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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Verdi Heroines
rec. 1981-2014
ORFEO MP1904 [64:56 + 79:38]

For the cost of one full price CD one can buy this twofer with a playing-time of just under 2½ hours, which is good value for money. The recordings were made mainly during the last two decades of the 20th century; only the four items with Stoyanova are from the present century. They are all studio productions in excellent sound, all except two are excerpts from recital discs. The remaining two are from complete recordings conducted by Lamberto Gardelli: Oberto with Dimitrova, Bergonzi and Panerai and Alzira with Cotrubas, Araiza and Bruson. To start with these two rare operas, Bulgarian Gena Dimitrova (1941 – 2005) was one of the great dramatic sopranos of her time in roles like Turandot and Abigaile and maybe not the most elegant of singers but here she is at her best behaviour, sings sensitively and the cabaletta unusually recessed, which shows that Verdi as early as this – Oberto was his first opera – had feeling for lyrical nuances. Romanian Ileana Cotrubas (b. 1939), was on the other hand one of the great lyrical sopranos who only very late in her career took on more dramatic roles. I heard her at Covent Garden in the mid-80s as Elisabetta in Don Carlo (also available on DVD) and though she still sang very well the role seemed a mite too heavy for her. On the present disc in the title role of Alzira, recorded a couple of years earlier, she is more in her element, the voice is in sterling shape and her coloratura is good. There is a good chorus, the cabaletta is delicious – this is early Verdi at his best.

As can be seen from the track-list there is no particular connecting thought in the programming, but it functions well whenever one feels for a Verdi evening by the gramophone, but after a listening-through one will probably have chosen one’s favourites and wants to return to them – and there are goodies. The first track on CD 1 is certainly one of the best. Hungarian-born Júlia Varady (b. 1941), recorded extensively and still I think she was under-recorded. There are six scenes with her on this set, culled from two Verdi recitals recorded in the mid-1990s with her husband Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau conducting, and they are masterly. Her Lady Macbeth is formidable. The Nile aria from Aida (CD 1 tr. 6) is heavenly with a ravishing final pianissimo but the conducting is rather lax. Likewise her Violetta in the big solo scene that ends the first act of La traviata is superb (CD 1 tr. 10). Not all singers who take on Aida can sport the coloratura needed for this scene, but Varady has it all, she also changes the timbre to depict the vulnerability and uncertainty of Violetta. Oh, that she had recorded the opera complete! An uncredited Alfredo is heard off-stage. On the second CD she tackles Abigaile’s role in Nabucco (CD 2 tr. 3) successfully and sounds better than Renata Scotto on the Muti recording, though she hasn’t the animal intensity of Suliotis on the Gardelli set. This particular aria is anyway fairly modest – not in the voice-killer class. I think Un ballo di maschera is still underrated. The drama unfolds so logically without longueurs, and Amelia’s aria Ecco l’orrido campo (CD 2 tr. 7), which opens the second act when she stands there alone on the gallows hill, is a masterly portrait of the character. Verdi lets an English horn with its plaintive timbre express her sorrowful state of mind – and Varady is superb.
Finally (CD 2 tr. 10) comes possibly the most sublime scene of all: Desdemona’s Piangea cantando nell’erma landa from the last act of Otello, a magical reading followed by a truly touching Ave Maria. Both recitals are still available at full price and if you get hooked by these six excerpts you will probably want to own the rest as well.

Of the remaining singers Krassimira Stoyanova (b. 1962), Bulgarian like Dimitrova, has four entries. She is the youngest singer on this compilation and has since 1998 a close relationship with the Vienna State Opera. One of her roles there has been Violetta in La traviata. It is here represented by the opening of the last act, where she reads the letter from Germont with deep emotions and then sings Addio, del passato with great involvement (CD 1 tr. 3). In Ritorna vincitor! from the first act of Aïda (CD 2 tr. 1) she demonstrates the capacity of her great voice, and I wouldn’t mind hearing her in a studio recording of the complete opera. That is of course a fruitless wish, since studio recordings of operas, with a few notable exceptions, are practically non-existent. She also makes a good stab at Luisa Miller (CD 2 tr. 5), the short Tu puniscimi, o Signore, a rather big-boned reading, but I still prefer the leaner, warmer interpretation by Anna Moffo on the complete recording from the mid-1960s. That Stoyanova also has coloratura capacity is obvious from the long aria from La battaglia di Legnano (CD 2 tr. 9) – a rarity, and as such welcome among several standard arias. It is a good aria and it is sung with great intensity and delicious phrasing.

Grace Bumbry (b. 1937) had an early break-through as Venus in Tannhäuser at Bayreuth when she was 24 and became a world celebrity over-night. This was in 1961 and she was then a mezzo-soprano, but in the early 1970s she began to take on soprano roles – also with great success – and it is in two soprano arias, recorded in 1984, we encounter her in this programme. First as Leonora in La forza del destino in the Act IV aria Pace, pace, mio Dio” (CD 1 tr. 2). There she is vibrant, almost to excess, but it is classy singing anyway. Surprisingly for a first-time mezzo soprano she seems slightly weak in lowest register. When she returns on (CD 2 tr. 2) it is as another soprano Leonora, in Il trovatore. There is glory and glow – but also a vibrato that is on the way of being too wide. Slightly too heavy a sound in the opera proper, but in the cabaletta she is much lighter and more attractive.

A true mezzo-soprano is/was Marjana Lipovšek, born in 1946 in Ljubljana, Slovenia and retired as recently as 2017. As Eboli in Don Carlo she sounds initially slightly occluded in O don fatale CD 1 tr. 4). But there is bite in her delivery and Eboli’s sorrow is touchingly depicted. Another, even meatier mezzo role is Azucena in Il trovatore. There, I’m afraid, she hasn’t quite the heft needed to do full justice to Stride la vampa (CD 1 tr. 8). The tone is a bit under-nourished and I miss those juicy chest-notes that a Simionato or a Cossotto could produce. Also in Condotta ell’era in ceppi (CD 2 tr. 6) the slightly occluded tone I registered in the Don Carlo aria diminishes the impact of the character. But her involvement is still intense.

The third mezzo, Greek-born Agnes Baltsa (b. 1944), a great Carmen for many years, is here heard as Lady Macbeth in the aria La luce langue (CD 1 tr. 5) with youthful intensity.

The only Italian singer on this compilation is Maria Dragoni (b. 1958). She is still active in a busy international career. In Elisabetta’s big aria from the last act of Don Carlo, Tu che la vanità (CD 1 tr. 9), she doesn’t seem quite up to the role. When she sings at forte she is very acceptable but seems more hesitant in the inward parts of the aria. In the finale of the aria she is at her best. She is much better in Leonora’s aria from the last act of il trovatore, Timor di me? (CD 2 tr. 8). Here she is touching and the cabaletta is lively and sung with gusto.

As with all compilations of this kind there are swings and roundabouts, but the general standard is high, there are no flops but many highlights and the sound quality is excellent. Anyone with an interest in a collection of arias from 13 Verdi operas, some of them rarely heard, can with confidence invest in this issue.

Göran Forsling

CD 1 [64:56]
1. Act I: Ambizioso spirto … Vieni! T’affretto [7:11]
Júlia Varady (soprano), Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
La forza del destino:
2. Act IV: Pace, pace, mio Dio! [5:48]
Grace Bumbry (soprano), Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart/Stefan Soltész
La traviata:
3. Act III: Teneste la promessa ... Addio, del passato [6:54]
Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Pavel Baleff
Don Carlo:
4. Act IV: O don fatale, o don crudel [4:28]
Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo-soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Giuseppe Patané
5. Act II: La luce langue [4:00]
Agnes Baltsa (mezzo-soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Heinz Wallberg
6. Act III: Qui Radames verrà! … O patria mia [7:06]
Júlia Varady (soprano), Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
7. Act I: Ah, sgombro e il loco alfin! [7:48]
Ghena Dimitrova (soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Lamberto Gardelli
Il trovatore:
8. Act II: Stride la vampa! [2:26]
Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo-soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester /Giuseppe Patané
Don Carlo:
9. Act IV: Tu che la vanità [10:29]
Maria Dragoni (soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Gustav Kuhn
La traviata:
10. Act I: È strano! [8:44]
Júlia Varady (soprano), Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

CD 2 [79:38]
1. Act I: Ritorna vincitor! [6:44]
Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Pavel Baleff
Il trovatore:
2. Act I: Tacea la notte placida
Grace Bumbry (soprano), Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart/Stefan Soltész
3. Act II: Ben io t’invenni [7:28]
Júlia Varady (soprano), Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
4. Act I: Da Gusman, su fragil barca [9:55]
Ileana Cotrubas (soprano), Sofia Lis (mezzo-soprano), Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks,
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Lamberto Gardelli
Luisa Miller:
5. Act II: Tu puniscimi, o Signore [2:56]
Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Friedrich Haider
Il trovatore:
6. Act II: Condotta ell’era in ceppi [4:52]
Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo-soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester /Giuseppe Patané
Un ballo in maschera:
7. Act II: Ecco l’orrido campo ... Ma dall’arido stelo [8:49]
Júlia Varady (soprano), Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Il trovatore:
8. Act IV: Timor di me? [8:42]
Maria Dragoni (soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Gustav Kuhn
La battaglia di Legnano:
9. Act I: Voi lo diceste, amiche ... Quante volte come un dono [8:52]
Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Friedrich Haider
10. Act IV: Piangea cantando nell’erma landa [16:13]

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