Gioachino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
Marina Rebeka (soprano)
Julia Heiler (mezzosoprano); Levy Sekgapane (tenor); Gianluca Margheri (baritone)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Marco Armiliato
rec. 2016/17, Bayerischer Rundfunk Studio 1, Munich
BR KLASSIK 900321 [68:43]
Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka has recorded a compilation of “powerful women” arias from Rossini’s operas. The theme is a good idea: there is in his corpus a plethora of female characters torn between love and loyalty, making a rich and homogeneous seam to be mined in a judiciously selected anthology. However, I have listened to it several times and find myself mostly unmoved by the experience, constantly longing to return to previous divas’ versions.
This has something to do with what I hear as a harsh, metallic quality of sound in her voice. I started with a favourite Rossini moment: Desdemona’s “Willow Song” from his
Otello. There is simply no comparison between her version and that of Frederica von Stade in 1978. The old Philips sound was quite good, but the very clarity of the new recording merely serves to emphasise the brittle, Slavonic quality of Rebeka’s soprano compared with von Stade’s plangent, oboe-tones. Similarly, her ornamentation sounds exterior and applied compared with von Stade’s simpler, more vulnerable and deeply felt account. Von Stade lives the role, Rebeka sings it. Sometimes mere intellect – Rebeka wrote the coloratura herself based on studying Rossini’s manuscripts – is no substitute for heart and her elaborations are excessive to the stark misery of the simple, strophic song, which needs only some increasing complication to indicate Desdemona’s increasing distress and unhappiness if the melodic line is not to be disturbed. As a dramatic coloratura soprano, Rebeka rises to a top B flat whereas von Stade rise only to A flat but again, I find the slightly lower tessitura apt to the dark foreboding of the aria. Given that the distinction between mezzo and soprano was blurred in Rossini’s time, it is perfectly legitimate for a modern dramatic coloratura soprano to undertake these arias, but I find that Rebeka’s voice lacks the burnished colour that singers like Callas, Horne, Podles and Baltsa bring to them.
Furthermore, Rebeka’s Italian is occluded and “ingolata”; her swallowed French is equally incomprehensible. I find her voice simultaneously harsh and cloudy because of those homogenised vowels. Von Stade’s diction is much better and Rebeka’s intakes of breath are distractingly loud. She sings an abridged arrangement of Desdemona’s aria, excising the exchanges with Emilia about the wind, which add so much to the dramatic tension; why, when a mezzo was on hand for the Moïse quintet?
I turned next to arias made famous by such as Callas, Sills, Sutherland and Caballé and again, found myself wondering why I would choose to listen to Rebeka when I can hear those singers in Semiramide or La donna del lago?
I enjoyed her accounts of Mathilde’s arias from Rossini’s masterpiece, Guillaume Tell, more than anything else in this album as they were devised for a soprano of a lighter, more lyrical style and timbre. Rebeka sings them with a good line and some sweet top notes, her vibrato even and well controlled with none of the beat or wobble which is anathema to good Rossini singing. The Armida aria is also attractively, if a tad anonymously, delivered. Rebeka’s runs are fluent and unaspirated but there is some shrillness in alt, little beauty in her voice and none of those moments which make you stop and gasp; everything is neatly executed but, accomplished as she is, much of what she does is for me devoid of interest.
1. Moïse et Pharaon: Quelle horrible destinée! - Grand Dieu! j'implore ta clémence [5:33]
2. Moïse et Pharaon: Je l'aimais!. je fuis sa presence [2:28]
3. Otello, ossia Il moro di Venezia: Assisa a piè d'un salice [6:56]
4. Semiramide: Bel raggio lusinghier [8:06]
5. Maometto II: Giusto ciel, in tal periglio [3:28]
6. Guillaume Tell: Ils s'éloignent enfin [3:11]
7. Guillaume Tell: Sombre forêt, désert triste et sauvage [4:35]
8. Armida: D'amor al dolce impero [5:57]
9. Maometto II: Quella morte che s'avanza - Invan la perfida [4:52]
10. Maometto II: Sí, ferite, il chieggo, il metro [2:45]
11. Maometto II: Madre, a te che sull'empiro [5:02]
12. Guillaume Tell: Pour notre amour [4:08]
13. Guillaume Tell: Sur la rive étrangère [3:20]
14. La donna del lago: Tanti affetti in tal momento - Fra il padre e fra l’amante [8:13]