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Anja Harteros – Bella Voce
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Oh smania! O Furie! ... D'Oreste e d'Ajace [6.25] from Idomeneo K. 366; Porgi, amor [3.25] from Le nozze di Figaro K. 492; Temerari ... Come scoglio [5.43]; Ei parte - senti! Ah no! ... Per pieta, ben mio perdona all'error [8.57] from Così fan tutte K 588; Ah, lo previdi! - Ah, t'invola agl'occhi miei - Deh, non varcar K.272 [13.16]; Vado, ma dove? O Dei! K. 583 [4.09]; Misera! dove son? L'aure del Tebro - Ah! non son io che parlo, K.369 [6.49]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Scena di Berenice Hob.XXIVa;10 [12.20]
Cantata composra per la Signora Banti in Antigono di Pietro Metastasio
Anja Harteros (soprano)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Pinchas Steinberg
rec. 7–11 December 2005, Baumgartner-Casino, Vienna. DDD.
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876771432 [62.01]
 


First off, I must ask you to suspend any thoughts you have that Bella Voce, to title of this CD, should just indicate inherent tonal beauty. Whilst Harteros’s voice is beautiful in a conventional sense, there is so much more to her art.
 
If the notes by Martin Bernheimer that accompany this CD concentrate more on discussing Anja Harteros and her voice than the repertoire she sings, it is perhaps understandable. A few of the points he makes bear amplification. “… she arrived at the Met without fanfare”: Her international career was launched when she won the 1999 Cardiff “Singer of the World” competition. My notes from watching that competition on television record the “mix of fire and control in her voice, a lirico-spinto whose top range has great dramatic potential – although she has yet to fully realise this.” Since 1999 she has sung at many European and American houses, with notable appearances in Munich and San Diego featuring high on the list. The fact she has had the patience of approach to build a career rather than be an overnight sensation singing everywhere is to her credit.
 
Mozart is a key component of her stage repertoire, although she has also sung Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Mimi in La Bohème, Violetta in La Traviata and Amelia in Simon Boccanegra – all with success. Consideration of these other roles leads me to agree with Martin Bernheimer once more in that her voice is more accurately described by the German term Jugendlich-dramatisch. Being of Greek-German parentage, the two musical aspects working within her voice are aptly summarised by fiery Greek passion and the more conscious self-control that you might think of as a characteristic of the Germanic mentality.
 
Mozart, of course, requires both elements to be present in differing degrees for many roles. It’s a fact one cannot escape as one listens to Harteros in this sequence of seven Mozart arias.
 
Oh smania! O Furie! ... D'Oreste e d'Ajace is the nearest thing Mozart wrote to a true mad scene. Urgency is there throughout the singing, though never produced through over-forced tone. The recitative is inwardly shaded to contrast well with the passionate fury on display in the aria. Much of the text is repeated, but Harteros varies the colour of the words, displaying both musical awareness and intelligence of interpretation. Without doubt she has developed the dramatic potential of her upper range, but without sacrificing flexibility or precision to get there. The lower range might not be used with the same strength - to do so in this aria would be uncalled for – but it does possess a most useful ‘smoky’ quality in the chest voice.
 
Porgi, amor calls for more restraint in the assumption as the text expresses with succinct brevity the weight of personal regret rather than fury. Stage experience with the music shows, as does vocal flexibility and awareness of the implied nuances of meaning Mozart’s setting draws from da Ponte’s text.
 
Fiordiligi, no less than Figaro’s Countess or Idomeneo’s Elettra, is a role that could have been written for Harteros, so natural does her phrasing sound. Temerari ... Come scoglio brings to the fore once more the urgently dramatic aspect of her ability to characterise a role. The recitative implies much of the aggressive desperation that follows in Fiordiligi’s thoughts at that point in Act I, though where reflection occurs this is well integrated too. The long vocal runs are expressive of her plight, rather than just showy runs of notes thrown off without thought. Ei parte - senti! Ah no! ... Per pieta, ben mio perdona all'error shows an altogether different aspect of Fiordiligi’s character: pensive desperation. The recitative here is nervous, the aria might sound at the start a bit like Porgi, amor in tone, but listen carefully – it is much weightier of concept and implication. The vocal leaps are cleanly executed without disrupting the characterisation.
 
The remaining Mozart items are all concert arias, but ones that afford Harteros further opportunities to display her dramatic qualities.  Ah, lo previdi! - Ah, t'invola agl'occhi miei - Deh, non varcar is a true scena that “balances as informal recitative with formal melody”, as Martin Bernheimer states. Frustration, empty desolation and abandonment are all picked up with ease in Harteros’s tone.  Vado, ma dove? O Dei! is the best known of the concert arias included here, and is sung with absolute security and feeling. Doubts are quietly yet definitely expressed in the singing, as they should be. Misera! dove son? L'aure del Tebro - Ah! non son io che parlo once more expresses the plight of a distraught woman with skill.
 
The single scena by Haydn continues the theme. Recently I reviewed a disc featuring Arleen Augér in this music (see review). Then I commented about Augér’s voice: “at times the relative maturity of the voice is noticeable, particularly when pushed wide at each end of the vocal range. The Scena di Berenice shows this in particular, but odd moments of effort are quickly passed.”
 
No such comments can be levelled at Harteros. As I confirmed at the start, hers is a Jugendlich-dramatisch soprano, and one with a seemingly limitless range of expression too. Much as I love Augér in other Haydn works, The Creation under Rattle for example, I admit that I can only admire her in this scena. Harteros on the other hand makes me love the music and her singing of it because her voice is ideal for it – youthful yet experienced, imposing yet flexible, subtle yet it demands you listen. Brilliantly realised are the contrasting keys of the two arias – E major and F minor – and the originality of Haydn’s daring writing is still something to delight the ear over 210 years after his quill scratched upon manuscript paper.
 
Not a word so far on the orchestra or conducting: both sound sensitive and fine to me, sensitive to mood and practised in establishing the right atmosphere for each aria. The recording places Harteros forward in the sound spectrum, making her impact all the greater.
 
This disc proves that some things are worth waiting for. Harteros is an artist very much in the ascendant; she holds passion and control in balance within her singing. May her next solo discs explore other areas of her repertoire as thrillingly as this one has. But, please, don’t make me wait another seven years!
 
As I read through this review before submitting it to our Editor, I note that a recording of Anja Harteros in Verdi’s La Traviata is about to be released.
 
Evan Dickerson
 

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