Il Bel Sogno - Opera Arias
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta - La rondine [3:18]
Si, Mi chiamano Mimi… - La bohème [4:51]
Donde lieta - La bohème [3:17]
O mio babbino caro - Gianni Schicchi [2:37]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Trahir Vincent - Mireille [5:44]
Voici la vaste plaine - Mireille [8:10]
Le Roi de Thule, (Air des bijoux) - Faust [11:15]
Il ne revient pas - Faust [5:40]
Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)
Allons! Il le faut... Adieu, notre petite table - Manon [4:39]
Dis-moi que je suis belle…(Air de mirror) - Thaïs [7:50]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Addio del passato - La traviata [7:46]
È strano… Ah, fors'è lui… Follie! follie!… Sempre libera - La traviata [11:45]
Inva Mula (soprano); Agim Hushi (tenor – tr. 12)
Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra/Ivo Lipanoviç
rec. 4-7 March, 16-18 April 2009, Lesinski Hall, Zagreb, Croatia. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6 94538 0 [76:56]
Lyric-coloratura soprano Inva Mula has released an alluring recital of French and Italian arias for the Virgin Classics label. ‘Courtesan’ might be a more appropriate title for the disc as by my reckoning four of the heroine roles operate in that profession.
Mula demonstrates her splendid credentials as one of the finest ‘French’ sopranos of today performing two arias from Gounod’s Mireille alongside well-known extracts from his Faust, and Massenet’s Thaïs and Manon. The Italian repertoire is represented by standard arias of the repertoire from Verdi’s La traviata to Puccini’s La bohème, La rondine and Gianni Schicchi.
The Albanian-born Mula has been given the accolade of opening the 2009-10 season at the Paris Opera in the title role of Gounod’s rarely heard five act Mireille. I suspect that there are many readers who have not heard of this soprano so some biographical details are in order. In 1987 she won the Cantante d'Albania competition in Tirana and the next year was successful in the internationally renowned George Enescu Competition in Bucharest. Mula was victorious in the 1992 Barcelona Butterfly competition and in 1993 a prize-winner at the first Plácido Domingo Operalia competition in Paris. It seems that prior to the mid-1990s the soprano was using the name Inva Mulla Tchako.
In France, Mula has appeared in Bizet's Carmen and also in his rarely staged La Jolie fille de Perth and Ivan IV. Other roles include Bellini's I puritani, Puccini's Turandot, Berlioz's Béatrice et Bénédict, Lalo's Le Roi d'Ys, Gounod's Faust and Cherubini's Médée. In Italy Mula regularly worked in collaboration with maestro Riccardo Muti, most notably at La Scala, Milan. Her Italian roles have included Verdi’s La traviata, Falstaff and Rigoletto, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Pasquale and L'elisir d'amore, Puccini’s La bohème and Gianni Schicchi. For the Vienna State Opera, Mula has starred in Verdi’s La traviata and Offenbach’s Les contes d'Hoffmann with appearances in Germany, USA, England, Japan, Spain and Canada.
Puccini’s wistful aria Chi il bel sogno di Doretta from La rondine opens the release. Mula is imperious, confidently characterising Magda, the sophisticated yet tragic Parisian heroine. A favourite opera of mine La rondine deserves to be a staple of the repertoire. Declaring her love of springtime the soprano gives a convincing portrait of the heroine Mimi the frail Parisian seamstress in the set-piece aria Si, Mi chiamano Mimi from Puccini’s La bohème. From the same opera as a shivering Mimi in the aria Donde lieta uscì Mula displays that she can build a climax equal to the finest star sopranos. Puccini’s one act Gianni Shicchi is celebrated for the show-piece O mio babbino caro. Mula’s attractive and demure depiction of Lauretta the heroine in love with Rinuccio is quite delicious.

As the Provençal farm girl Mireille, Mula sings two arias from Mireille. In the air Trahir Vincent I was struck by her formidable attack in the closing bars. The splendid aria Voici la vaste plaine is set in the fiery and arid Crau desert. Here Mireille sees a mirage of a magnificent city close to a great lake. It is hard not to be impressed by Mula’s clear, incisive and expressive tones. As Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust, Mula is secure and expressive in her eleven-minute solo scene in Act 3 that commences with Je voudrais bien savoir…then Il était un Roi de Thulé…and Un bouquet!…O Dieu! que de bijoux! Mula’s appealing performance in the conclusion of the scene, the show-stopping mirror aria known as the ‘Jewel Song’ Ah! je ris de me voir is a true highlight of the disc. In Marguerite’s aria Il ne revient pas I love the way Mula soars to the high notes with such rapt assurance.
In Massenet’s Manon I was impressed by the soprano’s cherishable characterisation of the young heroine Manon Lescaut in the aria Allons! Il le faut... Adieu, notre petite table. Thaïs, a courtesan in Ancient Egypt is the title role of Massenet’s opera of the same name. Ah! Je suis seule... Dis-moi que je suis belle is another mirror aria that the confident Mula conveys with considerable depth of feeling.
Arias from the Italian master Giuseppe Verdi close the disc. From the Verdi masterwork La traviata the heroine is Parisian courtesan Violetta Valéry who is suffering from tuberculosis. From Act 3 in Addio del passato where Violetta is bidding farewell to life, Mula with splendid expression provides all the necessary pathos the role demands. Violetta’s celebrated Act 1 arias È strano… Ah, fors'è lui… Follie! follie!… Sempre libera are suitably affecting with Mula demonstrating appropriate flexibility and a natural feel for pacing.
One cannot fail to be impressed by the spirited and persuasive playing from the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra under Ivo Lipanoviç. Recorded in Zagreb at the Lesinski Hall I found the sound quality to be pleasing, reasonably warm with a good balance. The well-written notes in the booklet would have benefited from more detail. On the advertising blurb for the release I have seen references to a digital bonus track of Verdi’s aria Caro nome from Rigoletto. I couldn’t make any real sense of it and never found the track. This is probably another tiresome ploy to get the listener to visit the label’s website.
These are magnificent performances both spirited and radiant from Inva Mula a soprano who can compare with some of the finest names in the recording world. She has a rather distinctive voice and is undoubtedly comfortable with high tessitura roles where she can soar upwards and float effortlessly like a seabird in thermal. Few can rival the creamy timbre and tone colours of the divas Fleming, Gheorghiu and Netrebko but Mula is blessed with superb poise and wonderful assurance together with a remarkable gift to emotionally affect the listener. Pleasurable from start to finish this Virgin Classics disc is one for opera lovers to savour.
Michael Cookson
Mula is blessed with superb poise and wonderful assurance together with a tremendous ability to emotionally affect the listener. ... see Full Review