Within two years of
leaving the Conservatory in Sofia in
her native Bulgaria in 1989, Vasselina
Kasarova had hit the operatic headlines
for her singing. She premiered at the
major addresses including Saltsburg
(La Clemenza di Tito) and where she
caused a sensation replacing the formidable
Marilyn Horne in Rossini's Tancredi
with Edita Gruberová as Ameniade.
These prestigious concert performances
were given at Salzburg to celebrate
the 200th anniversary of Rossini's birth.
(see footnote) Her first recording was
with Gruberová, as Agnese in
Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda on the Nightingale
label. She was signed up by RCA who
issued a complete Tancredi followed
by an admired 'Portrait' CD that included
examples of her Handel and Mozart as
well as the bel canto repertoire. In
the Tancredi Eva Mei and, the then young,
house tenor Ramon Vargas joined her
as Arigio. These enjoyable extracts
are taken from that complete set (trs.
2.3 and 7). For better or worse, on
three full priced discs, that Tancredi
came off worse in comparison with the
two CD bargain priced Naxos issue featuring
the Polish Ewa Podles in the title role.
Although Kasarova's lower tones do not
compete with those of Podles, her warm
middle timbre and secure coloratura
are heard to good effect in these extracts.
The young Ramon Vargas is vocally elegant
and if Eva Mei is no Gruberová,
she is secure and affecting.
RCA were quick to fill
up Kasarova’s discography and followed
a widely admired Mozart disc under Colin
Davis with complete recordings of her
as the servant Fatime (Oberon), Romeo
(I Capuleti e i Montecchi), and Charlotte
(Werther). In the Bellini Kasarova was
again partnered by Eva Mei and Ramon
Vargas, the latter rather too vocally
elegant as the vengeful Tebaldo in Deserto
e il luogo and Arresta. Qual
mesto suon echeggia? (trs. 4-5).
Kasarova joined Vargas in his entertainingly
between Friends CD in 2003.
It is interesting to compare the vocal
development of both singers over the
intervening years in Rossini’s In
questi estremi istanti from Maometto
(tr. 6). Vargas’s tenor has grown stronger
but less flexible with Kasarova’s lower
voice more secure if a little nasal.
What will capture the eye on the front
cover, and the ear on the first track,
is the name Juan Diego Florez. He shot
to fame in 1996 when he substituted,
at a very late date, at the Pesaro Festival.
He was signed by Decca and has become
the tenore di grazia of our day.
He starts the disc with some elegantly
phrased soft singing in Amor... possente
nome! from Rossini’s Armida (tr.
1). Just why he has become unsurpassed
in this repertoire can also be heard
as he treats us to a sample of his pinpoint
coloratura, outstanding florid singing
and some pinging high notes in the extracts
from the composer’s Otello, (tr. 8).
In these vocal respects, and extracts,
he is well matched by Kasarova. The
long finale from La Cenerentola finds
both singers well matched for expression,
elegant phrasing and sheer vocal bravura
(tr. 9). It is a fitting conclusion
to a very enjoyable disc.
The disc might well
have been titled bel canto duets for
both its repertoire and fine singing.
Some collectors look down on compilations
such as this. In my view they allow
collectors of limited space or budget
to hear favourite or new artists in
repertoire that might otherwise be denied
them. When the compilation is as well
recorded, and contains as much quality
singing in relatively rare repertoire
as this disc, I am more than happy to
go along with the practice. Despite
the sparse booklet note that contains
no words, or even synopses, I thoroughly
recommend readers to add this disc to
their collection. It contains much fine
singing by a generation of artists who,
despite their manifest qualities, have
little chance of adding any more studio
recordings of complete operas in this
oeuvre to their discography.
Robert J Farr
am indebted to Mr Michell Thitathan
who has drawn attention to an article
titled 'La Rossiana. A conversation
with Marilyn Horne'. Williams Opera
Quarterly 1993 pp 65-91. Here Miss Horne
explains her withdrawal as being due
to the fact that the Salzburg performances
were to be of the original Venice happy
ending and not the more dramatic and
normally performed tragic ending that
Rossini wrote for Ferrara. This article
is available on a restricted site at
) . Mr Titathan also points out
that Kasarova's 1996 recording of Tancredi,
on three CDs, includes both endings