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Ritorna Vincitor!
Veronika Dzhioeva (soprano)
Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian
rec. 2018, Kaunas Philharmonic, Lithuania
DELOS DE3575 [59:32]

South Ossetian soprano Veronika Dzhioeva is hardly a debutante; in fact. she is now forty years old, having made her operatic debut fifteen years ago, prior to her graduation from the St Petersburg Conservatory. She first became very popular in Russia and now sings internationally, but I had never previously encountered her and had missed a CD issue of operatic arias some twelve or thirteen years ago, when she was still primarily a young, lyric soprano. She is the most exciting singer I have heard since the arrival of Dinara Alieva, from next-door Azerbaijan; my heart leapt when, even before she had sung a note, I heard the first words she spoke, reading aloud the letter Lady Macbeth has just received from her triumphant husband: her speaking voice – properly that of the “She-devil” Verdi wanted - immediately gave evidence of some development in her lower register, which was certainly consolation for the disappointment of conductor Constantine Orbelian’s rushed, choppy delivery of the orchestral introduction.

It was a brave choice to open her recital with an aria indelibly marked by Callas’ famous recording with Rescigno – who conducts it so much better – and to follow that with the luscious verismo excesses of Adriana Lecouvreur’s artistic credo makes both an equally daring contrast and a bold assertion of Dzhioeva’s versatility. Her enunciation reveals excellent Italian diction and her an acute sense of the dramatic. I cannot help making invidious comparisons between the forced, hollow sound Anna Netrebko makes in this music; she labours under the illusion that she is a dramatic soprano able to tackle such roles, whereas Dzhioeva is much closer to the real thing.

It is hard to assess a voice via a recording alone if one has not heard it live, but the weight and power of Dzhioeva’s soprano certainly come across in the recorded medium here. She has a big, warm, healthy sound – but, I would say, not one without its warning signs and flaws in technique: the vibrato is inconsistent, particularly on the highest notes - which can turn shrill and snatched; sometimes it unsteady and pulses too slowly and at other tomes it edges into an incipient tremolo, but her willingness to make excursions into a true lower register instead of faking it with a hollow, husky, “collapsed” head voice is really encouraging in an age when too many sopranos seem hardly to be aware of the aesthetic and technical importance of developing that lower region of their voices. You can hear that in her delivery of “di tenebra immota” in that opening aria and I note that her having been taught by the late Elena Obraztsova must surely have reinforced her appreciation of the importance of so-called “chest-voice”.

Above all, Dzhioeva avoids the blandness and boring the listener; as she progresses through this programme from predominately Verdi to verismo to Puccini and back to Verdi again, it is almost as if she were both constantly challenging herself and daring the listener to categorise her voice. She clearly feels that her Fach is in Italian opera and has progressed through its roles from being a lyric soprano to being a spinto with the potential to aspire to even bigger, heavier dramatic roles, as her accounts of the bigger Verdi arias and Butterfly indicate. Her Verdi heroines are real flesh and blood, yet apparently she still sings Mozart regularly, too – always a good sign. To some degree, her voice now reminds me of Eva Marton at her best: a big, somewhat unwieldy but exciting instrument. Her account of that great showpiece “La mamma morta” has its perilous moments but it is never routine; her involvement is mesmerising. When she softens and rounds out her tone for the ensuing aria from Madama Butterfly we are hearing a different, properly differentiated character: passionate, idealistic, vulnerable but with a core of strength. The same is true of the beautiful Suor Angelica aria; it seethes with desperation of a mother for her lost child and is ultimately deeply moving; a pity that the final sustained A flaps a bit, Callas-style. The album title indicates that the Aida arias are meant to be the touchstone arias here and Dzhioeva sounds like one of the few singers today with the vocal resources to do that role justice. She succeeds triumphantly, although I wish she could expunge the edge which creeps into her high notes and her soft top C is not pretty; those notes constitute a blot on her singing.

I find some of the introductory orchestral passages decidedly under-powered, especially that to the aforementioned Macbeth aria and to Un ballo in Maschera, where there is also some squally English horn-playing; Dzhioeva’s large-scale performances would definitely have benefited from a richer-toned, more energised accompaniment, but the quality of her voice emerges intact.

The vocalisation here isn’t perfect but what matters is that the singer is prepared to take risks in order to animate and communicate the passion of the music.

Ralph Moore

Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth: Nel dì della vittoria… Vieni t’affretta! (7:19)
Francesco Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur: Io son l’umile ancella (3:28)
Umberto Giordano: Andrea Chenier: La mamma morta (4:51)
Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly: Un bel dì vedremo (4:21)
Giacomo Puccini: Suor Angelica: Senza mamma (4:48)
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca: Vissi d’arte (3:15)
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida: Ritorna vincitor! (6:42)
Giuseppe Verdi Aida: Qui Radamès verrà (6:12)
Giuseppe Verdi Il trovatore: Tacea la notte placida (4:59)
Giuseppe Verdi La forza del destino: Pace, pace mio Dio (5:14)
Giuseppe Verdi Un ballo in maschera: Ecco l’orrido campo…Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa (8:19)

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