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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice (1762): Che farò senza Euridice? [04:29]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro (1786): Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio [02:58]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Tancredi (1813): Oh patria! … Di tanti palpiti [07:29]
La donna del lago (1819): Mura felici [09:24]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
I Capuleti ed i Montecchi (1830): Lieto del dolce incarico … La tremenda [07:54]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucrezia Borgia (1833): Il segreto [03:28]
Anna Bolena (1830): E’ sgombro il loco … Ah! parea [08:04]
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
Les Huguenots (1836): Nobles seigneurs [04:12]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust (1859): Faites-lui mes aveux [02:39]
Roméo et Juliette (1867): Depuis hier … Que fais-tu [07:50]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
La Pucelle d’Orléans (1881): Oui, Dieu le veut! … Adieu, forêts [07:50]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Die Fledermaus (1874): Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein [03:35]; From time to time I entertain (English version of preceding) [03:29]
Jennifer Larmore (mezzo)
Welsh National Opera Orchestra/Carlo Rizzi
rec. August 1995, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, Wales
WARNER CLASSICS APEX 2564 62761-2 [71:05]


Fans of this excellent singer should note that this is not a new record. Some time ago I thoroughly enjoyed, without perhaps going overboard in my enthusiasm, her 2001 disc of French opera arias entitled “L’Etoile” (see review). Any reader who doesn’t have that record is recommended to try it first.
 
Not that this one is bad, indeed much of it is very good. Larmore has made a particular name for herself in Rossini heroines such as Rosina and La Cenerentola and the Italian arias here are excellent. She has the right-sounding voice, unmistakeably mezzo in its full, dark timbre, yet stretching to a sustained high C as easily as it descends down to G in the chest register. Her coloratura is impeccably neat, she embellishes the music where required and she can also sustain an excellent legato. Here and there I wished for a little more character, particularly in the recitatives. I don’t know how many of these roles she had actually sung on stage prior to making the recording. I couldn’t help thinking that Marilyn Horne, for example, could have sung five arias in a row by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti without making them sound so similar. In the cavatina of the Bellini piece you would think she was singing about something very pleasant and romantic. There is no feeling that Romeo is trying desperately to change his interlocutor’s mind, no sense of “what if …?” to it.
 
The opening Gluck item has a number of unusual features. The conductor has introduced a harpsichord into the orchestra. This may be correct but on the whole even authentically-minded conductors seem to think that Gluck’s orchestral writing is as complete as Mozart’s. Then the two tempi, marked “Andante con moto” and “Adagio”, are more differentiated than I have ever heard them. The one is almost double the other. This might be fine if it enabled her to express a strong sense of character. Janet Baker had a slower Adagio than most, but the intensity she created was of another order. A further unusual feature is that, while for most of the aria Larmore is sparing even with the traditionally observed appoggiaturas, at the last appearance of the famous melody she suddenly adds quite considerable decoration. Again, it may be that singers of the day did this but on the whole Gluck’s noble lines benefit from being left simple. And it seems inconsistent when at the phrase “né dal ciel” which, with its pause, does seem to demand a cadenza of some sort, she has left the music unadorned. The final curious feature is that she takes a breath IN THE MIDDLE of the word “fedele”. I cannot begin to imagine how such a thing was passed for release. Just supposing she was working from an edition which had forgotten to put the second hyphen in “fe-de-le”, and didn’t know enough Italian to correct it automatically, couldn’t the conductor – an Italian – have pointed out the gravity of what she was doing? I listened to this a second time immediately – I just couldn’t believe it at first.
 
The rather sedate Mozart says little and the French items are again under-characterized. You would suppose Stéphano’s piece from Roméo et Juliette to be a charming serenade to his lady rather than a saucy page intent on provoking a fight from the Capulets – something he succeeds in doing all too well, thus setting in motion the tragedy. I realize that for an older generation of singers the Tchaikovsky was known as “Adieu, forêts”, but it seems very strange today for an American singer to present a Russian aria in a French translation. She sings it rather as though it was a French aria. It’s quite nice but surely a bit of Arkhipova-like heft is required? Lastly, Orlofsky’s aria in both German and English, sung extremely slowly and seriously without any attempt at the hiccups which the music seems to want to imitate.
 
All this sounds a bit damning. Maybe Larmore wasn’t quite ready for a solo disc at the time. In that case it is rather a pity this one had to turn up again. The Italian arias are worth having but I daresay she’d do even these better today. There’s a good essay on the mezzo in trousers roles, except that the writer is evidently under the impression that the Cherubino aria to be included was not this one but “Voi che sapete”.
 
Christopher Howell
 

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