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Linda Richardson (soprano)
Italian Opera Arias
Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
rec. 2019, Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, London
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
CHANDOS CHAN20155 [70:13]

In her personal introduction in the booklet to this disc, Linda Richardson mentions her background, growing up on a farm in Cheshire, which certainly isn’t the most natural starting-point for a future opera singer, but she isn’t without predecessors. Birgit Nilsson spent her youth on a sugar-beet farm in the south of Sweden and in due time had a worldwide career that lasted almost forty years. And international Linda Richardson also went, even though the opera companies around the UK have been her bread and butter with an eight-year-long stint at the ENO around the turn of the millennium sticking out. An early dream, having seen Rigoletto at the ENO, was to sing Gilda, and sometimes dreams come true. Some years later she got the chance – in the same production and in the same blue dress. A memento of that is included on the present disc in the shape of Gilda’s Caro nome. Several other roles from her career are also here: Violetta, Mim, Anna Bolena, Suor Angelica, Madama Butterfly – so the disc is a trip down memory lane.

Her calling card on this recital is Leonora’s Pace, pace, mio Dio! from La forza del destino, a notoriously demanding role. It reveals a vibrant (sometimes too vibrant) voice with undeniable power but also a willingness to soften the tone to a fine-spun piano – and even pianissimo – as is very prominent in the following number, Violetta’s big scene that concludes the first act of La traviata. There she also negotiates the coloratura with aplomb and shows that the high Cs and D-flats are well within her reach – and even more confirms that her armoury of nuances is well-stocked. A less welcome feature is a fairly sharp edge to the tone, which of course is natural for someone who started her career in the 1990s – just as the vibrato, mentioned above, is a result of having sung more than 40 demanding roles around Europe.

But her soft singing is still admirable and you need only lend an ear to the lovely pianissimos at the end of Donde lieta usc and Vissi d’arte to hear what I mean. Even more impressive is her handling of the long scene from Anna Bolena, about which wrote, when she sang the role at Welsh National Opera: ‘[she] brings out the character’s softness and tugs at our hearts’, a view I wholeheartedly share. Even though her tone today lends a kind of sameness to her readings it is very clear that she feels the various characters’ predicaments. Listen for instance to Amelia’s deeply moving soliloquy from Un ballo in maschera. And Amelia is a mature woman and deeply unhappy, her life has been devastated. We believe in her. But listen also to Gilda’s aria, Caro nome, on the next track, where one really expects the young, innocent girl, having just recently been enchanted by the poor young student, to burst into euphoric youthful fresh clear tones, but instead gets a slightly worn middle-aged voice. She has all the notes – and the technique too – but that pin-point bell-like clarity is missing. But of course I understand Linda’s wish to include her dream role in this retrospective.

Another case is Violetta, whom we already met at the beginning of the programme when she was rejoicing in newly-found love. When we meet her again her world has fallen to pieces, she is reading the letter from Germont – very touchingly – her cry of tardi! (It’s too late!) is heart-rending, and the aria proper is also deeply moving. We are listening to a woman who has suffered a lot – not least mentally – and she is mortally ill with tuberculosis. We don’t expect her to be clear-voiced. She is vulnerable and the somewhat fluttery tone enhances that feeling. She actually reminds me of my first recording of this opera, where Violetta was sung by, the today largely forgotten, Elena Todeschi and her tone felt absolutely right then – just as Linda Richardson’s does today.

The remaining three roles are also women in distress – but all three express their despair in mostly softer nuances. Norma’s Casta Diva is a deeply felt prayer with a lot of exquisite pianissimo singing – and a quite passable trill; Suor Angelica, having been a nun for seven years after having given birth to an illegitimate child, now learns that the child had died, and in her despair takes poison and prays to the Holy Virgin that she won’t die in sin. And poor Cio-Cio San is still filled with expectations that Pinkerton has returned to be reunited with her in her first aria but, in the final aria, when she realises that he is lost to her for ever, Puccini’s music has the same effect on the listener as when Butterfly kills herself with her father’s seppuku knife. One feels the pain in one’s own flesh. I have not been able to see a performance of this opera without my eyes filling with tears. Heart-rending is the only proper word. On this recording we follow the music to the very end, which means that we also hear Pinkerton’s Butterfly! Butterfly! Butterfly! sung by Jung Soo Yun. I wonder why the producer engaged him for only those three words and did not employ him, while he was at hand, for Alfredo’s quite extensive phrases in the first act scene from La traviata, .

This disc contains a lot of insightful singing from Linda Richardson – in spite of my reservations. The Chandos recording is as always beyond reproach and John Wilson and his Sinfonia of London have backed her up in the best possible way. I might have been even more satisfied had the recording been made some years earlier.

Gran Forsling
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino:
1. Pace, pace, mio Dio [5:49]
La traviata:
2, 3. Ah, fors’ lui and Sempre libera [6:46]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La bohme:
4. D’onde lieta usc [3:28]
5. Vissi d’arte [3:25]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Anna Bolena:
6, 7. Piangete voi? and Al dolce guidami [9:33]
Giuseppe VERDI
Un ballo in maschera:
8. Morr, ma prima in grazia [4:53]
9. Caro nome [6:39]
La traviata:
10. Addio, del passato [6:35]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
11. Casta Diva [7:32]
Suor Angelica:
12. Senza mamma [4:59]
Madama Butterfly:
13. Un bel d, vedremo [4:33]
14. Tu? Tu? Piccolo Iddio [5:02]

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