This CD is a compilation of ‘the most beautiful arias’
taken from Lesley Garrett’s previous albums for BMG from 1997, 1998
and 2000. Presumably the publishers are hoping to continue sell this
new CDs on the basis of her popularity on TV and radio. But you have
to question who the recording is aimed at. It is an admirable aim to
try and encourage and educate people by getting them to buy CDs of things
that they would not otherwise listen to. But this one seems to set out
neither to communicate nor to educate, so I can’t see how it can encourage
the newcomer. All the Italian items are sung in that language and the
booklet prints no translations, not even a brief summary. There is similarly
no background to any of the arias, just a bald list of titles along
with the name of the composer and the opera (where relevant). The producers
seem to be almost encouraging the listener not to think about the aria’s
context, just to listen to the lovely sound of Lesley Garrett’s voice.
And she does have a lovely voice. Anyone who heard
her as Dalinda in ‘Ariodante’ at the Coliseum will know what she is
capable of. But her last appearance there was a ‘Rosina’ (‘Barber of
Seville’) and her stage repertoire consisted mainly of soubrette type
roles such as Adele (‘Die Fledermaus’), Musetta (‘La Boheme’), Valencienne
(‘The Merry Widow’), Yum Yum (‘Mikado’), and the title role in ‘The
Cunning Little Vixen’. This is not a list that would lead you to expect
to hear her singing ‘Casta Diva’ from ‘Norma’, but that is what she
ends her recital with. Which brings us back to the issue of who the
recital is for. Would you buy this if you were not already an admirer
of Lesley Garrett?
The first item, Caccini’s Ave Maria, sounds lovely.
But sung in a stylistically inappropriate manner and with a refulgent
accompaniment, it is best to forget about Caccini. A number of the items
are similarly marred by inappropriate accompaniments. ‘Ombra mai fù’
from Handel’s "Serse" has an awful leaden accompaniment from
the BBC Concert Orchestra under Peter Robinson. And Schubert’s ‘Ave
Maria’ rather suffers from a kitsch orchestration, this time played
by the Britten Sinfonia under Ivor Bolton. The song is sung in German
but Miss Garrett makes little of the words and no sense of narrative
is allowed to disturb the lovely vocal line. Schubert’s ‘Ständchen’
(in German) comes off rather better, with more feeling for the words
and a rather more discreet accompaniment. But why have an orchestral
accompaniment at all, surely the Schubert songs would be far better
recorded with the original piano accompaniments. The Aria from Villa-Lobos’s
‘Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, sounds lovely with an effective accompaniment
by the Anthony Pleeth cello ensemble. But the piece does not feel very
Latin American, and I certainly wanted a greater sense of darkness in
the middle section.
As a lighter item for operatic voices, Franck’s ‘Panis
Angelicus’ has a respectable recorded history. After a long luxuriant
opening cello solo, Miss Garrett sings the piece with the generalised
operatic style used for most of the pieces on the recording. But this
piece is a religious hymn and surely demands to be sung in a more suitable
manner. I felt a similar sort of problem with the Pie Jesu from Fauré’s
‘Requiem’, but for me female soprano and full orchestra not ideal for
this item. Though she reins her voice in, Miss Garrett still sounds
a little too sexily refulgent for my tastes, lovely though the sound
‘Donde lieta usci’ from "La Boheme" is unexpectedly
good and whilst you would probably not expect to hear her singing Leonore
("La Forza del Destino") on the operatic stage, ‘La Vergine
degli angeli’ does seem to work rather well. The Prayer (sung in English)
from Humperdinck’s "Hansel and Gretel" is charming and, though
the notes do not say, I presume Miss Garrett is duetting with herself.
This is exactly the sort of item which suits her voice. ‘Vissi D’Arte’
from "Tosca" is a venture into heavier territory. Though sounding
somewhat light voiced, her version of the aria really suffers from a
lack of characterisation. You get only generalised feelings rather than
the telling details which stage experience in the role can bring. With
Zerlina’s ‘Vedrai Carino’ from "Don Giovanni" we are back
onto territory that Miss Garrett has traversed on the stage. The aria
has more feeling for the drama, but oh the accompaniment does feel rather
slow and heavy.
Dvořák’s ‘Songs my
mother taught me’ is sung in English but with rather stilted diction.
This is followed by a version of the Lord’s Prayer by Malotte which
we sang at school. It suffers from the stilted English as the Dvořák.
The order of the items is bewildering. In most collections like
this, the lighter, non-operatic items come at the end. But here they
are cheek by jowl, so that the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is followed by ‘La Vergine
degli angeli’ from "La Forza del Destino."
The closing item on the disk is ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s
"Norma". Miss Garrett has a far lighter voice than any Norma
that I have heard, but the aria is beautifully shaped though her fioriture
are rather smudged. But this track really made me question the production
values of all the items on the recording. I found all the items seemed
to have a similar quality and style and that Miss Garrett’s voice seemed
a little over spot-lit. Repeated hearings made this unnatural aural
environment a little wearing. This tinkering was particularly noticeable
in this last aria, where Miss Garrett’s Norma seems to soar effortlessly
over the recessed chorus in a way that bears little resemblance to a
On a general note, I found that there was not enough
spacing between the tracks. Given the varied nature of the items on
the disk, a good pause between them would be welcome.
I did enjoy this disk rather more than I expected.
In all the items Lesley Garrett never sounds less than lovely, so to
seems rather churlish to complain. But too many items have a generalised
pleasantness of performance which relegates them to enjoyable background
music, rather than the dramatic detail that really draws you in. I think
that lack of stage experience tells against Miss Garrett in some of
the arias. If you are an admirer of hers, then you don’t need me to
advise you whether or not to buy the disk. But if you are not an admirer,
then I would advise you to try and listen to the disk before buying.
For those seeking to explore an unfamiliar repertoire then I cannot
do better than recommend Yvonne Kenny's recital for Chandos. It is sung
in English, with excellent notes and libretto and with a similar mixture
of familiar arias and songs, would encourage anyone to explore further.
Something that ‘Tranquillity’ entirely fails to do.