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Per Due Donne - Operatic duets
Katarzyna Oleś-Blacha (soprano)
Monika Korybalska (mezzo-soprano)
rec. 2016, Krakow Opera, Poland
Krakow Opera Orchestra/Tomasz Tokarczyk
DUX 1351 [71:09]

It is apparent that considerable time, care and money have been invested by the Dux label in the production of this digipack CD of operatic duets. The whole, glossy enterprise is part of the “Ars Quarendi” project designed to promote culture in Krakow and showcase artists who are the product of its Academy of Music. I am very fond of that beautiful city and this is obviously a laudable aim, but I cannot recommend this issue and reviewing it has, sadly, been an ungrateful exercise.

I was immediately put off by the grotesque, even repellent, cover design of what appear to be plaster casts of heads conjoined by thread in Frankenstein’s creature fashion and whose theme is carried through the booklet with photo montages of the singers' faces caked in powder or plaster. I was further irritated, as I perused the booklet, by the vague, awkward translation of the vapid notes from the original Polish by fluent but unidiomatic, non-native English speakers.

Beyond being a selection of duets ranging between the operas of Mozart to Strauss, there does not seem to be much logic to the programme, in that it is neither chronologically or developmentally arranged nor unified by theme or narrative. Soprano Katarzyna Oleś-Blacha and mezzo-soprano Monika Korybalska sing in French, German and Italian but both singers have poor, “swallowed” diction, often so plummy and occluded that it is hard to tell which language is being sung, especially without the original texts, as only Polish and English translations are provided.

None of this would matter so much if their singing were more rewarding. Oleś-Blacha has a rather harsh, shrill tone with little warmth or pharyngeal resonance – “all needle and no thread” as someone once unkindly said about another singer. I am afraid that I actively find her sound disagreeable, especially as her plaintive timbre constantly makes her sound as if she is on the verge of tears. Korybalska’s mezzo is much easier on the ear but essentially small and bland, and the two voices do not blend well, as may be heard in the Lakmé duet. Better than an essentially provincial standard is needed to do this music justice. For a recital of operatic duets by star singers of international quality, turn to Hei- Kyung Hong and Jennifer Larmore in "Bellezza Vocale", Montserrat Caballé and Shirley Verrett in "Great Operatic Duets" or the duo of Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne in their prime.

Ralph Moore

1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) Idomeneo, re di Creta, KV 366 / Act 3: S’io non moro a questi accenti [3:03]
2. Friedrich von Flotow (1812–1883) Martha Act II: Teure Lady... Von den edlen Kavalieren [5:53]
3. Léo Delibes (1836–1891) Lakmé Act I: Viens Mallika... Sous le dôme épais [6:01]
4. Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) Lucia di Lammermoor Act 1: Regnava nel silenzio [9:10]
5. Richard Strauss (1864–1949) Ariadne auf Naxos: Sie hält ihn für den Todesgott [9:15]
6. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) Le nozze di Figaro Act II: Aprite, presto aprite [1:21]
7. Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864) Il crociato in Egitto Act II: Il tenero affetto [3:01]
8. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) Le nozze di Figaro Act II: Voi che sapete [3:00]
9. Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835) Norma Act II: Deh! Con te li prendi… Mira, o Norma [10:24]
10. Gioacchino Rossini (1792–1868) Tancredi: Fiero incontro... Lasciami, non t’ascolto [10:26]
11. Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) Anna Bolena Act II: Sul suo capo aggravi un Dio [9:34]


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