lietofinelondon

Coloratura By Numbers

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on February 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Review – Gioia! Aleksandra Kurzak, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana & Omer Meir Wellber.

The debut album of any artist these days more often than not displays the not-so-invisible hand of the marketing department. Driven – and I admit understandably – by the “bottom line” it’s either the image, the album title or the programme itself that they influence.

In the case of ‘Gioia!’ – complete with a redundant ‘exclamation’ – it seems that the marketing people got their grubby mitts in “upstream” as they would say.

Firstly the image with Ms Kurzak sporting a beehive more sadly reminiscent of Amy Winehouse but the ‘come hither’ pose is unfortunate as well.

But it is the programming that is most disappointing. I have seen Polish-born Ms Kurzak on stage twice at Covent Garden and both were rather memorable. First as Aspasia in Mitridate, re di Ponto and then in the title role of Matilde di Shabran.

I remember hers as a rather beautiful voice, slightly tight at the top of her range but displaying ease with coloratura. I remember my friend who accompanied me at the time saying that in a few years she could possibly be fantastic.

She definitely had stage presence and it’s a shame that this doesn’t come through on her debut disc. Clearly the label – with references to Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills – seem to think that she has reached that destination already.

Indeed, frustratingly I don’t think her carriage has quite arrived at the platform.

I say frustratingly because I really want to love this album. Love it rather than think I could listen to it again but not as a massive priority. And not for Ms Kurzak.

This recital disc is predictable in the first instance and in the second the performances themselves while technically almost flawless, are almost to an aria interpretively bland. And every so often there is the odd little mannerism that smacks of affectation.

I am supposing that the title refers to the general state of ‘happiness’ of the characters on the disc and all the old favourites are there – Rossini, Mozart, Donizetti, Strauss (Johann), Verdi, Puccini and Bellini.

Ms Kurzak rattles through them, and rattles with a ‘rolled r’ in many cases. I can’t work out if that is her attempt at conveying emotion or just an affectation. I am opting for the latter.

As I said Ms Kurzak has a beautiful voice – well controlled and pointed coloratura with an almost even tone throughout her register. But what is lacking is a sense of depth and colour so much so that her Rosina sounds like her Susanna who sounds like her Elvira who sounds like her Adele who sounds like her … well you get the picture.

And while her voice is more suited to the bel canto roles on the disc there is a lack of depth or warmth that is a clear disadvantage in her reprisal of Puccini’s heroines.

However there are two tracks on the disc that do raise the temperature. The first is her performance of E strano! Ah, fors’é lui – Sempre libera from La Traviata. All of a sudden she is multi-dimensional and creates a credible interpretation, flinging off the coloratura in Sempre libera with real abandon. It might warrant a trip to see her perform Violetta on stage in Frankfurt as part of their 2012/2013 Season. And the final track of the disc, Do grobu trwać w bezżennym stanie from Moniuszko’s Straszny Dwór is the other remarkable track. Clearly there is the Polish connection and she pours out a truly remarkable performance of the recitative and aria.

However what does lift this recital disc a number of levels is the quality of the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana under Omer Meir Wellber. In the verve and attention to detail and phrasing it is clear that Wellber is a protégé of Barenboim. From the concertante playing in the Moniuszko to the elegance of the musicianship and the momentum he maintains throughout, conductor and orchestra provide excellent and sensitive support to Ms Kurzak throughout.

And it is this which makes this disc more than just another recital by rote.

It’s enjoyable but I was left with the ultimate wish that that the repertoire chosen had been a tad more distinctive and not just about marketing and the bottom line.

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  1. I get really frustrated at the way so many recital CDs of women singers are marketed with the “come hither” looks/poses (there are plenty of tenors who give us smoldering looks from album covers, but it’s not quite the same). Some singers manage to avoid this entirely, and other seem to be made to do it at every opportunity. It’s as if the marketing departments don’t really believe we (the audience) are in it for the music.

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