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Prima Donna - The First Ladies Of Opera


Release Date: 02/09/2010 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001396202  
Composer:  Giacomo PucciniAntonín DvorákWolfgang Amadeus MozartVincenzo Bellini,   ... 
Performer:  Renée FlemingAnna NetrebkoSylvia McNairCecilia Bartoli,   ... 
Conductor:  Sir Charles MackerrasGianandrea NosedaSir Neville MarrinerAdám Fischer,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic OrchestraVienna Philharmonic OrchestraAcademy of St. Martin in the Fields,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

A cherishable cornucopia of glorious singing.

This double disc set titled Prima Donna - The First Ladies of Opera immediately caught my eye on the list of review discs. Here is a collection of thirty arias from sixteen of the world’s finest singers – mostly sopranos with three mezzo-sopranos. With the exception of say Joan Sutherland, Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, June Anderson, Mirella Freni and one of today's stars Natalie Dessay, most of the leading female opera singers from the last thirty years or so are represented here.

The set also offers terrific value: lasting well over two hours. Twelve of the singers perform two arias each and Anne Sofie von Otter actually sings three arias.
Read more Maintaining a no-frills approach we get a simple track-listing. There’s no information about the singers. It really doesn’t matter a jot as the high quality of the singing speaks for itself. Both discs were enjoyable from start to finish and I couldn’t find a single weak track.

The majority of the thirty arias are from late-Romantic operas with Puccini the leading figure being represented by an aria each from his five operas Madam Butterfly, Tosca, La Boheme, Suor Angelica and Turandot. There are one each from Bellini’s Norma and La sonnambula, Verdi’s The Force of Destiny and Don Carlos, and Gounod’s Faust and Romeo and Juliet. Mozart represents the Classical era with six arias, variously from The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte and Zaide. The late-Baroque era is not forgotten with Handel having arias from the operas Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare in Egitto and Ariodante, his oratorio/opera Semele and his oratorio Samson.

Predictably many of these are the most popular arias of the repertoire such as Dvorák’s Song to the Moon from Rusalka, Bellini’s Casta Diva from Norma and Handel’s Let the bright seraphim from Samson. Repertoire perhaps lesser known today is represented by the Nun’s Chorus from the Johann Strauss II operetta Casanova and Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben from Mozart’s unfinished opera Zaide. The wildcard is Al mio core oggetti amati from Donizetti’s L'assedio di Calais ( The siege of Calais); an opera virtually forgotten today.

Favourite soprano Renée Fleming is in wonderful form. Butterfly’s aria Un bel di vedremo from Puccini’s Madam Butterfly is a splendid choice aptly demonstrating her smooth and creamy voice sung with great assurance and sensitivity. The clear expressive mezzo of Anne Sophie von Otter is a joy to hear - marvellously so in the aria Dopo notte, atra e funesta from Handel’s Ariodante.

Charismatic soprano Anna Netrebko, a real life Cinderella, is the biggest draw in the opera world today. Rapt and expressive in Song to the Moon from Dvorák’s Rusalka Netrebko’s timbre is like polished ebony. In the Chanson du Roi de Thule - Air des Bijoux from Gounod’s Faust Netrebko sings with electrifying emotion - making the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end.

The lovely angelic soprano tones of Sylvia McNair are displayed splendidly in Che fiero momento from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice and I found soprano Kiri te Kanawa brilliant and uplifting in Handel’s Let the bright Seraphim. The universally admired soprano Barbara Hendricks is represented by the aria Signore ascolta! from Puccini’s Turandot. Recorded in 1982, the velvety warmth together with her rapt assurance show what a remarkable voice the diva had in her prime.

Cecilia Bartoli, as Norma the Druid priestess of the Temple of Esus, brings off an astonishing performance in Casta diva. This track was a wonderful surprise as it is rare to hear Bellini’s celebrated soprano aria Casta diva from his opera Norma sung in the composer’s version for mezzo-soprano. The legendary diva Giuditta Pasta, who sang the role of Norma at the 1831 première, was actually a mezzo-soprano. Madame Pasta was generally referred to as a soprano, however, she undoubtedly had a considerable range with the unusual ability to sing contralto as well as manage soprano. It seems that Madame Pasta couldn’t easily sing Casta diva in its original soprano tessitura so Bellini revised it and took it down to mezzo. Here in Casta diva Bartoli’s uniquely layered mezzo-soprano, with an extended range, sounds like dark and richly piled velvet. From Bellini’s revised score we also hear Bartoli’s authentic use of the pianissimo and even the sotto voce markings. Here Bartoli is accompanied by the period instrument ensemble Orchestra La Scintilla. It did take some time to get accustomed to the woody toned flute. On the second disc, Amina’s aria Ah! non credea mirarti from Bellini’s La sonnambula, Bartoli is joined by star tenor Juan Diego Florez.

I love the distinctive and bewitching voice of coloratura soprano Patricia Petibon who is especially at home in French late-Romantic operas. In the aria Ah! Je veux vivre dans ce rêve from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Petibon demonstrates her exceptional ability to glide effortlessly through rapid changes of dynamics. Her distinctive embellishments are frequently glittering. Golden-voiced Elina Garanca is fresh from her recent success as Carmen to Roberto Alagna’s Don José in Francesca Zambello’s production of Bizet’s Carmen at Covent Garden. The young mezzo has quickly become established as one of the newest stars on the international stage. Garanca’s is in beautiful voice here displaying especially impressive control in the rarely-heard aria Al mio core oggetti amati from Donizetti’s L'assedio di Calais.

Legendary soprano Montserrat Caballé rarely disappoints. In the favourite aria Vissi d'arte from Puccini’s Tosca Caballé soars upwards quite beautifully into the high registers in which she seems eminently comfortable. Recorded in 1976 her vibrato is noticeable but never intrusive. In Handel’s famous aria Lascia ch'io pianga mia cruda sorte from Rinaldo it would be hard to imagine a more sensitive interpretation or finer diction than that from soprano Danielle de Niese.

Sumi Jo the lyric coloratura soprano is renowned primarily for her interpretations of bel canto. Although the most obvious choice from Mozart’s The Magic Flute would have been the Queen of the Night’s famous ‘vengeance aria’ Der Hölle Rache here she performs O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn. Few sopranos are as comfortable with such high tessitura as Sumi Jo who floats like a seabird in a wind thermal. One cannot fail to be impressed by mezzo Magdalena Kožená. I greatly admire her art particularly in late-Baroque repertoire. In the aria Da tempeste il legno infranto from Giulio Cesare she demonstrates her remarkable communication skills and superb vocal technique.

Superstar soprano Angela Gheorghiu sings two splendid arias Pace, pace mio Dio from Verdi’s The Force of Destiny and the celebrated Sì, Mi chiamano Mimì from Puccini’s La Bohème. Richly dramatic and bursting with vivid colour the diva’s beautifully warm and glowing timbre just continues to delight and enchant. For the spine-tingling glories of her famous Puccini aria Gheorghiu is joined fleetingly by her husband the star tenor Roberto Alagna. A recent announcement on her website provides sad news of their two year separation and divorce proceedings.

Throughout this Decca set the sound quality is most impressive. All bar one of the tracks seem to be digital recordings. The year when each recording was made is given in the notes but no details of the venues. Containing a cornucopia of glorious singing this is a special collection and one to cherish.

-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Madama Butterfly: Un bel dì vedremo by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Renée Fleming (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904; Italy 
2.
Rusalka, Op. 114/B 203: O moon high up "Song to the moon" by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Anna Netrebko (Soprano)
Conductor:  Gianandrea Noseda
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; Bohemia 
3.
Le nozze di Figaro, K 492: Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria 
4.
Norma: Casta diva by Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Cecilia Bartoli (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Adám Fischer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich La Scintilla Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1831; Italy 
Notes: Arrangement: Arnold Schoenberg  
5.
Samson, HWV 57: Let the bright Seraphim by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Crispian Steele-Perkins (Trumpet), Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Soprano)
Conductor:  Barry Rose
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  St Paul's Cathedral Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1743; London, England 
6.
La forza del destino: Pace, pace, mio Dio by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Angela Gheorghiu (Soprano)
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Grand Symphonic Orchestra Milan
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1862/1869; Italy 
7.
Così fan tutte, K 588: Temerari!...Come scoglio by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Francisco Araiza (Tenor), Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano), Karita Mattila (Soprano),
Thomas Allen (Baritone), José Van Dam (Bass Baritone)
Conductor:  Sir Neville Marriner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Period: Classical 
Written: 1790; Vienna, Austria 
8.
Turandot: Signore, ascolta by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Barbara Hendricks (Soprano)
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926; Italy 
9.
Le nozze di Figaro, K 492: Voi che sapete che cosa è amor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Trevor Pinnock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Concert
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria 
10.
Andrea Chénier: La mamma morta by Umberto Giordano
Performer:  Montserrat Caballé (Soprano)
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  National Philharmonic Orchestra London
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Italy 
11.
Tancredi: Di tanti palpiti by Gioachino Rossini
Performer:  Elina Garanca (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Roberto Abbado
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bologna Teatro Comunale Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Italy 
12.
Semele, HWV 58: Endless pleasure, endless love by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  William Christie
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1744; London, England 
13.
Manon: Adieu, notre petite table by Jules Massenet
Performer:  Patricia Petibon (Soprano)
Conductor:  Yves Abel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lyon National Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883-1884; France 
14.
Don Carlos: Nel giardin del bello "Veil Song" by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Marina Lodygensky (Soprano), Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Marc Minkowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Musiciens du Louvre,  Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1867/1884; Italy 
15.
Die Zauberflöte, K 620: O zittre nicht...Zum Leiden bin ich by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Uwe Heilmann (Tenor)
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria 
16.
Orfeo ed Euridice: Che fiero momento by Christoph W. Gluck
Performer:  Sylvia McNair (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists
Period: Classical 
Written: 1762/1774; Vienna, Austria 
17.
Zaide, K 344 (336b): Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Renée Fleming (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra of St. Luke's
Period: Classical 
Written: 1780; Austria 
18.
La Bohème: Si, mi chiamano Mimì by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Angela Gheorghiu (Soprano)
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Italy 
19.
La sonnambula: Ah, non credea mirarti by Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Cecilia Bartoli (Mezzo Soprano), Juan Diego Flórez (Tenor)
Conductor:  Alessandro De Marchi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich La Scintilla Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1831; Italy 
20.
Faust: Ah! je ris de me voir si belle "Jewel Song" by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Anna Netrebko (Soprano)
Conductor:  Gianandrea Noseda
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859; France 
21.
Louise: Depuis le jour by Gustave Charpentier
Performer:  Nicole Cabell (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; France 
22.
Suor Angelica: Senza mamma, o bimbo, tu sei morto by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Barbara Hendricks (Soprano)
Conductor:  Lorin Maazel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  French National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1918; Italy 
23.
Casanova: O Madonna, auf uns sieh "Nuns' Chorus" by Johann Strauss Jr.
Performer:  Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Soprano)
Conductor:  Julius Rudel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Mormon Tabernacle Choir,  Utah Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
24.
Ariodante, HWV 33: Dopo notte by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Marc Minkowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Musiciens du Louvre
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1734-1735; London, England 
25.
Roméo et Juliette: Je veux vivre dans le rêve "Waltz Song" by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Patricia Petibon (Soprano)
Conductor:  Yves Abel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lyon National Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1867; France 
26.
L'Assedio di Calais: Al mio core oggetti amati by Gaetano Donizetti
Performer:  Elina Garanca (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Roberto Abbado
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bologna Teatro Comunale Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1836; Italy 
27.
Rinaldo, HWV 7: Lascia ch'io pianga by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Danielle De Niese (Soprano)
Conductor:  William Christie
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1711; London, England 
28.
Tosca: Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Montserrat Caballé (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; Italy 
29.
Die Zauberflöte, K 620: Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Karita Mattila (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Pritchard
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria 
30.
Giulio Cesare, HWV 17: Da tempeste il legno infranto by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Marc Minkowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Musiciens du Louvre
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; London, England 

Sound Samples

Madama Butterfly / Act 2: Un bel dì vedremo
Rusalka, Op.114 / Act 1: O Silver Moon
Le nozze di Figaro, K.492 - Original version, Vienna 1786 - Act 2: "Porgi amor"
Norma / Act 1: Casta Diva
Samson HWV 57 / Act 3: Let The Bright Seraphim
La forza del destino / Act 4: "Pace, pace, mio Dio"
Così fan tutte, K.588 / Act 1: "Temerari! Sortite!" - "Come scoglio!" - "Ah, non partite"
Turandot / Act 1: "Signore, ascolta!"
Le nozze di Figaro, K.492 / Act 2: "Voi che sapete"
Andrea Chénier / Act 3: La mamma morta
Tancredi / Act 1: Di tanti palpiti
Semele HWV 58 / Act 1: Endless pleasure...
Manon / Act 2: Adieu, notre petite table
Don Carlos / Act 2: Chanson du Voile: "Au palais des fées"
Die Zauberflöte / Act 1: "O zittre nicht"
Orfeo ed Euridice (Orphée et Euridice) - Sung in Italian/Vienna version (1762) - Act 3: "Che fiero momento"
Zaide, K.344 / Act 1: Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben
La Bohème / Act 1: "Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì"
La Sonnambula / Act 2: Ah! non credea mirarti si presto estinto, o fiore
Faust / Act 3: Chanson du roi de Thule - Air des Bijoux
Louise / Act 3: "Depuis le jour"
Suor Angelica: Senza mamma
Casanova: Nuns' Chorus
Ariodante HWV 33 / Act 3: "Dopo notte, atra e funesta"
Roméo et Juliette / Act 1: "Ah, je veux vivre"
L'assedio di Calais / Act 1: Al mio core
Rinaldo, HWV 7a / Act 2: "Lascia ch'io pianga"
Tosca / Act 2: "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore"
Die Zauberflöte, K.620 / Act 2: "Ach, ich fühl's"
Giulio Cesare In Egitto HWV 17 / Atto terzo: "Da tempeste il legno infranto"

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