this compilation offers excellent singing from well established
artists as well as some lesser known but still good singers.
The artists also give spoken introductions to their excerpts.
This is nice to hear once, acceptable to hear twice but the
third time one prefers to use the fast-forward function and
wish the musical numbers had been separately banded. Not everything
belongs in the category ‘greatest hits’ and this gives relative
beginners opportunities to encounter music that may inspire
them to further explore the wonderful world of opera. But opera
is not only singing, it is also theatre and while some scenes
are scenically uninteresting and the pictures are static, there
are others that brim with thrilling action.
opening number, the aria from The Fairy Queen, belongs
in the former category. At first the singer is shown at half-distance
to the right with the rest of the picture filled with black
backdrop. After some time we get a new angle, showing what looks
like a demolished grand piano; interest soon wanes and the acting
is formula-ridden in accordance with baroque practice. The singing
of Yvonne Kenny is beautiful and finely nuanced but the overall
effect is dull.
in chains in the aria from Giulio Cesare can’t possibly
be expected to do much acting. That said, this is one of the
great baroque arias, filled with inner tension and – in the
fast middle section – dramatic intensity.
Murray appears in two trouser roles: first in 1996 as Ariodante
at ENO, dark stage. Her singing tone is over-vibrant but expressive,
both vocally and visually. Then follows Xerxes. Here in a scene
with a non-singing Valerie Masterson there is vivid action and
colourful sets. Filmed six years earlier than Ariodante her
voice is in perfect shape and she excels in the florid roulades.
Mariinsky’s brightly coloured Ruslan and Luydmila we
are offered four excerpts. First the magnificent Larissa Diadkova
in Ratmir’s aria, surrounded by a graceful ballet. Next the
black bass Vladimir Ognovenko as Ruslan, quite similar to Nestorenko
in timbre and dramatically powerful. Readers familiar with the
overture to this opera will recognise the melody of this aria.
Tenor Konstantin Pluznikov sings Finn’s aria in nuanced and
expressive style but slightly strained at the top. The young
Anna Netrebko as Lyudmila is in superb voice and beautiful as
the daylight. This scene is marred by a bad fade-out.
the European Union Opera in Baden-Baden come some scenes from
a fastidious Eugene Onegin. Irish-born Orla Boylan is
a lively, nervous and sensitive Tatyana in the letter scene
and Vladimir Glushchak makes a youthful Onegin, haughty but
also weak. In the first scene his tone is rather hard and grating
but in the excerpt from the last act, where he is supposed to
be ten years older, his tone is more rounded. German tenor Michael
König is a lyrical Lensky, though his isn’t the smoothest of
voices – it has something of a Slavonic edge.
my mind the high-spots here have been saved to the end. Janáček’s
wonderful The cunning little vixen is fairytale beautiful
in this Chatelet performance from Paris. Janacek specialist
Charles Mackerras knows exactly how this music should be moulded.
Thomas Allen sings the Forester’s aria better than anyone I
have heard. The love duet is adorably sung and acted in a beautiful
‘bed’ and the music is ravishing.
to Mariinsky and Galina Gorchakova engagingly portrays Renata
from The fiery angel, before we end up at the ENO with
two Britten excerpts. Philip Langridge is Peter Grimes,
catching all the facets of this complicated character, and Thomas
Allen is deeply moving as Billy Budd. As so often one longs
to see and hear the full performance when encountering such
sum things up: though everything isn’t visually exciting there
is still a lot to savour and the singing is in most cases splendid.