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Marita Sølberg (soprano)
Opera Arias

The Norwegian National Opera Orchestra/John Fiore
rec. Den Norske Opera & Ballett, October 2013, January, April 2014
SIMAX PSC1336 [68:12]

Several important sopranos have come from Norway, Kirsten Flagstad no doubt the most legendary of them. Several others have followed in her footsteps. In the 1960s and 1970s Ingrid Bjoner had a successful international career in dramatic roles, Solveig Kringlebotn (her artist name became Kringelborn) has for the last 25 years been leading in lyrical repertoire. Now Marita Sølberg steps forward as a well-equipped follower in the lyric stakes but she is no newcomer. Nine years ago I hailed her recording of Grieg’s orchestral songs (review), and returning to that disc confirmed that my impression then is fully valid today. Her reading of the songs remains my recommended version.

The intervening years have been merciful to her vocal cords – nine years is a fairly long time in a singer’s career – and all the characteristics I noted then are yet in evidence. It is still a youthful voice with some more maturity. The beautiful aria Ebben? Ne andrò lontana from Catalani’s La Wally is an excellent calling-card, where she displays her credentials: warm, lovely tone, slightly vibrant but well controlled timbre, a basically lyrical voice with good breath control and a willingness to invest the text with nuances and telling inflexions. Her pianissimos are mellifluous and she has power in reserve for the climax.

Her Figaro contessa is sad but one can sense a willingness to fight for her happiness. The opening aria from act II, Porgi amor is sung at a beautiful hushed legato – but why are the two arias presented in reverse order?

The well-known waltz-aria from Roméo et Juliette is sung with glitter, elegance and verve, and the less frequently heard soprano aria from The Pearl Fishers gets a memorable reading with lovely singing. Bizet showed his mastery at creating atmosphere even this early in one of the most beautiful soprano arias in French.

Back to the Italian repertoire: Ms Sølberg performs Nedda’s wish to be free as the birds, with true involvement. Liù’s two arias from Turandot are touchingly sung, followed by Mimì’s aria from La bohème, simple and unaffected – and just as touching.

Giulietta’s entrance aria from I Capuleti e i Montecchi, the one with the long and beautiful French horn solo is another highlight. It seems that this opera is performed just as frequently as La sonnambula and I Puritani today, probably because there are so many accomplished singers around today who can handle the bel canto singing without compromising.

Rachmaninov’s Francesca da Rimini, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, from 1906 has never become a standard work but this aria is, nevertheless, attractive and it was a stroke of genius to include it in a recital consisting of largely well-established favourites. Dvorak’s Rusalka, on the other hand, is firmly established also in the west, and it is a marvellous, though sad, opera. Marita Sølberg’s Song to the Moon is one of the best things on this disc, but Ave Maria from Otello is also in that division, softly and inwardly sung.

Richard Strauss’s Die Liebe der Danae was not his last opera but the last to be performed. Composed 1938-40 it had to wait until 1952 for the premiere. The interlude is so characteristically Straussian with lush colours and sophisticated harmonies and the aria points forward to the four last songs.

The National Opera Orchestra are in excellent shape under John Fiore, who knows the orchestra well since his tenure as music director of the Norwegian Opera and Ballet. The recording is realistic and my only regret is that we have to make do without the sung texts. For the rarities here, Rachmaninov and Strauss, this is crucial, but don’t let this deter you from acquiring the disc. It is a delightful recital that should adorn even the most discriminating collection.

Göran Forsling

Track listing
Alfredo CATALANI (1854 – 1893)
La Wally:
1. Ebben? Ne andrò lontana [3:35]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Le nozze di Figaro:
2. Dove sono [6:31]
3. Porgi amor [3:40]
Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)
Roméo et Juliette:
4. Ah! Je veux vivre [3:28]
Georges BIZET (1828 – 1875)
Les pêcheurs de perles:
5. Me voilà seule dans la nuit, Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre [6:02]
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857 – 1919)
6. Qual fiamma avea [4:39]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
7. Signore, ascolta [2:35]
8. Tu che di gel sei cinta [2:51]
La bohème:
9. Si, mi chiamano Mimì [5:03]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835)
I Capuleti e i Montecchi:
10. Oh! quante volte, oh! volte [9:24]
Sergej RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
Francesca da Rimini:
11. O, ne riday, moy Paolo [2:31]
Antonin DVORAK (1841 – 1904)
12. Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém (Song to the Moon) [5:42]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
13. Ave Maria [4:33]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Die Liebe der Danae:
14. Interlude [4:13]
15. Wie umgibst du mich mit Frieden [4:15]