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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Audrey Stottler sings Wagner
Die Walkure: Du bist der Lenz [2:09]; Schlafst du, Gast? - Der Manner Sippe [5:28];
War es so schmahlich [9:31];
Gotterdammerung: Starke Scheite [14:10];
Tristan und Isolde: Den hab ich wohl vernommen [9:22]; Mild und leise [6:16];
Audrey Stottler (soprano)
Academic Symphony Orchestra of the St Petersburg Philharmonic/Arkady Steinlucht
rec. Leningrad Documentary Film Studio, September 2005
ROMEO RECORDS 7250 [46:57]

Word has it that Minnesota-born Audrey Stottler is the new hochdramatische soprano to watch. Since her debut at the Metropolitan Opera NY in 2002 she has been building an enviable reputation in her Fach. Her calling-card at the Met was Turandot and this has become her signature role. Other roles have been the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten, Lady Macbeth and Abigaille in Nabucco. Knowledgeable readers will probably sigh and mutter: 'Voice-killers all'. And this is of course the dilemma today: as soon as a strong dramatic voice appears everyone wants her to sing these and other heavy roles. The biography doesn't mention much Wagner though apart from the music on this disc, but this is presumably the next phase: opera houses queuing up for her Isolde and Brunnhilde. Listening to this disc, the prospects are a bit daunting.
To be sure she has a basically fine voice, grand, brilliant, long-breathed and fearless and steady tone - I emphasis basically. As represented on this recording - at least in Sieglinde's two solos from the first act of Die Walkure (tr. 1 and 2) - the aforementioned roles have already taken a toll. The voice is decidedly worn and frayed and the tone is unattractively shrill, even shrieky. The surface is definitely seriously scratched. Without seeing the photograph of a young woman I would have guessed that it was someone approaching 50 after a long career as a Wagnerian soprano. On the credit side there is much sensitive phrasing and a willingness to reduce the volume but by and large, as soon as she sings forte and above, the singing gives little pleasure.
These excerpts may have been recorded on an off-day, since what follows has more to recommend it. As Brunnhilde, in her act III scene with Wotan, starting with War es so schmahlich (tr. 3) she begins softly, inwardly and with care for the text. As long as she avoids putting undue pressure on the voice she sounds well. The immolation scene from Gotterdammerung is intense and there is no denying her involvement; I can even find some beauty in the tone. The wear and tear, so noticeable in the Sieglinde solos, is much less prominent here. In the two scenes from Tristan und Isolde she is even better. It is never a really comfortable sound but it is straighter, cleaner and the tone has a raw kind of beauty - there is even a thin silver coating. Isolde's narration and curse from the first act is a high-octane reading. Finally in the Liebestod there is both nobility and power and she ends it on a beautiful pianissimo.
My first misgivings turned out not to be fully justified but the disc remains a far from unqualified success. I imagine that I would have been more satisfied if hearing her live, since there is an undoubted thrill in the voice and, as we all know, microphones are not the neutral observers they should be. Some voices are easy to record, others are not. I don't know anything about the size of the recording venue - and why, I ask myself, do they still call it the Leningrad Documentary Film Studio, 15 years after the city was renamed St Petersburg? - but she might sound more comfortable if more distant from the microphones. On my machine there was an extra metallic edge. The orchestra is adequate with fine woodwind ensemble at the beginning of Brunnhilde's War es so schmahlich and Maestro Steinlucht's conducting is unquirky. The booklet has full texts with English translations, a biography of the singer but no notes on the music. The playing time is decidedly ungenerous.
A powerful, thrilling and intense singer but the voice production - on this hearing at least - leaves much to be desired.
Goran Forsling


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