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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Symphonic Prelude in A major (1882) [7:32]
Suor Angelica (1918)
Kristíine Opolais (soprano) - Suor Angelica
Lioba Braun (alto) - The Princess
Beate Koepp (contralto) - The Abbess
Nadezhda Serdyuk (mezzo) - The Monitress
Mojca Erdmann (soprano) - Suor Genovieffa
Beata Borchert (contralto) - Mistress of the Novices
Claudia Nüsse (mezzo) - Nursing Sister
Carola Günther (mezzo) - Suor Dolcina/Second Lay Sister
Dong-Hi Yi (soprano) -First Alms Sister
Christaine Rost (soprano) - Suor Osmina/Second Alms Sister
Benita Borbonus (soprano) - First Lay Sister
Sabine Kallhammer (soprano) - A Novice
WDR Rundfunkchor and Sinfonieorchester Cologne/Andris Nelsons
rec. May and October 2011, West German Radio Cologne, Cologne Philharmonie
Texts and translations included
ORFEO C848 121A [51:13]

This is a highly successful concert performance given over a number of days in May 2011 in the Cologne Philharmonie. Those moments of patching between performances, and there will have been some, obviously, have been carried out seamlessly. Directed by Andris Nelsons the star turn is that of the title role, taken by the Latvian soprano Kristíine Opolais.
 
She sings with the necessary stillness and presence, but is able to evoke the more wrenching parts of the role, which chart the course of the Sister of a title, who has lived for seven years in a convent not knowing that her illegitimate child has since died. Her aunt, the Princess, a role taken by Lioba Braun tells her the detail with chilling directness, leading to Angelica’s suicide, the sin of which is redeemed by a sign of Divine grace.
 
Thus raptness and stillness and wonder are necessary at the start, horror and despair later, and calm resolution at the end. All these qualities she possesses, and we are aware from as early as her first appearance, when she sings that ‘o my sisters, to die is life, is glory!’ that there is something almost quiveringly intense in her relationship between life and death. As The Monitor wisely but not unsympathetically chides her, ‘We must never let our desires/Turn to matters vain and worldly.’ It is very much the worldly that is so soon to intrude so violently into Angelica’s long-closeted life and to lead to just that death she had earlier invoked. The vein of loss and tragedy, of self-killing at its heart, calls for an unusually empathetic performance in a work that could otherwise be seen as crudely functional and, in its close, sentimentalised.
 
Opolais has the lyric grace for the role, both confiding and yet able to declaim above the orchestration when required. She is also a theatrical animal as she has proved on international stages and is able to replicate something of that intensity in a concert performance. Thus her move from realisation, to self-reflection, to death, is freighted with expressive dynamic shadings and subtle phrasing commensurate with her emotive state.
 
The other major roles are well taken. The Monitress is taken by mezzo Nadezhda Serdyuk who proves a calm, measured presence, whilst Lioba Braun conveys the Kostelnička-like indifference and self-interest at the heart of her character, whilst also, perhaps, conveying the ambivalence that is also associated with it. The chorus sings with incision not least in the spiritually rapt final scene where Angelica manages to soar above it. Opolais’s husband, Andris Nelsons directs the orchestra at a forward-looking, intense tempo, though he never rushes the singers, nor does he give the impression that haste is on his mind for its own sake, rather as a direct consequence of the dramatic action.
 
Given the excellence of singing and playing this warm blooded performance, recorded immaculately, is a wholehearted success.
 
As a little bonus there’s a performance of the early Symphonic Prelude in A major.
 
Jonathan Woolf