What is a mezzo-soprano (8)?
[see What is a mezzosoprano? part (1),
I didn’t, at first, intend to include this in my occasional
articles "What is a mezzo-soprano?" since I don’t want to
inflate the series with any mezzo-soprano who comes my way, rather to
keep it for the very top ones or those who offer some kind of talking-point
regarding the mezzo’s art. I came to realise about two-thirds through
that Alicia Nafé does in fact offer a talking point, and if it
is a slightly negative one I want to say straightaway that the matter
is not so serious that it should discourage you from investigating some
Nafé is Spanish, of Argentine origin, and has
sung widely around the world both in opera and in recitals. She has
an extremely rich voice – a "low" mezzo – which she often
enriches further with chest tones even though nothing here takes her
much below a middle C. The risk with these ultra-rich mezzo voices is
that when they move up towards the "break", say from about
the F above middle C up till about E or F (which I presume is where
her "break" is), the sheer weight of the voice seems to drag
the intonation down, especially if the note to be sung is tied by legato
to a previous lower note. Now I don’t want to give the impression that
Nafé is always flat in that zone, nor that, when she is,
she is very much so. But as the disc wore on and I found I was not getting
maximum satisfaction and began to cast around for reasons why, I homed
in on this. If you think this might worry you, try to sample "Nigue
– nigue – ninhas" from the Braga cycle and see what you think.
In a way I am sorry to take issue specifically with Nafé, since
this is a technical matter that all possessors of this type of voice
have to keep in mind.
My other reservation is that, in spite of a full-voiced,
gutsy approach, Nafé does not produce any great variety. However,
if this all sounds rather negative I want to say now that, while I wouldn’t
suggest you run out and buy the disc because of the singer, I would
like to recommend the programme itself and do not feel these minor reservations
actually stand in the way if you are at all interested.
Latin American music amounts to far more than Villa-Lobos
and (maybe) Ginastera and (following more recent trends) Piazzolla.
Every time I encounter Guastavino I feel that in his apparently simple
way he is one of the minor goldmines of 20th Century song
writing, and Braga makes a stronger impression than on my previous encounter
with him. The idea of mixing in a bandoneon was an imaginative one.
I’m not the best person to judge a bandoneonist (if that’s what you
call them) but Marcucci sounds thoroughly effective to me and the items
in which all three collaborate are among the highlights of the disc,
not least Piazzolla’s haunting "Milanga en ay menor". The
pianist is excellent. The Satie and Weill items fit quite nicely into
the programme but these aren’t the finest performances you will have
heard of them.
The notes (in German and English) are by Piazzini and
chat away pleasantly, telling us what good performances we are going
to hear. Little that is specific about the music emerges. It would have
been nice to know, for example, why Piazzolla’s powerful "Oblivión"
has its words in Italian. We get all the texts, but without translations.
There are those who tell us tartly not to be lazy, you can get all this
from Internet these days. Well, I know a site (www.recmusic.org/lieder/)
which is a quite phenomenal labour of love on the part of its creator,
Emily Ezust, containing thousands – nay, tens of thousands – of song
texts by over three thousand composers, many of them with English translations,
and if we’re talking of lieder by Schubert or Brahms, then perhaps a
record company, especially when producing bargain price discs, might
feel justified in leaving listeners to do their own research. But a
search for Guastavino on this site yields to date (the site is continually
updated) only his name, dates and a few untranslated titles. So I still
insist that texts and translations are needed when the repertoire
is rare. However, the texts themselves are present, so if you have a
good knowledge of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian you should
be all right.
ago I welcomed a disc of Latin American songs song by Marina Tafur
(Lorelt LNT 112). There, too, my recommendation was for the repertoire
in spite of a few reservations about the singer. Though the two discs
have rather different objectives (Tafur gives space to the two "giants"
Villa-Lobos and Ginastera and has no bandoneonist), I think, now, that
if you are choosing one or the other, the present disc adds up to a
more appealing programme.