Lucia Popp was forty-three
when she gave this recital, a co-production
with Bavarian Radio. It shows her in
marvellous voice in her early maturity,
one that was to be so cruelly cut short
a decade later with her premature death.
The repertoire covers a cross-section
of her roles and demonstrates uncommon
linguistic and stylistic affinities.
She has the very competent support here
of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester
under Kurt Eichhorn and a straightforward
and unproblematic recording.
One can hear, from
the floated high notes in Die Zauberflöte,
that her mechanism was in fine repair.
This was always something of a wonder
of Popp’s singing – and it never sounded
like mere artifice or conceit – and
was always at the service of the expressive
and interior meaning of the text, as
here. Her control of colour and intimacy
of shading are exemplary in this aria
– and note that she is now a Pamina
and not, as in her youth, Queen of the
Night. Technically what is so impressive
is, inter alia, control of dynamics
when going up; she maintains scrupulous
dynamic gradients and seldom forces
the voice. And there is quite enough
power at the climaxes as well – both
features that illuminate the Weber.
It’s exciting to hear her Goetz as I
wasn’t aware she had sung any. It’s
as one would expect: carried off with
idiomatic mastery and with just a hint
of the soubrette still in the voice.
Often in a mixed recital
such as this there are points of relative
weakness; a certain unfamiliarity with
language or a rather generic approach.
One never feels that with Popp. Maybe
the Italian arias, though beautifully
sung, are a mite reserved but it’s really
only a matter of degree, a question
of approach. Her French arias certainly
seem to me impressive documents of her
art and if one might perhaps have hoped
for rarer repertoire then at least we
get them beautifully sung. We end with
her native repertoire – a really fine
Smetana and one of her warhorses, Mesícku
na nebi hlubokémt (O Silver Moon),
from Rusalka. Popular though it is,
too many sopranos come to grief over
it, getting squally and unfocusedly
torrid. Popp stays on the right side.
This is very much a
tribute to Popp – there are no texts
and little other documentation. But
I don’t really think it matters. This
is most assuredly for her many admirers
and they will find all her many virtues
here, undimmed and untainted by time.