Frederica von Stade sings Italian Opera Arias
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria
1. Torna, torna * (13:02)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
2. Di tanti palpiti (7 :24)
Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740-1816)
Nina, o sia La pazza per amore
3. Il mio ben quando verrá (8 :23)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
4. Bel raggio lusinghier (7:00)
Riccardo BROSCHI (1698-1756)
5. Ombra fedele anch'io (8:50)
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)
La Bohème
6. E destin! Debbo andarmene coraggio! (6:04)
Frederica von Stade (mezzo)
* with Janice Taylor (mezzo)
National Arts Centre Orchestra/Mario Bernardi
rec. August 1977-July 1978, National Arts Centre, Ottawa
issued under licence by ArkivMusic
SONY CLASSICAL 78518 [50:43]
Frederica von Stade has husbanded her voice wisely and consequently had a long career, yet there is little doubt that the recordings she made in the mid to late 1970s display her beautiful voice at its freshest and most appealing. Affectionately known to her fans as “Flicka”, she has long vied with Marilyn Horne for the title of “America’s favourite mezzo-soprano”, but given the difference in their repertoires, she was never really in direct competition with Horne as their voice-types, although both nominally within the same category, are very different. The main overlap has come in their shared coloratura facility, especially in Rossini - although even there, they differ in areas of strength, Horne offers greater pyrotechnic facility and brilliance while von Stade excels in music requiring plangency and pathos.
I have long loved the melting luxuriance of her voice, with its plush low notes and light, sensuous, flickering vibrato and am delighted that three of her early recitals have been re-issued by ArkivMusic under licence from Sony. The standard LP length of around fifty minutes of music now seems short measure, but I readily admit that the current norm of 80 minutes on CD sometimes constitutes more than I want to hear at one sitting, especially of only one voice, so I have no complaints when the singing is of the quality on offer here.
This recital offers arias spanning three hundred years of Italian opera. The programme is eclectic and the last item might even seem a little incongruous, in that we leap from Baroque of Broschi (who?) to the verismo of Leoncavallo but the music has been chosen carefully to display all the merits, virtues and charms of von Stade’s mezzo range. She is always ideal playing suffering women in various states of distress, scorn and abuse and as such was always an adorable Cenerentola/Cendrillon in Rossini and Massenet respectively, but it is something of a relief to hear her sing two more upbeat Rossini arias in the trouser role of Tancredi and the exultant Semiramide. The latter features the one slightly less than agreeable characteristic of her voice which was apparent even in her prime and was to become more noticeable over time: the slight discoloration of notes from top B and above - in other words, the required “upper extension” of the Rossini mezzo with which Colbran (Rossini’s wife) herself soon began to experience difficulties. Conversely, it is also the aria which displays her perfect trill and equal gift for elation as opposed to unvaried melancholy.
She lives each character most convincingly; the least overtly characterised item is the aria from Broschi’s “Idaspe” which will constitute a pleasant surprise to new generations of operaphiles. It is a static, old-fashioned display aria, very grand and dignified with its soaring tune and staccato-obbligato trumpet accompaniment, originally written for the castrato divo Farinelli, Von Stade nicely encompasses the switches on this disc between male and female roles by colouring her voice differently, with a more mellow timbre. For Paisiello’s Nina, she adopts an aptly lighter, more feminine tone suggestive of innocence and simplicity as befits the music, which is reminiscent of Gluck in plaintive mode, especially given the prominence of the flute accompaniment.
The leap to Leoncavallo’s mezzo Musetta is a wrench but one is soon swept along by the gorgeous tune, lush orchestration and von Stade’s trademark ability to tug the heartstrings. In a sense, we have come full emotional circle from the opening item, in which von Stade recalls a famous Glyndebourne role and movingly delineates Penelope’s fidelity and devotion. She is ably supported here by fellow-mezzo Janice Taylor’s Eridea.
The support from Mario Bernardi and the Canadian orchestra is sensitive and flexible, the recorded sound ideal. This disc makes a perfect companion to “von Stade’s delectable French opera aria recital made in 1976 under Pritchard. 

Ralph Moore 

Displays all the merits, virtues and charms of von Stade’s mezzo range.