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RECORDING OF THE MONTH Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Inessa GALANTE (soprano) - Arias from Verdi’s late operas
Un ballo in Maschera, ‘Ma dall’ arido stelo divulsa’. ‘Morro, ma prima in grazia’
La forza del destino, ‘La Vergine degli angeli’. ‘Pace, pace mio Dio’
Aida, ‘Ritorna vincitor’. ‘O patria mia’
Don Carlo, ‘Tu che le vanitá’
Otello, ‘Piangea cantando’.. ‘Salce, salce’ (Willow Song) ‘Ave Maria’
Falstaff, ‘Sul fil d’un soffio etesio’
Requiem, ‘Libera me’
Choir of the Stockholm School Riga
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen
Recorded in January 2003 at Riga Recording Studio Latvia
CAMPION RRCD 1349 [72.52min]

Before listening to Inessa Galante’s latest CD, I returned to her first Campion issue, denoted ‘Debut’ which was much admired and has reached ‘Gold’ and ‘Platinum’ status. The repertoire on that disc, recorded in late 1994 (RRCD 1335) was, the opening ‘Casta Diva’ apart, very typical of a lyric soprano. The singing was notable for a very individual vocal vibrancy allied to a secure legato and excellent characterization. The ‘Casta Diva’ was very ‘lyric’ in approach with indications of much vocal heft held in reserve and with the emotions of the character clearly felt and expressed. However, that disc in no way prepared me for what I was to hear on this latest issue of ‘Arias from Verdi’s late works’, starting with ‘Ballo in Maschera’ of 1859, and concluding with Nanetta’s aria from Falstaff of 1893 and incorporating the ‘Libera Me’ from the Requiem of 1874. Verdi’s demand on the soprano voice in these post-middle period works, the Falstaff aria apart, of which more later, requires at least a full toned powerful lyric voice, as for Desdemona in Otello, through to the full dramatic spinto requirements of Aida. More even than those qualities, Verdi’s heroines in these later operatic works need to express emotions varying from introspective remembrance and yearning, through prayer, to love and desperation. Such demands on a soprano require her to have a rich palette of vocal colours, secure technique with long breathed phrases, sufficient heft to either soar above or even ‘ride’ the orchestra whilst conveying the character and feelings of the role and the drama within the work. I labour these points because these are the vocal attributes exhibited by Galante on this disc. Since that ‘Debut’ album the middle of her voice has lowered, albeit with a slight loosening, to give a rich nut-brown centre without loss of top or vocal security above the stave. The heft previously held in reserve is here used to good effect, together with interpretative maturity. The aforesaid qualities, make for a truly outstanding disc.

Galante’s capacity to convey the differing emotions of the roles on this disc is well illustrated by the desperation she conveys in ‘Pace, pace mio Dio’, tr.4, and matched conveying the whole gamut of Elisabeth’s emotions in ‘Tu che le vanita’, tr.7. I had slight reservations about Aida’s ‘Ritorna vincitor’ tr.5, feeling that the role was as yet perhaps half a size too big for the singer. I was however bowled over by the succeeding ‘O patria mia’ with Galante’s full-toned attack on that infamous high note being followed by the floated diminuendo ‘on the breath’ of the concluding note. That ability to fearlessly attack the note, whilst not distorting the phrase, allied to the floated soft notes, make Galante’s Desdemona an overwhelming emotional experience as one shares Desdemona’s uncertainties and agonies. In the ‘Willow Song, tr.8, listen to the third ‘Salce’ in the first, and subsequent reprises of the phrase, and also compare it with the first two utterances of the word; I do not find its equal on disc, having spent many hours comparing famous divas past and present.

Is all perfect and to my satisfaction? No, let’s face it, an Aida voice cannot encompass Nanetta’s aria tr.10. Galante’s voice is far too big to express the mood and what is being sung; any ‘fleet spirits borne on the breeze’ would be frightened to death! Also, the recording of this aria has, to my ears, a distinctly different acoustic quality with added reverberation, perhaps trying to convey the spooky setting. I suspect this aria was included for the sake of completion of the oeuvre. If so it was ill-conceived and the minutes saved could have been better used elsewhere. We, and Galante, would have benefited from the addition of the one and a half minutes or so of ‘Ecco l’orrido campo’ as Amelia arrives at the gallows site to pick the herb and which precedes ‘Ma dall ‘Ma dall’ arido stelo divulsa’, tr.1. Likewise, the Act 4 arias from Otello should have started from the beginning of the Act. Surely Campion could have found a mezzo to sing Emilia’s two lines at the start, and the single response ‘E il vento’ later. Such details would have given extra gloss to this excellent issue. Terje Mikkelsen conducts briskly without conveying the impression of having a natural feel for a Verdian phrase. The chorus sing with full-blooded commitment in the ‘Libera me’ ‘tr. 11’ which is well caught by the generally well balanced slightly warm recording. The booklet has brief biographies of the singer and conductor and a few brief, even terse, sentences about each aria, all given in English, French and German.

This is some of the most dramatic, expressive, well characterized vibrant Verdi soprano singing I have heard since Zinka Milanov fifty years ago! Verdians, and other lovers of fine singing and interpretation should hurry and buy this disc and ensure its early passage to ‘Gold’ and ‘Platinum’ status. If my copy were an LP it would be worn out by now. Meanwhile I will sit and dream of a recording of Galante as Lady Macbeth.

Robert J Farr

see also review by Christopher Howell

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