The bad news: one of the city’s major music retailers (not the one I work for, Gott sei Dank) has brutally halved its already patchy classical section. The good news: as a result of this clearance, I bought all the above (plus one) for less than $150. At their original prices, that’s about $400 worth of CDs. So of course now, I can’t help but gloat. Indulge me as I parade my pretty new children.
Maria Bayo — Canciones espanolas. I have a vaguely troubled relationship with Maria. I adore her Chants d’Auvergne, was disappointed by her Handel and couldn’t abide her weak and watery Amenaide in Rossini’s Tancredi on film. But I suspected this kind of repertoire would suit her as magically as the Canteloube and sure enough, it does. I’m again enchanted. Sunshiney and delicious.
Juan Diego Florez — Sentimiento Latino. Utterly utterly irresistible. Crossover? If it is, then I’m happy for him to do all the crossing he likes. Dangerously catchy, this — but then, who wouldn’t want this in their head all day? Is there no limit to the gorgeousness this boy can produce?
Victoria de los Angeles — "The Modest Prima Donna". I have to confess that, to my unending shame, I don’t know Victoria nearly as well as I ought. However, this CD helps a lot. Everything she sings is just so right. And I think of her as being small, sweet and pretty but there are some astonishing reserves of power in this voice too.
Rossini — La Cenerentola (Carlo Rizzi). Two words: Jennifer Larmore. Dazzling always, and especially in Rossini. There was a time when I’d accept nobody but Cecilia as Angiolina, but times have changed and there’s room enough in my heart for both of them now. (Not to mention Glorious Joyce.) It does help, though, that this is the issue with a nice, innocuous painting on the cover — not the one which had Jennifer posing in her rival’s costume.
Mario del Monaco — Great Tenor Arias.
Giuseppe Di Stefano — Operatic Recital.
Rolando Villazon — Italian Opera Arias.
Three tenors. My horizons are broadening. Of the three I think perhaps Mario is my favourite; there is something wonderfully decadent about basking in so much voice. Giuseppe is a bit quieter and less lavish. Very Italian and yet my favourite tracks are all the French ones — "En fermant les yeux" is perfectly floaty and dreamlike and "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure" make me care more about Gounod’s Faust than I ever have before. Rolando always surprises me — he’s sweeter here than I expected. Quite a vibrato, but it’s rather appealing most of the time. I especially like his Donizetti.
Anna Netrebko — Violetta. It’s all about the packaging. This is actually just a highlights disc of the now almost legendary Salzburg Traviata — but the more Netrebko-centric a thing is, the more it will sell, and so it’s called Violetta and features Anya looking sinful on the cover. And why not? I go back and forth still about Anna — and the interviews making the rounds at the moment don’t help — but here she is magnificent without question. Thomas Hampson bothers me far less than usual when I don’t have to look at him. Rolando is excellent again but it’s inevitably Anna’s show and she rises to the occasion with what must be one of the classiest and most exciting of her performances on record.
Mozart — Messe en ut mineur (Emmanuel Krivine). 2007 seems to have become, among other things, my Year of the Mass in C Minor. I’ve bought two recordings, listened to several others, and I’ll hear it at the Opera House three times next month. I’m not sure about this. It’s all very crisp and precise, which is a positive attribute to a certain extent but occasionally comes across as a bit soulless and clinical — military almost. It’s all relatively Mozartean but not very spiritual. However, it does offer a radiant Sandrine Piau as Soprano I. Soprano II Anne-Lise Sollied, on the other hand, is listenable but far from amazing. Accentus are in fine form though they tend to overshadow the orchestra when they get going.
Renata Tebaldi — The Best of Tebaldi. Just as the title suggests, Renata at her best. Beautiful golden Renata in beautiful golden repertoire. Just quietly: I think I sigh over her "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" even more than I do over Mirella’s. And I have always been in love with her Liu — her "Tu che di gel sei cinta" gets to me every time, as I simultaneously swoon over Renata and rail against that insensitive idiot Calaf for ruining her life.
Inessa Galante — Heroines. Bought mostly out of curiosity. This is an enjoyable enough recital, though I doubt she’s destined to become one of the loves of my life. Most of it is pretty standard soprano fare — "Caro nome", "Io son l’umile ancella" and a Jewel Song in some the weirdest French I’ve ever heard from a singer. The highlight for me is the Russian repertoire — one selection from Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame and two from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden. They’re familiar to me from Anna’s fabulous Russian Album but Inessa makes for an interesting contrast — her voice is lighter than Anna’s, with a bit more silver in it, and somehow more friendly.
Barbara Bonney — Im chambre séparée: The Operetta Album. Perfection. I’ve said so before. I re-discovered this CD a few months and now I own it and it’s still just as adorable and perfect as I thought. By singing these arias with piano instead of orchestra, she’s removed the schmaltz and kept the sparkle; and because she’s not competing to be heard, her voice in its full bloom is on delightful display.
Barbara Bonney — On Angels’ Wings. More Barbara, this time a double disc "best of" compilation . I needed this. Not just because she’s Barbara and she’s beautiful, but because most of what’s on this CD I don’t own in any other form. Most of the Barbara I listened to back home belonged to either my father or the library. And then there’s music on this compilation which I’ve never even heard before. Her "Exsultate, jubilate", for instance, is a treasure; not to mention the excerpts from her Susanna, her Zerlina, her Servilia and her Pamina. And Strauss Lieder. All of it bliss. I adore Barbara — I’m so glad she’s back.
Handel — Clori, Tirsi e Fileno / Apolle e Dafne. Actually I’ve only listened to Clori, Tirsi e Fileno so far, but that’s reason enough to own this because it contains the incomparable Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She’s singing as a soprano and she is mindbendingly exquisite. Transcendent is such an obvious word to use for Lorraine but it’s true, and so here it is — she’s transcendent here, elevating a slightly silly pastoral to a thing of such beauty and sincerity you’d swear it must have a deeper meaning lurking somewhere.
Felicity Lott — Sings Schumann and Mélodies sur des poèmes de Victor Hugo. It was always going to happen. I am learning to love my bête noire. I knew, deep down, that one day I would. Especially since an experience a few months ago, when I walked into a classical music store and they were playing something which stopped me in my tracks. I thought, this is actually the most beautiful thing I have ever heard in all my life. And it was Felicity Lott singing Reynaldo Hahn. So I when I saw these two CDs on sale I decided it was time. The Schumann is lovely, though the darker moments of Liederkreis probably do really need a male voice to do them justice. The real revelation, not surprisingly, is the disc of French songs. It’s a couple of decades old, and she’s in ravishing voice. The repertoire helps as well — I could just about re-title this Felicity Lott Sings MY Favourite French Songs. Gounod’s "Sérénade", Fauré’s "Le papillon et la fleur" and Bizet’s "Les adieux de l’hotesse arabe" are all among the mélodies I love best. Alongside the favourites are songs I’ve never heard before — Bizet’s florid and fabulous "Guitare" and Wagner’s "L’attente" which, weirdly enough, is the shortest track on the disc. Both CDs are excellent but this French recital is the real tour de force — if Felicity is now to be friend rather than foe, I couldn’t have chosen a better starting point.