Ana María Martínez debuts at the Metropolitan Opera on November 19 performing the role of Micaela in Carmen, an occasion with which this release by Naxos is intended to coincide. This collection consists of eleven pieces by eight composers that range from the familiar to the obscure. Of the familiar, she has selected three arias by Puccini: “O mio babbino caro” (Gianni Schicchi), “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” ( La Rondine) and “Un bel dì vedremo” (Madama Butterfly). Then there are Gounod’s “Je veux vivre” (Roméo et Juliette), Lehár’s “Vilja-Lied” (Die lustige Witwe), Delibes’ “Les filles de Cadix,” Canteloube’s “Baïlèro” (Chants d’Auvergne) and “Aria (Cantilena)” from Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas-Brasileiras No. 5 for voice and eight cellos. Finally, there are Pablo Luna’s “De España vengo” (El Niño Judio), Francis López’s “Violetas imperiales” and “Dança (Martelo)” from Bachianas-Brasileiras No. 5. A wide range, indeed, of musical styles, vocal color and emotional expression that Martínez navigates with ease.
Martínez possesses an instrument of astonishing range, flexibility and ringing top that is ideally suited to the Romantic and Post-Romantic musical literature presented here. There is no doubt, moreover, that her precise phrasing, intonation and dynamics all contribute to a most satisfactory musical result. In many respects, her voice is reminiscent of that of Bidú Sayão, albeit with a tad more weight, power and opacity. There are no mannerisms apparent in this recording. At times her slurs border on portamento, but always with the requisite dramatic effect. It is a pity that works by Handel, Mozart or Strauss are not included to give the listener a complete sample of her musicality. There is one caveat. This recording was made in August 2000. So it is likely that her voice has matured to some degree during the past five years.
Steven Mercurio conducts the Prague Philharmonia with aplomb. The engineers have done well to achieve optimal balance between the soloist and the orchestra.
This recording is highly recommended. Let us hope that many more are forthcoming.