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Jennifer Larmore – Great Operatic Arias
Francesco CILEA (1866–1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur
1. The torment of desire, exquisite torture – Star of the Evening (O vagabonda stella d’oriente) [4:18];
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
La favorita
2. Can I believe it? – Oh my beloved – I submit to heav’nly powers! (O, mio Fernando) [8:02];
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Il trovatore
3. Fierce flames are raging (Stride la vampa) [2:54]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834–1886)
La Gioconda
4. My curse upon you! – Love like mine is the light of creation (L’amo come il fulgor del creato) [3:43];
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Don Giovanni
5. To what atrocity – That ungrateful man betrayed me (Mi tradi) [5:46];
Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
6. Oh righteous God – Where was I? (Wo war ich?) [9:19];
La favorita
7. You, most courteous maiden – My beloved (Ah, mio bene) [10:26];
George Frideric HANDEL (1792–1868)
8. Hence, Iris hence away! [3:40];
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
9. Tell me, my beating heart (Di tanti palpiti) [2:56];
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
10. Take my children – See, O Norma (Mira, O Norma) [10:49];
Giuseppe VERDI
Don Carlos
11. O hated gift (O don fatale) [4:35];
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
Romeo and Juliet
12. Juliet’s Waltz Song (Je veux vivre) [3:44]
Jennifer Larmore (mezzo)
Susan Patterson (soprano) (4, 10); Colin Lee (tenor)(7); Fflur Wyn (soprano)(7)
Philharmonia Orchestra/David Parry
rec. Blackheath Halls, London, 12-15 September 2006
All items sung in English.
CHANDOS CHAN 3142 [71:27]

The Chandos catalogue of  “Opera in English” recordings is rapidly growing. Today there are around 45 complete operas, some of them reissues from the EMI catalogue but the majority Chandos originals. Add to this a couple of highlights discs, some compilations culled from complete sets and about 20 solo recitals. The general standard has been high, even if not all issues have scaled Everest. For English speakers who prefer opera in the vernacular the whole series has been a blessing. I won’t go into the debate on the pros and cons of English versus the original language: the end result stands or falls with the quality of the translations and probably it is unavoidable that there are awkward turns here and there. Even though English lacks the melodiousness of Italian and the elegance of French it works pretty well and generally sounds better than Italian and French arias sung in German.

Atlanta-born Jennifer Larmore, who once studied with Regina Resnik, has been around for twenty years. Her fame rests mainly on the coloratura region of the baroque and bel canto repertoire. Her signature role has been Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, a part I heard her singing with aplomb at Covent Garden as long ago as 1993. Among her many complete recordings I have a soft spot for L’incoronazione di Poppea and Giulio Cesare, both on Harmonia Mundi with René Jacobs conducting. According to the booklet text she is the most recorded mezzo-soprano of all time and it is a tribute to her open-mindedness and engagement for operatic by-ways that she has participated in a number of recordings for Opera Rara. In this recital we hear her in some expected repertoire but she also throws her net wider, into some central heavier roles. Her voice has undoubtedly matured, gained volume and bite and while she retains her fluent coloratura and elegance of phrasing she has added enough heft to negotiate Azucena, Laura in La Gioconda, Adalgisa and even Princess Eboli in Don Carlos.

Maturing is a process that works differently for different things. A good red wine, for instance, which can be sourish, even slightly fizzy, coloratura-like, when young, becomes rounded, full and mellow when matured in oak-barrels. A good mezzo voice, for instance, which can be rounded, full and mellow – but still fizzy and coloratura-like – when young, can become less rounded, more sourish when matured in oak-panelled opera houses. What they have in common is that they darken. I am not saying that Larmore’s voice has become less rounded but one can trace a few dashes of vinegar added to the taste sensation, not inappropriate when it comes to the heavier dishes on the menu: Azucena, Eboli, Laura, Adalgisa, princess Bouillon in Adriana Lecouvreur to name some of them. Under pressure these dashes tend to stand out in a way that borders on shrillness. Even in Donna Elvira’s aria from Don Giovanni this is an unwelcome addition to the total experience. I shouldn’t make too heavy weather of this, however, since the overriding impression of this generous and varied recital is that of high technical competence, deep insight, involvement and dramatic conviction.

The rarely encountered aria from Adriana Lecouvreur certainly makes a dramatic opening to the recital while the tripartite Favorita scene starts with an intense recitative, followed by a warmly sung aria with harp-dominated accompaniment and a powerful cabaletta - impressive but a little lacking in swagger. Her Azucena is comparatively light and youthful and she has a trill that not many traditional Azucenas can match. In the Gioconda duet she is partnered by the imposing, almost Callas-like Susan Patterson. This is as dramatic a reading as any I can remember; not even the ‘real’ Callas is more fiery. Her Donna Elvira is touching in her misery and it is good to have Adriano’s big scene from Rienzi sung with such wholehearted conviction and intensity. The opening is dramatic almost to a fault but Ms Larmore has the measure for it and she sings the aria Still in full bloom my life is fading with rich, warm tone, showing that her voice is ‘still in full bloom’. The aria is melodically appealing in a vein that makes me think of Lortzing or Flotow, a comparison that Wagner himself probably wouldn’t have appreciated. Dramatic is also the concluding Where was I?

The duet from La favorita opens with Fernando’s recitative You, most courteous maiden, sung with clear, well-equalized tone by Colin Lee, not unlike Bruce Ford, and he matches Jennifer Larmore well in the duet proper, where she is grandiose. This is Donizetti at his dramatic best. Juno’s aria from Semele, the only piece here where English is the original language, is a virtuoso reminder of her excellence in baroque repertoire. There is such fluency in her runs and her deepest register is impressive without being chesty. At fortissimo the tone has a tendency to spread, though. Possibly the best singing in the whole recital comes in the well-known aria from Tancredi, while the Norma duet offers some uncharacteristic shouting from both ladies; Ms Patterson is the worst offender of the two. They show a lot of sensitivity too but in the last resort it is too hard-driven.

Finally Jennifer Larmore delivers a swift but intensely remorseful O don fatale – or O hated gift as it is in Andrew Porter’s excellent translation – and a charming and elegant Waltz Song from Romeo and Juliet. David Parry, who has been the ‘house-conductor’ for the “Opera in English” series ensures keen and sensitive accompaniments and the playing of the Philharmonia Orchestra is up to their normal high standards. There are good notes by Rodney Miles and the sung texts are provided as usual in this attractive series.

The small reservations I have expressed lose in significance against so much accomplished singing and playing, which makes this a highly desirable recital disc – not only for Jennifer Larmore fans.

Göran Forsling 



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