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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Puccini in Love
Aleksandra Kurzak (soprano), Roberto Alagna (tenor), Sinfonia Varsovia / Riccardo Frizza
rec. 2018, Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
SONY 19075859832 [64:51]

The most recent recital with Roberto Alagna, issued in 2015, was titled “My Life is an Opera” (review). There he was partnered in three numbers with Aleksandra Kurzak. Then he had fairly recently separated from Angela Gheorghiu and started a relation with the Polish soprano. They had a daughter, then one-year-old and she should be by now around five. Time flies. I found Ms Kurzak’s singing very attractive then and was looking forward to hearing her again – and here she is in a full-length recital with duets from seven Puccini operas. The long scene from the first act of Tosca is a splendid calling-card for both singers. She has a brilliant soprano with warmth as well as some steel – valuable metal for this character. She is a nuanced singer and makes a rounded portrait of the diva in this scene filled with love and jealousy. Alagna has also been careful over nuances and he has all the power needed for this rather strenuous part. He has not quite the bloom of his youth but the voice is still in fine fettle. You need only listen to Qual occhio al monto, sung with beautiful legato, to realise that he is still a force to be reckoned with.

Everybody has heard O soave fanciulla umpteen times before but hearing it so stylishly sung as here is a treat even so, and just note that Alagna takes the lower option at the end instead of following the soprano up in the stratosphere. Puccini must have cheered up in his heaven. The two excerpts from Manon Lescaut are also excellently sung, beautiful soprano, intense tenor. Alagna’s age shows but such is his charisma that the slightly less golden tone doesn’t matter an iota. This is great Puccini singing indeed. Between the two Manon Lescaut scenes we get a snippet of Il tabarro, and Aleksandra Kurzak’s Giorgetta, who has the lion’s share of this number, is truly great. Tabarro is still something of a rarity and even more so is La rondine, which more and more is becoming one of my great favourites. Gheorghiu and Alagna championed this opera for many years and there is both a CD production and a DVD – the latter from the MET – available. The particular tune heard here in the beginning is uncannily reminiscent of Nora’s Theme from Korngold’s music to the 1946 Hollywood film Of Human Bondage. The excerpt from the third act of the same opera is also memorable with Alagna’s intensity and Kurzak’s exquisite lyricism. The stumbling-block in this programme should in all likelihood be the hefty encounter between Minnie and Johnson in the second act of La fanciulla del West. Besides the tenor and soprano roles in Turandot this couple also requires grand dramatic voices. In the fairly recent production in Stockholm (also available on DVD) the leading Brünnhilde and Isolde of the day, Nina Stemme, was cast opposite the leading Otello of the day, Aleksandrs Antonenko with glorious results. Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna can’t quite measure up against those giants for sheer volume, but they make a good stab anyway though they are hard pressed.

The concluding number, the long finale of the first act of Madama Butterfly is a wonderful duet, lyrical as well as impassioned. I remember well my first recording of it, with Maria Callas and Nicolai Gedda. Recorded back in 1955 Gedda was a very lyrical singer and paled beside the powder magazine Callas, who might have been able to swallow him alive. In the present recording the balance is restored. Aleksandra Kurzak has an ideal Butterfly voice, youthful like a teenager but still mature enough to encompass all the challenges of the vocally testing role. And Alagna creates a believable portrait of the infatuated Pinkerton, for whom the liaison after all is more or less a game.

The recital format on CDs, with a playing time of 60 – 70 minutes, sometimes even more, is a tough challenge for even the most charismatic singers to uphold interest all alone for so long: aria after aria after aria … but sharing the stage with a partner or two it is much easier to give an illusion of an ongoing drama. With Riccardo Frizza in the pit in front of Sinfonia Varsovia the dramatic temperature is throughout near boiling point.

Göran Forsling

1. Mario! – Son qui! Tosca, Cavaradossi (Act I) [12:13]
La bohème:
2. O soave fanciulla Rodolfo, Mimi (Act I) [3:46]
Manon Lescaut:
3. Vedete? Io son fedele Manon, Des Grieux (Act I) [5:30]
Il tabarro:
4. È ben altro il mio sogno! Giorgetta, Luigi [3:58]
Manon Lescaut:
5. Tu, tu, amore? Tu? Manon, Des Grieux (Act II) [7:58]
La rondine:
6. Paulette! Ruggero, Magda (Act II) [2:16]
La fanciulla del West:
7. Minnie ... Che dolce nome! Johnson, Minnie (Act II) [3:58]
Il tabarro:
8. Dimmi: perch´gli hai chiesto Giorgetta, Luigi [4:53]
La rondine:
9. Nella tua casa Magda, Ruggero (Act III) [6:14]
Madama Butterfly:
10. Viene la sera Pinkerton, Butterfly (Act I) [14:16]

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