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Sinful Women
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
O mes soeurs - Marie-Magdeleine (1873) [5:48]
Ne me refuse pas - Hérodiade (1881) [4:22]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix - Samson et Dalila (1877) [6:27]
Bacchanale - Samson et Dalila (1877) [6:54]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Nonn' erubescite, reges - Oraculum - Oedipus Rex (1927) [6:45]
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Del fiero duol che il cor mi frange - Medea (1797) [4:28]
Richard WAGNER (1813-83)
Ich sah das Kind - Parsifal (1882) [5:36]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Dance of the Seven Veils - Salome (1905) [9:25]
Ich habe keine gute Nächte - Elektra (1909) 6:50
Antoine MARIOTTE (1875-1944)
Ah! Je baiserai ta bouche, Iokanaan - Salomé (1908)
Dagmar Pecková (mezzo)
Ivana Veberová (soprano), Peter Mikulas (bass),
Slovak Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra/Aleksandr Marković
rec. 2014, Studio of Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Bratislava. DDD.
Texts and English translations included.
SUPRAPHON SU4181-2 [67:59]

The Czech mezzo Dagmar Pecková has a fine voice, a dark mezzo which at times sounds like that of a contralto, yet is also strong at the top when it needs to be. The Slovak Philharmonic plays very impressively, and conductor Aleksandr Marković displays a sure-footed musical intelligence and a strong sense of the dramatic. The 'concept' of the album is an interesting one and much of the material sung and played is of a high order. The recorded sound is very good and yet . the whole is slightly unsatisfying, mildly disappointing.

At first I couldn't work out why this was so but after several hearings I may have identified the fly in the ointment. If Pecková has a weakness, relatively speaking, as a singer it lies in her handling of text. Given that in a programme such as this a singer doesn't have the narrative structure of a whole opera within which to develop his or her character and is unsupported by the theatrical imagination of a director, characterisation and emotional plausibility depend on creative attention to the details of the words sung.

For my tastes, Pecková doesn't vary the weight or tone of her voice sufficiently in response to her texts, and there is, as a result, a certain undifferentiated quality. Thus, for example, she doesn't successfully make the repentance of Mary Magdalen ('O mes soeurs') sound very strikingly different from the persuasive temptations of Hérodias ('Ne me refuse pas'). Nor is the inner struggle of Cherubini's Medea ('Del fiero duol che il cor mi frange') altogether convincing, and her Klytämnestra, in dialogue with Elektra ('Ich habe keine gute Nächte') does not ring entirely true in emotional or psychological (one might say poetic) terms. I haven't seen Ms. Pecková's full operatic CV, but I do wonder how many of these roles she has actually sung, on the stage or in the concert hall, since what is lacking is the kind of understanding and confidence of interpretation that comes from having 'lived' a role in its entirety, so that the performance of even a single aria comes out of, and benefits from, a context of wider experience and understanding.

In an interview which forms part of Supraphon's publicity for this disc, Dagmar Pecková explains that she came to this project as a result of some sessions she had with psychiatrist William Didden, at a time when she was "stressed out", "in a seemingly hopeless situation . when [she] wanted to abandon singing". Her meetings with Didden, she says, "purged [her] soul" and "explained to [her] how to believe in [herself] and God". Much of the power of Pecková's transformative experience shines through in these performances, but perhaps, as I have suggested, at the cost of distinctive characterisations of the women whose stories she recreates, in part, in this recording.

The documentation in the CD booklet begins with a note from Professor Didden, about Sinfulness - which includes statements such as the following: "The only remedy against human sin and wrong-doing is forgiveness. And as a psychiatrist I can say with certainty that forgiveness is the essential remedy that can restore diseased human souls and relationships. By means of this recording, we would like to present this powerful theme to the general public". I am not convinced that of the music presented on the CD any, with the exception of Massenet's 'O mes soeurs', actually has much to say about forgiveness, of the self or of others. Nor am I convinced that opera is ever best served by being made to serve the cause of moral and/or psychological didacticism, even if all great operas, like all great drama, do indeed raise moral and psychological issues.

In effect the concept on which the album is predicated - a concept which, with a more precise focus and with attention to differences as well as similarities could have been extremely rewarding - has been allowed to distract attention from more purely musical requirements. And while music is most assuredly pre-eminent as a language of the spirit, it is surely not primarily, or even very effectively, a medium for moral guidance.

I wish I could be more wholehearted in my welcome for this CD. There is, indeed, much that I admire about it, not least the quality of Dagmar Pecková's voice and of the orchestral playing and direction. I am also grateful to the album for introducing me to an opera which I have never seen or heard, Antoine Mariotte's Salomé; on the admittedly limited evidence of just one track here, this sounds like a work deserving of further hearings.

So, I have mixed feelings, of which the dominant one is perhaps frustration - frustration that such evidently talented performers haven't quite made an interesting idea work.

Glyn Pursglove


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