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Eva Urbanova: Italian Operatic Arias
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Norma – Casta Diva [6:39]
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur – Ecco: respiro appena [3:41] (a); Poveri fiori [3:00]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Thais – Intermezzo [5:28]* (a)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Edgar – Addio, addio, mio dolce amor! [3:38]
Turandot – In questa reggia [6:06]
Manon Lescaut – Intermezzo [5:13]*; Sola, perduta, abbandonata [4:59]
Alfredo CATALANI (1854-1893)
La Wally – Ebben? Ne andro lontana… [4:18]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria rusticana – Intermezzo [3:33]*; Inneggiamo, il Signor non e morto [4:15]; Voi lo sapete [4:03]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino – La Vergine degli angeli [3:15]
Don Carlo – O don fatale [5:13]
Eva Urbanova (soprano) all tracks except *
(a) Lucie Svehlova (violin)
Prague Philharmonic Choir and Prague National Theatre Orchestra/Ondrej Lenard
Rec. live Smetana Hall, Prague, 30 May 2003. DDD
SUPRAPHON SU 3763-2 631 [63:48]



This disc most definitely has a recital feel about it. I say that not solely because it was recorded live at the Smetana Hall in Prague, where thankfully the audience was silent throughout until breaking into wild applause at the end of each item. The chief cause for the recital feel is structural – groups of arias interspersed by three intermezzi – two Italian, one French – thus providing a good framework for the whole. Having composers similarly grouped and arias given in sequence within each opera is also beneficial to the listener.

Up until listening to this disc I had only heard Eva Urbanova in Czech repertoire; unsurprisingly an area in which she is both excellent and widely recorded. I was curious to hear her in Italian arias. The results reveal the differences in vocal palette required between the Czech and Italian schools and also Urbanova’s difficulty in totally adjusting to the task. You can instantly tell that these are not performances from an Italian soprano.

It is, to my mind at least, daring to open a recital with ‘Casta Diva’. To bring it off and deflect inevitable comparisons with Callas takes quite something. Urbanova does not quite succeed. Diction is a problem initially – it is “Caata diva” rather than “Casta diva” at the very opening. Nerves at the start of a live concert perhaps, but she fails to make you fully believe what she sings, no matter how it is pronounced.

Technical issues prove problematic at times too: passage work is not perfect and the sound itself is not always beautiful per se. Callas showed how bel canto could be brilliantly sung despite supposed vocal problems and even, dare I say it, an ugly sound. What made it work for Callas was in my opinion an unrivalled awareness of her voice, a lifetime’s experience with the music and that special something, the ‘x factor’.

It sounds as if I am damning Urbanova’s efforts in holding them up for comparison against the high altar of operatic art. Well, I would not go that far; I merely intend to show what divides a worthy and at times quite successful recital from the truly great. There are nice touches to Urbanova’s portrayals in shading the voice, but too often she hits the edge of the note, rather than securely, confidently and full on. Again, this is a sign of a performance caught live. Under studio conditions I feel sure there would have been retakes. ‘In questa reggia’ is a case in point: it just does not stand up to repeated home listening.

It is welcome to hear an aria from Puccini’s Edgar, one of the most musically successful items on this disc. So too must be counted the Cilea and Catalani arias together with one of the Verdi. I should draw your attention briefly to the atmospheric reading of the Massenet Intermezzo from Thaïs, sensitively played by Lucie Svehlova, and enhanced by the wordless contribution of the choir.

Although the Prague National Theatre Orchestra and Philharmonic Choir play and sing well, bringing experience to their part in the proceedings, Ondrej Lenard’s tempi are sometimes a little staid. This is a surprise considering the drama of most of the arias. The opening of ‘O don fatale’ suffers particularly. This is a shame, because here in the dying minutes, Urbanova suddenly catches fire. The mezzo timbre of her lower voice is well formed, whilst she excites in the higher reaches, in a way not managed earlier in the programme.

With documentation consisting only of notes on Urbanova’s career to date, this further adds to my view that this is a release largely for her admirers. Those after more convincing interpretations and/or more involved, cleanly sung, performances should look elsewhere for a first recommendation of selected Italian arias.

Evan Dickerson




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