Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Amor - Opera Scenes and Lieder
Grossmächtige Prinzessin (Ariadne auf Naxos) [11.15] (1)
Kindskopf! Merkt auf, wir spielen mit in dem Stück (Ariadne auf Naxos) [7.07] (1, 4)
An Ihre Plätze (Ariadne auf Naxos) [4.14] (1, 2, 4, 5)
Brentano Lieder Op.68, Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 [13.47] (1)
Aber der Richtige (Arabella) [8.56] (1, 2)
Mir ist die Ehre widerfahren (Der Rosenkavalier) [7.04] (1, 3)
Marie Theres’, wie gut Sie ist (Der Rosenkavalier) [5.25] (1, 2, 3)
Ist ein Traum (Der Rosenkavalier) [7.40] (1, 3)
Zerbinetta, Zdenka, Sophie - Natalie Dessay (soprano) (1)
Primadonna, Arabella, Marschallin – Felicity Lott (soprano) (2); Octavian – Angelika Kirchschlager (mezzo) (3); Komponist – Sophie Koch (mezzo) (4); Musiklehrer, Faninal - Thomas Allen (baritone) (5)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano
rec. Studio No. 1 Abbey Road Studios, London; Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, 4, 7, 15, 18, 29 April, 2 May 2004
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6419332 [65.35]

This disc is something of a curiosity. Originally issued in 2005 and now re-issued, its cover gives Natalie Dessay headline billing in Opera Scenes and Lieder by Richard Strauss. The odd thing is that many of the opera scenes here feature an array of singers and hardly give Dessay top billing. In fact, it has the look of something rather hastily assembled. But for all that, there is some fine Strauss singing here and it bears consideration.

The disc opens with Grossmächtige Prinzessin, Zerbinetta’s showpiece aria from Ariadne auf Naxos. Zerbinetta is one of Dessay’s signature roles; the booklet includes pictures of her in the role from three very different productions. There is no doubt about her technical proficiency and security in what is a fiendishly tricky aria, but for much of the time her tone seems a little edgy and she lacks the smile and sweetness that would be ideal here. That she brings smile and sweetness into other pieces on the disc would seem to suggest that the recording caught her on an off day.

This is followed by the lovely duet for Zerbinetta and the Composer from the opera’s prologue, with the final aria for the composer. Here Sophie Koch contributes a finely sung and wonderfully passionate Composer. Frankly, her closing aria is the most fully rounded item from these Ariadne auf Naxos excerpts.

Next come four of Strauss’s Brentano Lieder. These were written for Elisabeth Schumann and orchestrated many years later. Dessay is on better, sweeter form here and the songs are lovely. But why didn’t we get all six, after all there was room; granted the songs are not really a cycle and there are few recordings of all six.

After the Brentano Lieder we revert to opera. Whereas Zerbinetta is a role for which Dessay is well known, she is not so much associated with Sophie or Zdenka. Though her web-site lists Sophie as one of her roles, it does not mention Zdenka, In fact it includes Fiakermilli from Arabella and I was slightly surprised that the disc did not include Fiakermilli’s aria from that opera. Instead we get the Act 1 duet between Arabella and Zdenka, Aber der Richtige. With this duet we come to the main reason for buying this disc: Felicity Lott. Lott appears briefly as the Primadonna in the Ariadne auf Naxos excerpts, but here we get the full flavour of her Arabella. Lott’s performance is beautifully considered, every word placed and gloriously sung. Perhaps her tone is not quite as refulgent as it once was, but she still floats her line finely and effortlessly and, it has to be said, makes the spine tingle.

Finally we get two excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier: the Act 2 duet between Octavian and Sophie and the Trio and final Duet from Act 3. In the Act 2 duet Dessay’s Sophie is partnered by Angelika Kirchschlager’s Octavian. Dessay is a fine, but not great Sophie, with Kirchschlager a very strong Octavian. The blend between the voices is near ideal and the result is entrancing. This mood is continued into the closing scene from Act 3 when they are joined by the Marschallin of Felicity Lott. Like her Arabella, Lott’s Marschallin repays listening and the final two tracks on the disc go onto my desert island compilation disc.

Thomas Allen provides well judged support as the Music Master and as Faninal.

Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House make fine accompanists, moving easily from the chamber-like Ariadne to the full-toned score of Der Rosenkavalier.
The booklet comes with an essay by David Nice, photos of Dessay as Zerbinetta plus studio photos of the other singers. Texts are provided but for some reason, my copy only had German and French texts with no English translations.

This is a disc that Strauss lovers will probably want. Not so much because it showcases Natalie Dessay as because she is surrounded by an ensemble of singers who lift the operatic scenes into something special, and because the disc does showcase the incomparable Strauss singing of Felicity Lott.

Robert Hugill

This disc is something of a curiosity.