porgi amor) [3:49]
2. That’s amazing! How did he react? … The breezes (Che soave zeffiretto) [3:53]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714 – 1787)
3. Where am I? (Où suis-je?) [4:54]
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
4. Almighty Virgin (Allmächtige Jungfrau) [4:34]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 – 1976)
Peter Grimes:
5. Embroidery in childhood was a luxury of idleness [4:05]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
6. Vile murderer! Sadistic swine! … Come hope, you faint and distant star (Komm, Hoffnung) [7:10]
Georg Frederic HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
7. If my pain, my bitter sighing (Se il mio duol non è si forte) [5:54]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK
8. Great Gods! Cruel fortune has cursed me (Grands dieux) [3:56]
Richard WAGNER
9. When all my hopes departed (Einsam in trüben Tagen) [7:42]
Gian Carlo MENOTTI (1911 – 2007)
The Consul:
10. To this we’ve come [7:09]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897 – 1957)
Die tote Stadt:
11. My joy lives in you (Glück, das mir verblieb) [5:12]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841 – 1904)
Gypsy Songs, Op. 55:
12. Songs my mother taught me [2:17]
Franz LEHÁR (1870 – 1948)
The Land of Smiles:
13. Love, what has given you this magic pow’r? (Wer hat die Liebe uns ins Herz geschenkt?) [4:35]
Richard RODGERS (1902 – 1979)
The Sound of Music:
14. Climb ev’ry mountain [3:10]
Christine Brewer (soprano)
Judith Howarth (soprano) (2); Timothy Robinson (tenor) (11, 13); Philharmonia Orchestra (6, 14); London Philharmonic Orchestra (other tracks)/David Parry
rec. Blackheath Halls 21 August 2004 (6) and 19-21, 23 May 2008 (other tracks)
Sung texts enclosed


Experience Classicsonline

Christine Brewer has been a leading dramatic soprano for quite some time and she certainly has a magnificent instrument. Unlike some other exponents of her breed she has, however, an enviable ability to scale down her voice for lyrical purposes as well. On this disc we hear a mix of both kinds of singing.

She opens the recital with the Countess’s Porgi amor, which calls for a finely spun legato and a lot of lyrical restraint. She has both and the basic concept of her reading is admirable, as was her Donna Anna on Mackerras’s Telarc recording of Don Giovanni, issued about fifteen years ago. The difference is that now an unwanted edge at the top of the voice has crept in. It is prominent enough to draw some attention from what she actually sings. Hers remains a fine voice but there are surface scratches. She lightens the tone even more in the recitative before the Letter duet and so manages to sound as girlish as any Susanna. Judith Howarth’s Susanna still radiates youth but lacks the glitter she once had when I heard her singing Rossini’s Stabat Mater on the composer’s 200th anniversary day: 29 February 1992.

Having recently reviewed the old Decca recording of Alceste with Kirsten Flagstad I noted that Brewer has the dramatic power for the role though not the rounded tone and the nobility of her predecessor. On the other hand her singing is stylish and clean where Flagstad tends to scoop. In Where am I? (tr. 3) she expresses sorrow and despair very aptly. The Tannhäuser aria (Elisabeth’s Prayer) is inward and sung in long phrases but here she is up against the somewhat younger Flagstad’s recording (DB 6795) which is even more noble. She makes a good stab at Ellen Orfords’s Embroidery aria but can’t erase memories of Heather Harper on the Colin Davis recording. She is on her own, however, in Leonora’s recitative and aria from Fidelio. This scene is culled from the complete recording made in 2004 and here the edge is less noticeable. In fact this is a reading to set beside some of the best. She spits out ‘Vile murderer! Sadistic swine!’ vehemently and even though David Pountney’s very free translation is a far cry from the original word meaning it’s a good basis for expressing hate.

I didn’t expect her to take on baroque repertoire but Rodelinda’s aria is well sung with fine feeling for the text. Elsa’s Dream from Lohengrin offers assured and beautiful singing but the real highlight is Magda’s aria from Menotti’s The Consul. Menotti was often masterly at creating a sense of ‘real life’ as opposed to theatre and this aria is a psychological portrait with a depth that has few equals in the entire world of opera. I have to say that Christine Brewer really gets under the skin of Magda Sorel. Next time when I want to prove to someone the potential of opera I am going to play this track.

Many are the great sopranos who have excelled in Marietta’s Glück das mir verblieb from Die tote Stadt. Lotte Lehmann and Maria Jeritza from the earliest days, Carole Neblett and Katarina Dalayman on the two existing CD sets, Renée Fleming and a few others. I haven’t seen Angela Denoke on the DVD from Strasbourg but I heard her live in the same production in Paris. Christine Brewer certainly has the measure of this delectable piece. Timothy Robinson seems a bit too weak for Paul, who needs to be a Heldentenor.

Dvořák’s Songs My Mother Taught Me is well sung though I still have a fancy for Victoria de los Angeles’s lovely reading from the mid-1960s. I recently renewed acquaintance with it when reviewing the seven-disc-box with her in EMI Classic’s Ikon series and it still holds its own against the competition.

Some lighter fare to round off the disc. The duet from The Land of Smiles is a sure-fire hit with a good lyric soprano and a tenor with some ring. I am afraid that this version lacks the most essential ingredient for a good operetta duet: charm. It is less the fault of Ms Brewer than of Timothy Robinson, whose rather bleating vibrato in the lower reaches is quite unattractive. Prince Sou-Chong needs the melting tones of a Tauber or a Gedda or, in more recent times, Piotr Beczala in CPO’s complete recording of the work. Climb ev’ry mountain from The Sound of Music is intended for a contralto and initially it sounded too low for Christine Brewer, but as she climbed the tessitura became more comfortable and she ended gloriously.

There are examples of fallibility in this recital but at her best – Fidelio, The Consul, Die tote Stadt and Lohengrin – Brewer probably has few equals at the moment. The aria from The Consul is alone, for me at least, worth the price of the disc.

Göran Forsling


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