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Jewels of the Bel Canto
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Don Pasquale - Recit and Aria “Quel guardo, il Cavaliere ... So anch’io la virtu? magica” [5.45]
La Fille du Régiment - Aria, “Chacun le sait” [3.43]
Lucia di Lammermoor - Recitative, “Ancor non giunse!” Aria, “Regnava nel silenzio” Cabaletta, “Quando rapito in estasi”
with Catherine Carby as Alisa, Sharron Griffiths (harp) [12.22]
L’elisir d’amore Aria, “Prendi, per me sei libero” [3.27]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Il Corsaro - Recit and Aria, “Egli non riede ancora! ... Non so le tetre immagini” [5.37]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Cambiale di Matrimonio - Aria “Vorrei spiegarvi il giubilo” [3.59]
Le Comte Ory - Aria and Cabaletta, “En proie a? la Tristesse ... Celeste providence” [9.05]
Matilde di Shabran - Scene and Aria, “Son tua per sempre ... Ami alfine?”; Finale, “Tace la tromba altera” [7.53]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
I Capuleti e i Montecchi - Recit and Aria, “Eccomi in lieta vesta ... Oh! Quante Volte” [8.18]
La Sonnambula - Scene, “Oh!... se una volta sola rivederlo potessi”; Aria, “Ah! Non credea mirati” Cabaletta, “Ah! non giunge uman pensiero” [12.22]
Elena Xanthoudakis (soprano)
Royal Northern Sinfonia/Richard Bonynge
rec. The Sage, Gateshead, England, July 2013
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD374 [70.34]

Australian born, of Greek extraction, Elena Xanthoudakis claims her idols to be Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. She certainly has plenty of wining performances in singing competitions to her credit. Since arriving in Britain she has made debuts with Covent Garden, English National Opera and Scottish Opera as well as at The Glyndebourne Festival, albeit often in small roles. Perhaps influenced by promise of this background, the Borletti-Button Trust provided the financial assistance for this recording. Nothing seems to be spared with a booklet including words and translations in English and an informative essay on bel canto by non-pareil expert in the field, scholar, Philip Gossett. Add the expense of bringing Richard Bonynge, bel canto conductor par excellence, from his home in Switzerland to conduct and it seemed that all was set for a spectacular calling-card CD.
 
Well, despite all the above I found myself underwhelmed. This was to the extent that after the first playing I put the disc aside and came back to it fresh several weeks later, only to confirm my earlier impressions. Elena Xanthoudakis has a high centred flexible light lyric voice that in many ways should be ideal for the repertoire selected. Apart from her first trills I found her performance as Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale adequate (tr.1). The choice of Verdi’s Il Corsaro seems rather strange (tr.2). Premiered in the year Donizetti finally died, having been comatose from sometime beforehand from the tertiary effects of syphilis, Verdi had moved far from bel canto by that time. Miss Xanthoudakis chooses the role that the refulgently toned Jessye Norman sings on the Philips recording ((416 398-2). Here the result is monotonous.
 
Moving on to Donizetti again, as Marie in La Fille du Régiment doubts were setting in about characterization (tr.3). Yes, the extended scene from Lucia (tr.3), with maestro Bonynge carefully supporting her in pacing and phrasing, is a showcase, but the singer hardly brings me to share Lucia’s emotional intensity. It is the lack of much variety of tonal colour that seems to inhibit her ability in this direction and make the succession of arias rather boring in their sameness. The choice of repertoire is interesting as with the selection from Matilde di Shabran, Rossini’s thirty-second opera, premiered in Rome a couple of weeks before his last opera seria for Naples (tr.10) and his life in Paris. Otherwise the sameness and lack of characterization are major drawbacks.

Robert J Farr