Christine Brewer has been a leading dramatic soprano for quite
some time and she certainly has a magnificent instrument. Unlike
some other exponents of her breed she has, however, an enviable
ability to scale down her voice for lyrical purposes as well.
On this disc we hear a mix of both kinds of singing.
She opens the recital
with the Countess’s Porgi amor, which calls for a finely
spun legato and a lot of lyrical restraint. She has both and
the basic concept of her reading is admirable, as was her Donna
Anna on Mackerras’s Telarc recording of Don Giovanni,
issued about fifteen years ago. The difference is that now an
unwanted edge at the top of the voice has crept in. It is prominent
enough to draw some attention from what she actually sings.
Hers remains a fine voice but there are surface scratches. She
lightens the tone even more in the recitative before the Letter
duet and so manages to sound as girlish as any Susanna. Judith
Howarth’s Susanna still radiates youth but lacks the glitter
she once had when I heard her singing Rossini’s Stabat Mater
on the composer’s 200th anniversary day: 29 February
reviewed the old Decca recording of Alceste with Kirsten
Flagstad I noted that Brewer has the dramatic power for the
role though not the rounded tone and the nobility of her predecessor.
On the other hand her singing is stylish and clean where Flagstad
tends to scoop. In Where am I? (tr. 3) she expresses
sorrow and despair very aptly. The Tannhäuser aria (Elisabeth’s
Prayer) is inward and sung in long phrases but here she is up
against the somewhat younger Flagstad’s recording (DB 6795)
which is even more noble. She makes a good stab at Ellen Orfords’s
Embroidery aria but can’t erase memories of Heather Harper on
the Colin Davis recording. She is on her own, however, in Leonora’s
recitative and aria from Fidelio. This scene is culled
from the complete recording made in 2004 and here the edge is
less noticeable. In fact this is a reading to set beside some
of the best. She spits out ‘Vile murderer! Sadistic swine!’
vehemently and even though David Pountney’s very free translation
is a far cry from the original word meaning it’s a good basis
for expressing hate.
I didn’t expect
her to take on baroque repertoire but Rodelinda’s aria is well
sung with fine feeling for the text. Elsa’s Dream from Lohengrin
offers assured and beautiful singing but the real highlight
is Magda’s aria from Menotti’s The Consul. Menotti was
often masterly at creating a sense of ‘real life’ as opposed
to theatre and this aria is a psychological portrait with a
depth that has few equals in the entire world of opera. I have
to say that Christine Brewer really gets under the skin of Magda
Sorel. Next time when I want to prove to someone the potential
of opera I am going to play this track.
Many are the great
sopranos who have excelled in Marietta’s Glück das mir verblieb
from Die tote Stadt. Lotte Lehmann and Maria Jeritza
from the earliest days, Carole Neblett and Katarina Dalayman
on the two existing CD sets, Renée Fleming and a few others.
I haven’t seen Angela Denoke on the DVD from Strasbourg but
I heard her live in the same production in Paris. Christine
Brewer certainly has the measure of this delectable piece. Timothy
Robinson seems a bit too weak for Paul, who needs to be a Heldentenor.
My Mother Taught Me is well sung though I still have a fancy
for Victoria de los Angeles’s lovely reading from the mid-1960s.
I recently renewed acquaintance with it when reviewing the seven-disc-box
with her in EMI Classic’s Ikon series and it still holds its
own against the competition.
Some lighter fare
to round off the disc. The duet from The Land of Smiles
is a sure-fire hit with a good lyric soprano and a tenor with
some ring. I am afraid that this version lacks the most essential
ingredient for a good operetta duet: charm. It is less the fault
of Ms Brewer than of Timothy Robinson, whose rather bleating
vibrato in the lower reaches is quite unattractive. Prince Sou-Chong
needs the melting tones of a Tauber or a Gedda or, in more recent
times, Piotr Beczala in CPO’s complete recording of the work.
Climb ev’ry mountain from The Sound of Music is
intended for a contralto and initially it sounded too low for
Christine Brewer, but as she climbed the tessitura became more
comfortable and she ended gloriously.
There are examples
of fallibility in this recital but at her best – Fidelio,
The Consul, Die tote Stadt and Lohengrin – Brewer
probably has few equals at the moment. The aria from The
Consul is alone, for me at least, worth the price of the