Notes and Editorial Reviews
A must for every lover of fine singing in wonderful venues in a magnificent city.
I have reviewed several issues in the Naxos
Musical Journey series. They frequently involve superb photography associated with well-played music. This issue bring us quite superb photography and music performed by two outstanding artistes at the top of their game.
There are two parts. The first presents Renée Fleming, reigning diva of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, making visits to several important sites in present day St. Petersburg. She describes their importance in Russian history as well as allowing aesthetic appreciation via the superb photography (CHs. 2, 4, 11). These excursions are
interspersed with sung performances of arias and songs in three different quite magnificent venues. These are The White Columns Hall of the Yusupov Palace (CHs.1 and 3), its Baroque Theatre for the songs (CHs. 5-10) and The Golden Ballroom of the Peterhof Palace (CHs. 12-14). In each venue a discreet audience shows its appreciation at the end of each contribution. The second part, described as a ‘Bonus’, is of four more arias for the two singers in one of the venues. As well as the visual glories of the venues and of St Petersburg we also have Miss Fleming dressed in a series of off-the-shoulder gowns by Vivienne Westwood. Dmitri Hvorostovsky is in classic formal gent’s attire, his fine head of prematurely white hair resplendent.
The film starts (CHs. 1 and 3) with two famous Verdi duets for soprano and baritone. In that from act four of
Il Trovatore, as Leonora confronts Di Luna in an effort to secure Manrico’s release, Renée Fleming’s bright lyric tone is expressive whilst lacking some weight. Hvorostovsky, in comparison, is in his natural territory and brings vocal substance and golden tone as well as expressiveness to his contribution. Fleming really comes into her own in the recognition duet from
Simon Boccanegra as Amelia reveals she is not a Grimaldi and Boccanegra recognises her as being his long-lost daughter. A greater weight of tone and colour from the Camerata Orchestra would have helped set the colour of this scene.
In the various songs, played by Olga Kern and Ivari Ulja on a glorious-looking white gilded grand piano, both singers are in excellent voice. The songs have been carefully chosen to suit the singers and their voices. Unless you are a native Russian speaker I doubt you would find fault with Miss Fleming’s contribution. She seems to me to bring appropriate moods to the two Rachmaninov songs (CHs 8-9), the first of poignant yearning, the second of contrasting sparkle as she sings of the approach of spring. Hvorostovsky’s variation of tonal colour and weight in his songs is very impressive indeed. I remember his lieder singing at the 1989 Cardiff Competition, which he won, with Bryn Terfel, everyone’s runner-up being awarded the singing prize and my thinking it should have been the other way around! Despite twenty plus years of Verdi baritone roles, amid a plethora of Tchaikovsky and Mozart, that quality of singing is very much in evidence in Hvorostovsky’s contribution here.
Reverting to more operatic fare accompanied by the State Hermitage Orchestra, conducted by Constantine Orbelian, Hvorostovsky is most impressive in
Don Juan’s Serenade (CH.10). His voice is wide in range and variety of colour and without any spread or looseness under pressure. Along with Fleming he makes the long final scene of
Eugene Onegin a particular highlight of this sequence. Sparking off each other the poignant story of one-sided love is revealed in all its frustration and poignancy (CH.14).
The so-called ‘bonus’ arias find Hvorostovsky in fine bravura voice in
Hamlet’s drinking song, his brown eyes and bow tie as impressive as his lower notes and his security at the top of his voice. Fleming’s choice of
Casta Diva is perhaps unexpected. She is returning to some of her earlier
bel canto roles this past year or so. None however, demand the long flowing cantilena of this aria and it says much for her experience and artistry, as well as vocal condition and commitment, that it is so enjoyable to listen to. Lisa’s aria from the
Queen of Spades is a very appropriate concluding contrast for the listener and the singer.
Of the various venues visited, I will not spoil your enjoyment of the magnificence of the buildings, or the settings, except to point out the virtues of the Peterhof Palace fountains of 1820. Influenced by those at Versailles, they do not appear to be restricted in function as those at the French chateau so often are.
-- Robert J Farr, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Norma: Casta diva by Vincenzo Bellini
Renée Fleming (Soprano)
Written: 1831; Italy
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