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A Night At The Opera
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Un di, se ben rammentomi ... Bella figlia del’amore (IT KJ.MP. MK)
Don Carlo,
Son io, mio Carlo (MK)
Don Carlo, O Carlo, ascolta (MK)
Il Trovatore, ‘D’amour sull’ali rosee (IT)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Boheme, Vecchia zimara (VB)
Gianni Schicchi, Avete torto (MP)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
La Clemenza Di Tito,
Parto, parto (KJ)
Don Giovanni, La ci darem la mano (KJ MK)
Georges Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Quel trouble…Salut! Demeure chaste et pure (MP)
Faust, Alerte! Ou vous etes perdus! (IT KJ VR)
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Les Contes d’Hoffman,
Barcarolle (IT KJ)
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Les Pecheurs de perles, Au fond du temple saint (MP MK)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Orlando, Sorge infausta una procella (VR)
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
The Tempest, Arise, arise ye subterranean winds (VR)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ariadne Auf Naxos, Seien wir wiedergut! (KJ)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
I puritani, Suoni la tromba (MK.VR)
Indra Thomas, (sop); Kristine Jepson, (mezzo); Matthew Polenzani, (ten); Mariusz Kwiecien, (bar); Valerian Ruminski, (bass)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Rosekrans
Recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, England, August 2001
NAXOS 8.557309 [70.59]


Looking back at Naxos’s catalogue of complete opera recordings, they certainly have had a successful rate of spotting future operatic stars in their early carers. Names such as Ewa Podles, Luba Orgonásova, Ramon Vargas (who now has an RCA contract) and Roberto Serville are a few names from a long list of those who now appear on the roster of the leading opera houses of the world. One or two East European singers on recital and duet discs have been less successful but the winners far outnumber the few failures. This disc indicates that those talent-spotting skills have not been lost. My only query is why has this disc been in the can for three years before issue? The only benefit from hiding some significant talent from our ears is that the welcome artist profiles are more up to date.

In my view there are three potentially outstanding talents to be heard in this diverse and interesting programme. First among those talents is the young American tenor Matthew Polenzani. I have read crits describing him as a tenor di grazia and a tenorino. As heard here he is a light lyric tenor with sufficient flexibility in his voice to essay coloratura parts and enough colour and metal to tackle the bel-canto repertoire. In 2002 he sang at the Rossini Festival at Pesaro to acclaim as Narcisco in Il turco in Italia whilst his Ernesto in Don Pasquale has been admired in Florence and San Diego. He has more metal and colour in his voice than Juan Diego Florez who is all the rage and a contracted Decca artist. Most importantly Matthew Polenzani knows how and when to sing softly and invest a phrase with elegance. His concluding note at the end of Faust’s Salut! Demeure is to die for (tr.3). Similarly, his launching of the ever-popular Pearl Fishers Duet is elegant of phrase and lovely of tone (tr. 13). This duet is often used as an all-purpose potboiler and selling point on many similar discs. Here both soloists sing it in a manner that would grace a complete recording. The baritone Mariusz Kwiecien has a nut-brown full toned well-coloured and covered voice that must herald a significant future. Reviews of his Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Figaro at Glyndebourne enthused about his mahogany tone and his precisely articulated triplets and ringing top F sharp (Opera Magazine. September 2003 page 1141). His Son io (tr.7) and O Carlo (tr. 8) from Verdi’s Don Carlo are sung with great feeling, expression and range of tone. Only at the conclusion of track 7 does he put too much pressure on his voice becoming slightly unsteady.

Another Naxos winner is the mezzo Kristine Jepson. She has appeared at the Met as Octavian in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and at the Paris Opera as Nicklausse in Offenbach’s Hoffman. She has dueted along with Renée Fleming in the latter’s Decca album titled Bel Canto. She lightens her tone for La ci darem (tr. 6) but her considerable strengths are heard to best effect in Mozart’s Parto, parto from La Clemenza (tr. 2) and as The Composer (tr.14). The bass Valerian Ruminski is expressive with wide-ranging true but rather dry tone lacking ideal sap and resonance. He scores best in the Handel (tr. 10) and Purcell (tr. 11) indicating his true fach to be bass-baritone rather than bass. In fact this is what is stated in his artist profile although he is shown as bass in the artist listing. The only disappointing singer on the disc is Indra Thomas. Her artist profile states she has been acclaimed as the next great Verdi soprano. If that is the case her D’amor sull’ali rosee (tr. 12) would be a tour de force. It isn’t. She is unsteady, even squally, whilst being too heavy as Gilda (tr. 1) and Marguerite (tr. 4).

Apart from Indra Thomas my only frustration with this well recorded and sung disc is that the two male stars are restricted to a part of the I Puritani duet (tr. 16). The whole would have really rounded off this enjoyable and varied issue as well as introducing us to potential star singers of the future. Maybe Naxos has solo albums of Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien and Kristine Jepson in the can. If not, they should seriously think about it before they get signed up elsewhere. Strongly recommended for all lovers of singing.

Robert J Farr

See also review by Göran Forsling 


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