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Dolora Zajick - The Art of the Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Joan of Arc (The Maid of Orleans) - Prastite vy, xalmy [6:40]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Khovanshchina - Sily patainyye (with Piero Giuliacci (tenor)) [5:37]
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur - "Acerba voluttà" [4:11]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Semiramide - Ah! Quel giorno ognor rammento [6:19] Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana - "Voi lo sapete" [3:56]
Samson et Dalila - Mon Coeur s'ouvre a ta voix [6:40]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Don Carlo - O don fatale [5:07]
Il Trovatore - "Condotta ell'era m ceppi" (with Piero Giuliacci (tenor)) [4:48]
Macbeth - "La luce langue" [4:09]; "Una macchia è qui tuttora" [10:44]

Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Alceste - "Divinités du Styx" [4:46]
Orphée et Eurydice - "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice" [5:43]
Dolora Zajick (mezzo)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Rosekrans
rec. Walthamstow Town Hall, London, 18 August-2 September 1999. DDD
TELARC CD80557 [69.25]

Experience Classicsonline

The term mezzo-soprano comes from the Italian, meaning half-soprano. It is the middle category of the female voice, some referring to it as the coloratura contralto That latter term implies a flexibility and lightness that is certainly not a requirement in the majority of heavier and darker dramatic mezzo-soprano voices, particularly those intended by Verdi. In the Italian repertoire some mezzos only differ from the lyrico-spinto soprano in that a few notes are lacking at the top of the tessitura, with the voice merely having a recognisably and somewhat darker timbre. In recent years Shirley Verrett (b. 1930) and Grace Bumbry (b. 1937) have fitted that description. Both essayed soprano roles such as Tosca in addition to their original fach of the Verdi lyric-dramatic roles such as Eboli (Don Carlos), Amneris (Aida), Azucena (Il Trovatore) and Ulrica (Ballo in Maschera). They did not do so without exposing imperfections at the top of the voice. Other, lighter and flexible mezzo voices have been able to move between their adopted fach into the lighter soprano roles: Cecilia Bartoli, Susan Graham and Frederica von Stade being typical examples. However, one cannot imagine Marilyn Horne, with her significantly heavier, darker, albeit very flexible mezzo taking on Mozart soprano roles as Bartoli has done, although Horne sang bel canto soprano parts in her early career. Examples of her flexibility from this period can be heard on recordings from the mid-1960s of items by Rossini and Donizetti (Decca 421 891-2). There she encompasses Isabella’s aria Crude sorte! from L’Italiana in Algeri alongside Semiramide’s Bel raggio and Marie’s Deciso e dunque from La figlia del regimento, the latter two sung by Joan Sutherland on the complete recordings. In terms of tonal range the ordinary, as distinct from the coloratura soprano, will have a two octave range rising from middle C, whilst the mezzo range is two octaves from A with an occasional high B flat. Some darker and heavier voices go a little lower towards the contralto’s F below middle C. Such a voice-type is really needed for Ulrica in Ballo in Maschera and Quickly in Falstaff. Along the continuum are the roles such as Carmen, Dalila (tr.6) and Mignon through Rossini’s coloratura Rosina (Barber of Seville) and heavier Tancredi to Mozart’s Cherubino. These can also be sung by a soprano with sufficient colour to convey the character’s maleness.

On the international operatic stage, and on mainstream recordings, the dramatic mezzo roles of Verdi were dominated for much of the LP era, and before, by a distinguished line of Italian mezzos. The first in that line was Ebe Stignani (1904-74) who sang Amneris on Gigli’s 1944 recording of Aida and Adalgisa to Callas’s Norma at Covent Garden in 1952 and on the recording made the following year (review). Next came Giuiletta Simionato (1910-1997), and then Fedora Barbieri (1920-2003) followed by the redoubtable Fiorenza Cossotto (b. 1935), after which the mould seemed lost. The recording industry endeavoured to fill the gap with the likes of Marilyn Horne (Decca 417 137-2) and Brigitte Fassbänder (DG 423 858-2) as Azucena and Christa Ludwig as Ulrica (Decca 410 210-2) - roles they were not familiar with on stage. Karajan cast the tangy light mezzo Agnes Baltsa as his Don Giovanni Elvira, and Amneris (review) and others followed (article and discography).

Into this milieu Dolora Zajick arrived on the operatic stage, the great Birgit Nilsson saying of her: “Zajick’s voice is the only one existing today without any competition in the world.” Several record companies received her like a gift from heaven; her discography of complete opera recordings is detailed on her website. Zajick’s voice is not a million miles different from that of Marilyn Horne of the early 1980s when she was singing the dramatic Rossini mezzo roles at Pesaro. It is notable that she did this without recourse to a heavy rasping chest register as can be heard in her singing of Arsace’s aria from Semiramide (tr.4). In the live situation she gave her all, never holding back. The effect was often viscerally thrilling, as when I heard her as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana in 2005. But the downside of this approach is evident in some of these extracts when the excessive dramatic heft relies on a thick-toned or throaty emission (tr.5). Compare this with her account of Eboli’s O don fatale with its declamatory nature and the whole having that exciting vitality I have already referred to (tr.7). I was less convinced of her Azucena (tr.8) whilst finding her Lady Macbeth interesting if not without vocal mannerisms (trs.11-12). Her Mon coeur from Samson and Dalila is well controlled and expressive (tr.6) whilst the Gluck (tr.10) needs a more yearning touch whilst being vocally impressive.

What is unusual on recital discs, particularly when discs of mezzos are so comparatively rare on the ground, are the extracts from two operatic rarities from Russian opera (trs.1-2). In these episodes Zajick is at her most persuasive vocally. I would have liked her to have included Marina’s aria from the Polish scene of Boris Godunov. However, market forces were doubtless paramount in this diverse collection from 1999, now re-issued under Telarc’s policy. I am very happy to add this disc to the few devoted to this voice type in my collection. This is a reflection on availability not on my taste. The recording is clear and the booklet has notes on each aria as well as the words with English translation. Zajick’s website biography only goes up to 2003-04 and, like the booklet, does not give her date of birth.

Robert J Farr


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