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Amanda Roocroft (soprano)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Samson: Let the bright Seraphim [5.32]
Giulio Cesare: E pur cosi … Piangero [7.07]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Cosi fan tutte: Temarari…. Come scoglio [5.59]
Idomeneo: Solitudini amiche….Zeffiretti [6.57] Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Rondine: Chi il bel sogno di Doretta [3.22]
Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro [2.11]
Manon Lescaut: Il quelle trine morbide [2.29]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Otello: Ave Maria [4.57]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Rusalka: Song to the Moon [6.07]
Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860-1956)
Louise: Depuis le jour [4.57]
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
Chanson Triste [2.53]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Morgen!, Op. 27, No. 4 [3.42]
Befreit, Op 39, No 4 [5.15]
Amanda Roocroft (soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
rec. No 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 15-17 January 1994
EMI CLASSICS CDC 5 55090 2 [61.32]

 


Amanda Roocroft first impacted on my radar in 1988 when she won the prestigious Frederic Cox award at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music. There she was a student of the formidable teacher, Barbara Robotham. Later that year Roocroft won the Decca Ferrier award with a Welsh baritone now called Terfel winning the senior prize. But it was in the College’s staged performance of Cosi Fan Tutte in March of that year that I really sat up and took notice. As was their practice at that time the RNCM put on two productions in March. The Rigoletto featured Bruno Caproni in the name part in a well thought out production by Stefan Janski. With his magnificent vocal and acted portrayal of the jester, and the sheer vibrancy of a young chorus, it was a great evening. I approached the Cosi thinking it would be very much a second-eleven job. Then we got to Roocroft’s singing of Fiordiligi’s Come scoglio and suddenly my whole perception changed. It is one thing winning a singing competition with piano accompaniment, another to sing and act a role with an orchestra of players of high ability, many on the verge of professional careers. I should not perhaps have been so surprised. After all the decade had seen the RNCM launch the careers of Joan Rodgers, Anne Dawson and Jane Eaglen among a bevy of distinguished soprano alumni.

If Roocroft’s Come scoglio in that RNCM production of Cosi hit me unexpectedly, I was ready for Fiordiligi’s act two Per Pieta and which was equally expressive and stunning. In his review Gerald Larner was just as impressed finding only a little to criticise in Roocroft’s lower register. For their 1989 productions the College featured Verdi’s Don Carlo and Handel’s Alcina, the latter clearly designed to frame Roocroft’s vocal and acting skills which aim was accomplished with a vengeance. The renowned Manchester-based critic and Richard Strauss scholar Michael Kennedy praised her performance to the roof. Regrettably, this got up the craw of some London critics who tended to believe that the only good thing to come from north of Watford was black puddings. They took the view that Lancashire lass from Coppull couldn’t be as good as Kennedy made out and knives were sharpened and used in the next few years. But some significant conductors recognised her talent.

 Immediately after leaving college in 1989 she was signed up by Welsh National Opera as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier conducted by Charles Mackerras. In 1990 she sang Pamina on the Glyndebourne Tour of Peter Sellars’ rather perverse staging of Die Zauberflöte that so divided the Glyndebourne hierarchy. Then Roocroft went on to Covent Garden as Pamina and Glyndebourne as Fiordiligi, the latter becoming something of a calling card with her performance recorded on DVD conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (Archiv 073 026-9). She also sang the role in Jonathan Miller’s Armani-clad production at Covent Garden. The London critics had their field day in Roocroft’s early years, some not being silenced until her formidable Jenufa and Katya later in the 1990s. But Lancashire lasses are made of stern stuff, talent will out and be recognised. Nowadays with a young family Roocroft sings recitals as well as featuring regularly in London and Munich among other first class addresses. If she hasn’t quite succeeded in becoming the British answer to Kiri, her repertoire and voice have grown far more. She has made an affecting Butterfly at Covent Garden alongside Lane Irwin, another of Barbara Robotham’s pupils, as Suzuki. The two sang the long act 2 duet from Madama Butterfly, including the lovely aria Un bel di from the soprano at a concert given at the RNCM in January 2006 to raise money to endow an award in their teacher’s name (review).

In this debut album, recorded in 1994, Roocroft sets out her stall in the lyric soprano repertoire. The flexibility of her voice is heard to good effect in the Handel items (trs. 1-2). Her lyric expressiveness is well to the fore in the Puccini trio (trs. 5-7). Legato is exemplary in Desdemona’s Ave Maria (tr. 8). I would have loved to have had the excerpt extended by the Willow Song. Creamy tone and smooth legato are also to the fore in Rusalka’s Song to the Moon (tr. 9) and Charpentier’s Depuis le jour (tr. 10). Roocroft’s rendering of the Strauss duo of Morgen and Befreit (trs. 10-11) would doubtless have pleased Michael Kennedy who now donates an annual prize for the singing of Richard Strauss at the RNCM. My faultfinding is restricted to the matter of diction, so often a problem with sopranos in particular. I am pleased to note that the last time I heard her live it was a problem properly addressed and solved even when riding Puccini’s dense orchestration in Butterfly. Her assumption on stage of Elisabetta in Don Carlos in Holland in 2004 received mixed comments (review).

The return to ready availability of this debut recording of one of Britain’s finest sopranos is to be welcomed.

Robert J Farr

 

 


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