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Oksana Volkova (mezzo-soprano)
Poison d'Amour

Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian
rec. May 2019, Kaunas State Philharmonic, Lithuania
Sung texts with English translations included.
DELOS DE3584 [63:50]

Delos continues its sterling work with solo opera collections recorded in partnership with the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra and its chief conductor Constantine Orbelian. My picks would be the recital albums by John Osborn (A Tribute to Gilbert Duprez, review), Ekaterina Siurina (Amour Úternel, review), Lawrence Brownlee (Virtuoso Rossini Arias, review), Veronika Dzhioeva (Ritorna vincitor!, review) and Ildar Abdrazakov (Power Players, review). Belarussian mezzo-soprano Oksana Volkova’s Poison d'Amour, her debut solo album, is a welcome addition. I recall her Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto (with the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role), a Grammy-nominated album on Delos (review).

Oksana Volkova, born in Minsk, has a Master’s degree from the Belarussian State Academy of Music. She was still a student when in 2002 she joined the National Academic Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus. She participated in the Bolshoi Theatre Young Artists Program in 2009, and made her company debut as the Page in The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh. The year 2010 was important in her career. She became a guest soloist at the Bolshoi Theatre Opera Company in Moscow and the Latvian National Opera, and she was soon touring. Now she has in excess of twenty opera roles in her repertoire, and has appeared at the majority of the world’s greatest opera houses. Her website shows the current repertoire, all opera staples, ten Russian operas, seven Italian and four French.

Volkova’s album Poison d'Amour is a collection of thirteen mainly well-known arias for mezzo-soprano, all but one from the Romantic era. As the title (Love Poison) suggests, the plots of the operas revolve around love. Most, but not all, of the heroines meet a sticky end from burning at the stake to the emotional torment of abandonment and dishonour. Actually, there is only one poisoned heroine , in Adriana Lecouvreur, but it is not Adriana who sings the aria but the poisoner Princess. The exception to the standard repertoire is an aria from Belarus composer Dmitry Smolsky’s 1978 opera Sedaya Legenda (Gray Legend, or Hoary Legend). Other than that, Volkova has chosen seven French, three Russian and two Italian arias.

One immediately notices Volkova’s dark-tinged and agreeably burnished tone. Her chosen roles seem appropriately tailored to her tessitura, so there is little in the way of strain. The word ‘allure’ is often used to describe a quality of Volkova’s tone, and I can understand why. I do not find her noticeable vibrato intrusive; it actually serves to enhance the voice, not hinder it. I cannot resist the temptation of comparing mezzo-sopranos. One of my favourite artists is Elīna Garanča. Her voice might be blessed with more tonal beauty and nuance but Volkova can certainly produce a level of drama as exciting as anyone.

The celebrated aria from Samson et Dalila known as Softly awakes my heart gets a beautifully moving performance. The duplicitous Delilah is endeavouring to seduce Samson to get him to divulge the secret of his strength. Volkova has little problem rapidly leaping up to her top notes, where she seems entirely comfortable.

One can imagine Volkova’s pride in performing an aria by a fellow Belarusian. From Smolsky’s Gray Legend, she has chosen Irina’s aria from the final scene. Blind and imprisoned Irina is separated from her beloved Raman. She is reminiscing as she sings of the warm and sunny days walking hand in hand through the meadow. Incisive and evocative Volkova excels in this tragic song, which in truth reminds me of a showstopping number from a Broadway musical.

In Va! Laisse couler mes larmes from Werther, Charlotte admits to her heartache at not being married to Werther, and collapses into tears. One can almost feel the suffering in Volkova’s rendition as she demonstrates her impactful low register and the splendour of her high notes. I relish the distinctive alto saxophone playing, which adds to the sorrowful feel. A highlight from Cavalleria Rusticana is peasant girl Santuzza’s romanza Voi lo sapete o mamma. Volkova generates sizzling passionate drama, and adds a moving vulnerability to her high notes as Santuzza confides to Lucia how Turiddu seduced and abandoned her. Volkova prospers with Marfa’s divination aria Sily potainye (Mysterious forces) from Khovanshchina. This is an outstanding portrayal of gripping intensity, as Marfa tells the Prince her grim prophecy that he will lose power and face banishment.

Constantine Orbelian and the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra play with a convincing emotional temperature that feels pretty much ideal for these Romantic works. As on several other of their recordings, there are some lovely solo contributions. As usual, Delos’s standard of album documentation is top-drawer. Lindsay Koob’s booklet essay contains helpful explanations of each aria in its operatic context. Sung texts with English translations are included. There also are concise biographies of the soloist, the conductor and the orchestra.

Oksana Volkova is very effective in this aria collection. Fingers crossed for more!

Michael Cookson
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
1. Sappho — O ma lyre immortelle
Camille SAINT-SA╦NS (1835-1921)
2. Samson et Dalila — Printemps qui commence
3. Samson et Dalila — Mon coeur s’ouvre Ó ta voix
Dmitry SMOLSKY (or SMOLSKI) (1937-2017)
4. The Gray Legend (Sedaya Legenda) — Ti pripomni jak lotaz kalisti u lugah mi zbirali
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)
5. Mignon — Connais-tu le pays
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
6. Sadko — Vsyu noch zhdala ego ya poraprasnu
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
7. Werther — Va! Laisse couler mes larmes
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
8. The Maid of Orleans — Prostite vi, kholomi, polia rodniye
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
9. Carmen — Seguidilla
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
10. Khovanshchina — Sily potainye
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
11. Cavalleria Rusticana — Voi lo sapete o mamma
12. Le Cid
— Pleurez! Pleurez mes yeux
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
13. Adriana Lecouvreur — Acerba voluttÓ

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