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A te, o cara
Stephen Costello (tenor)
Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian
rec. 2017 Kaunas Philharmonic, Kaunas, Lithuania
Full sung texts included with English translations
DELOS DE3541 [49.57]

Taking its name from the aria ‘A te, o cara’ (‘To you, oh dear one’) from Bellini’s opera I puritani Stephen Costello’s debut solo album is dedicated to his dear friend and colleague, the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky known widely as Dima. A check of the American tenor’s roster shows recently he has been predominantly singing roles in the core popular repertoire, namely Don José (Carmen) – Dallas Opera; Alfredo (La traviata) – Spendiaryan Opera, Yerevan and Rodolfo (La bohème) – Teatro Real, Madrid. Yet here Costello has chosen a programme of eleven bel canto arias from Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi. This comes as no surprise as in past seasons Costello has also sung a number of bel canto roles in major opera houses, such as: Duke (Rigoletto) – Staatsoper Dresden; Fernand (La Favorita) – Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona; Lord Percy (Anna Bolena) – New York Met; Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor) – ROH, London and Nemorino (L’elisir d’amore) – Wiener Staatsoper.

Most opera aria collections these days are assembled around a particular theme and the album ‘A te, o cara’ is no exception. For his bel canto collection Costello has explained that he has deliberately chosen arias that are about love in all its many aspects. It’s a programme of arias with the compositional dates spanning an approximate twenty-year period 1830–1850. Donizetti supplies the lion’s share of material and is represented by nine arias taken from seven different operas La fille du régiment, Don Sebastiano, L’élisir d’amore, Don Pasquale, La favorita, Anna Bolena and Lucia di Lammermoor. Bellini’s opera I puritani provides the title aria of the album and the single Verdi aria comes from Rigoletto. All the arias are sung in Italian except from the two from La fille du régiment which are in French.

Stephen Costello provides a consistent quality of performance across the collection well chosen to display his stylish and engaging voice to significant effect. Occasionally, however, I wanted additional range of colour in the voice. I have chosen three prime tracks that stand out for Costello’s engaging quality of performance. The opening track, one of the most celebrated arias in all opera, is Tonio’s act two cavatina and cabalettaAh, mes amis’ from Donizetti’s opéra comique, La fille du régiment. Costello agilely and astutely manages the manifold challenges of this aria that requires no less than nine high C’s, which is a treat when performed as admirably as this. From Donizetti’s masterwork L’élisir d’amore described as a melodramma giocoso, Nemorino’s act two romanza, Una furtiva lagrima is one of the most attractive of all tenor arias. As Nemorino singing passionately to Adina believing a love potion is working Costello performs beautifully, with clarity and particularly fine phrasing, making every word count. Another Donizetti work, a further highlight and a particular favourite of mine, is Spirto gentil from La favorita a grand opera that deserves increased recognition. Here Fernando in the final act discovers that Leonora has been the king’s mistress and sings brokenheartedly at the betrayal of his love. This is a splendid display of Costello’s most attractive tone and the tenor achieves his high notes resolutely and with relative ease. Throughout Costello receives first class support from Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra under Constantine Orbelian which feels entirely sympathetic.

Recorded at Kaunas Philharmonic the engineering team excel providing sound that has both satisfying clarity and balance. As I have come to expect from Delos the documentation accompanying the album is first class. The valuable booklet notes by Lindsay Koob places each aria in the context of the opera. I’m delighted that full sung texts are included together with English translations which are helpfully placed alongside. My only grumble concerns the playing time of just under fifty minutes, very short by today’s standards.

Beautifully performed, recorded and presented, Stephen Costello’s bel canto album will complement any opera collection.

Michael Cookson

Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
La fille du régiment
1. Ah, mes amis [4.08]
2. Pour me rapprocher de Marie [3.31]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
I Puritani
3. A te, o cara [3.19]
Don Sebastiano
4. Deserto in terra [5.32]
L’élisir d’amore
5. Quanto e bella [2.40]
L’élisir d’amore
6. Una furtiva lagrima [5.00]
Don Pasquale
7. Sogno soave e casto [2.21]
La favorita
8. Spirto gentil [4.59]
Anna Bolena
9. Vivi tu, te ne scongiuro [5.21]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
10. Parmi veder le lagrime [5.36]
Lucia di Lammermoor
11. Fra poco a me ricovero [7.29]

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