07 March 2014

CD REVIEW: ARABESQUE – Virtuoso Arias (Olga Peretyatko, soprano; Sony Classical 88883738592)

ARABESQUE - Virtuoso Arias (Olga Peretyatko, soprano; Sony Classical 88883738592)

ALEXANDER ALYABYEV (1787 – 1851), LUIGI ARDITI (1822 – 1903), VINCENZO BELLINI (1801 – 1835), GEORGES BIZET (1838 – 1875), EVA DELL’ACQUA (1856 – 1930), CHARLES GOUNOD (1818 – 1893), WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756 – 1791), GIOACHINO ROSSINI (1792 – 1868), JOHANN STRAUẞ II (1825 – 1899), and GIUSEPPE VERDI (1813 – 1901): Arabesque – Virtuoso Arias: Olga Peretyatko, soprano; NDR Sinfonieorchester; Enrique Mazzola [Recorded in Rolf-Liebermann-Studio, NDR, Hamburg, Germany, 17 – 21 June 2013; Sony Classical 88883738592; 1CD, 75:02; Available from Amazon, iTunes, jpc, and major music retailers]

The observant Rossinian who has heard the composer’s Otello anywhere in Europe during the past decade may well have encountered Saint Petersburg-born soprano Olga Peretyatko, whose delicate but never dainty Desdemona has fallen victim to a number of today’s finest exponents of Rossini’s errant Moor. Unlike many singers in recent years who have ‘arrived’ on the world’s operatic stages without having made any sort of real journey to get there, Ms. Peretyatko has built her career in an endearingly traditional way: a youthful stint with the Children’s Choir of the storied Mariinsky Theatre led to formal studies at the Hanns Eisler-Hochschule für Musik in Berlin and Hamburgische Staatsoper’s International Opera Studio, as well as receipt of Second Prize at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Competition in Paris in 2007. The establishment of her credentials as an adroit interpreter of Rossini’s soprano rôles has been accomplished through participation in the Accademia Rossiniana of Pesaro’s Rossini Opera Festival, where she has sung leading parts including the barnstorming title rôle in Matilde di Shabran, sung to great acclaim opposite Juan Diego Flórez’s Corradino in 2012. Not surprisingly for a Rossini singer par excellence, Ms. Peretyatko has built for herself a repertoire encompassing some of the most formidable heroines in the bel canto canon, not least Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani, in which rôle she is scheduled to make her Metropolitan Opera début opposite Lawrence Brownlee’s Arturo and Mariusz Kwiecień’s Riccardo on 17 April. Offering a ‘preview’ of her MET appearances by including two of Elvira’s arias from Puritani, Arabesque is a thoughtfully-conceived programme of arias in which Ms. Peretyatko explores the evolution of music for the virtuosic soprano, who is not necessarily the same species as a conventional coloratura soprano. As Ms. Peretyatko seeks to demonstrate on this disc, there is more to true virtuosity than vocal pyrotechnics. It is Ms. Peretyatko’s singing that is the real object of this demonstration, however, and in this regard Arabeque delivers bountiful pleasure.

Supported with undeviating musicality by the NDR Sinfonieorchester and Maestro Enrique Mazzola, Ms. Peretyatko mostly focuses on music from the 19th Century.  The disc’s ‘bonus’ track is Alexander Alyabyev’s 1825 ‘Solovej’ (соловей - ‘The Nightingale’), a piece popularized by Pauline Viardot, Adelina Patti, Henriette Sontag, and Marcella Sembrich. A nod to her homeland (and, considering that it was frequently interpolated into the ‘Lesson Scene’ in Il barbiere di Siviglia by the great soprano Rosinas of yesteryear, to her fondness for Rossini repertory), the piece receives from Ms. Peretyatko a performance of great charm and simplicity, her voice glowing in the memorable melodic line of the strophic song and awakening curiosity about the merits of the composer’s forgotten operas. She obviously relishes the high-flying demands of Eva Dell’Acqua’s 1893 ‘Villanelle,’ a song familiarized during World War II by its cinematic appearances, and the sheer joy that she takes in scaling the song’s heights is evocative of the fluttering wings of the swallow of which she sings. Luigi Arditi’s 1860 vocal waltz ‘Il Bacio’ was never recorded more exuberantly than by Dame Joan Sutherland in her contribution to the ‘Gala Sequence’ in Herbert von Karajan’s DECCA recording of Die Fledermaus, and though she does not equal the brilliance of Sutherland’s coloratura—who could?—she sings the hackneyed piece without a hint of artifice. Ms. Peretyatko needs no embarrassing recreation of a scene out of a Fragonard painting in order to make Arditi’s music ‘swing.’ She also does not rely upon cheap effects to increase the impact of her singing of Adele’s couplet ‘Spiel ich die Unschuld vom Lande’ from Strauß’s Die Fledermaus. Her periods of study in Berlin and Hamburg left her with near-native German diction, and her verbal crispness proves as advantageous in Adele’s music as her spot-on intonation.

The French soprano lyrique léger repertoire is explored in arias by Georges Bizet, Charles Gounod, and—most interestingly (or, it might be argued, insightfully)—Giuseppe Verdi. The title character’s valse-ariette ‘O légère hirondelle’ from the revised version of Gounod’s Mireille, a number cut from the same cloth as the ill-fated heroine’s ‘Je veux vivre’ in Roméo et Juliette, was composed at the request of Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho, the first Mireille and Juliette and—significant to the theme of Arabesque—an artist particularly admired by her contemporaries for her performances of Mozart and Rossini rôles. Ms. Peretyatko sings ‘O légère hirondelle’ engagingly, little troubled by the ascent to B5 in the aria’s opening phrase. In Gounod’s score, the vocal line in ‘O légère hirondelle’ rises to B5 no fewer than nineteen times (excluding the oppure!), but neither the high tessitura nor the music’s coloratura poses problems that are not overcome by Ms. Peretyatko’s technique. Bizet’s 1859 – 60 ‘ode-symphony’ Vasco da Gama was composed in fulfillment of the requirements of the Prix de Rome: praised upon its delivery in Paris and quickly forgotten thereafter, the score is barely even mentioned in many biographies of Bizet. Léonard’s boléro ‘Ouvre ton cœur,’ a piece espoused on records by a diverse collection of singers ranging from Cecilia Bartoli to Dame Joan Sutherland and included in recitals by singers as different as Alfredo Kraus and Philippe Jaroussky, is a sprightly number that, despite the score’s Indian atmosphere, is more reminiscent of Carmen than of Lakmé. Sounding appropriately youthful and seductive, Ms. Peretyatko uses Bizet’s attempts at ‘local color’ as flirtatious devices, shaping her performance with an inviting nonchalance. ‘Mercè, dilette amiche,’ the bolero from Verdi’s Les vêpres siciliennes (here sung in its Italian incarnation, obviously), is far closer in spirit and musical structure to French showpiece arias like those for Gounod’s Juliette and Mireille, Leïla in Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles, and Delibes’s Lakmé than to Verdi’s contemporaneous music for Leonora in Il trovatore, Violetta, or Maria Boccanegra. Choral parts are missed more in ‘Mercè, dilette amiche’ than in other selections on Arabesque in which they would be heard in complete performances of the excerpted operas, but nothing is missing from Ms. Peretyatko’s assured, bright-toned singing, including the traditional interpolated E in alt.

Ms. Peretyatko indulges in a game of Rossinian déjà vu by including ‘Ah non potrian resistere,’ Cerere’s aria from the 1816 cantata Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo. One of Rossini’s most frothy coloratura creations, the tertiary theme of the tripartite aria had been heard in Rome two months before the Neapolitan première of Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo as Conte d’Almaviva’s aria ‘Cessa di più resistere’ in Act Two of Il barbiere di Siviglia, and it would return less than a year later as the rondo-finale of La Cenerentola, ‘Non più mesta’ (the form in which it is familiar to most 21st-Century listeners). Ms. Peretyatko’s voice has a higher center of tonal gravity than that of Isabella Colbran, for whom Rossini composed—or, rather, arranged—Cerere, but she is little bothered by the music’s lower reaches. Her command of the fiendish coloratura is magnificent, and the interpolated top notes are secure and exciting.

The excerpts from Bellini’s Puritani provide an enticing taste of what Ms. Peretyatko is likely to share with MET audiences in her house début as Elvira. The polacca that Elvira sings as she prepares for her ultimately-thwarted wedding, ‘Son vergin vezzosa,’ has since it was first sung in the opera’s 1835 première by Giulia Grisi been a cornerstone of the bel canto repertoire, and in performances of the opera it grants audiences the first real indications of the bravura feats of which Elviras are capable. If Ms. Peretyatko sings the aria as commandingly at the MET as she does on Arabesque, triumph is ensured. To her credit, her ornamentation of the second statement of the principal theme is restrained, preserving the distinctive rhythm of the vocal line, and this is obviously dictated by choice rather than vocal limitations. In fact, here and in the subsequent performance of Elvira’s Mad Scene, the sopracuti are electrifying. In ‘O rendetemi la speme,’ one of the most purely beautiful arias for the soprano voice, Ms. Peretyatko’s delicate singing in her middle range is magnificent, in terms of both the natural loveliness of the timbre and the tranquility of her depiction of Elvira’s madness. The infamously perilous chromatic scales in the cabaletta, ‘Qui la voce sua soave,’ executed so magically by Maria Callas, challenge Ms. Peretyatko, but it is a battle that she wins. The melting lyricism of her singing, even in coloratura passages, is tremendously appealing, and she is to be praised for delivering such difficult music with admirable degrees of tonal and rhythmic accuracy.

Wonderful as her singing of the coloratura display pieces included on Arabesque invariably is, the most enjoyable performances on the disc are those of the three Mozart arias with which Ms. Peretyatko begins. Though Mozart’s manuscript of the concert aria ‘Ah se in ciel, benigne stelle’ (K. 538) bears the date 4 March 1788, modern scholars suspect that the aria was likely composed for Aloysia Weber a decade earlier, at the end of a sojourn in Munch in 1778. Whatever the actual date of its composition, the aria—a setting of a text from Metastasio’s libretto L’eroe cinese—is the work of Mozart at his best. Technically, the aria is incredibly difficult, the vocal line rising repeatedly to top C and requesting trills on top B♭. In general, Ms. Peretyatko’s trills are the genuine article, and she soars aloft with every appearance of ease. ‘Non mi dir,’ Donna Anna’s scena from Don Giovanni is deceptively troublesome: Callas considered it one of the most fearsome episodes in opera for the soprano voice, more daunting even than ‘Casta diva’ in Bellini’s Norma. The combination of vocal security and dramatic intensity that Mozart’s music demands is unquestionably beyond the capacities of most sopranos, but Ms. Peretyatko sings the aria ravishingly. The voice is perhaps slightly too light to qualify her as an idea Donna Anna in most modern opera houses, but she masters the expansive phrases and roulades without breaking phrases to snatch breaths. She also avoids the wiry sounds made by many high-voiced coloratura sopranos in the music, her middle register having greater warmth than most similarly-endowed singers. The finest track on the disc is Ms. Peretyatko’s performance of Susanna’s ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ from Le nozze di Figaro. This, too, is music in which she has valuable experience, including a moving portrayal of Susanna in a 2009 Paris Nozze di Figaro conducted by Marc Minkowski. Every musical nuance of the aria is explored tellingly, her technique meeting every need imposed by the music, but what is truly exceptional is the way in which Ms. Peretyatko conveys so much of the passion, humor, and gnawing uncertainty of Susanna in a single aria removed from its context. All of the tracks on Arabesque are the work of an excellent singer, but her performance of ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ is the work of an uncommonly perceptive artist.

Far too often, discs on which singers offer recitals of ‘chestnuts’ of their repertoires are egotistical affairs of little artistic merit. This cannot be said of Arabesque, which preserves some fantastic singing by a young soprano poised to make her mark on the musical world for years to come. There is no shortage of coloratura sopranos today, but the numbers of great singers will always be limited. Arabesque is the work of a singer for whom greatness is on the horizon and a disc that marks Olga Peretyatko as the rare soprano for whom virtuosity is an intersection of heart, soul, and throat, not just a lot of flashy high notes.