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Reviews

Puccini Romance
11 Dec 2009

Puccini Romance

This disc faces a marketplace already crowded with similar compilations from major companies who can raid their archives to offer competitive interpretations at bargain prices.

Puccini Romance
Arias and duets from La Bohème, Tosca, Le Villi, La Fanciulla del West, Turandot and Madama Butterfly.

Antoinette Halloran, soprano; Rosario La Spina, tenor. The Queensland Orchestra. Stephen Mould, conductor.

ABC Classics 476 6404

$35.98  Click to buy

The main target is therefore the local audience who can currently see these two artists regularly singing with Opera Australia. None the less this disc has some attractions. They are not, however, in the musical layout. Multiple selections from an opera are presented out of order. This is less of an issue with operas like Madama Butterfly or Tosca, where the chosen excerpts are separated often by an entire act, but informed listeners will be amused by the four La Bohème items which places “O soave fanciulla” before “Che gelida manina” and “Sì, mi chiamo Mimi” so that the young couple declare their love before making their introductions. More amusing still is that ‘Mimi’s farewell’ follows immediately so having “come to bother you at an inconvenient time”, she immediately declares her intention to return alone to her solitary nest to make fake flowers!

Rosario La Spina has the makings of a good tenor. He has a bright ‘Italianate’ voice, if occasionally backwardly placed on some higher notes but the biggest irritant are the intrusive aspirates that occur throughout. They may assist him into top notes and give the impression of that ‘hairy-chested’ singing of the Del Monarco/Corelli variey but they become tiresome for repeated listening and the Tosca duet is riddled with them. He has a natural feeling for Italian, singing through diphthongs and making some beautiful sounds although his actual handling of the words is disappointing compared to the careful attention his partner Antoinette Halloran gives to the texts. His phrases are dully shaped, salient words or the emotions they convey are rarely pointed. It would be hard to imagine any soprano responding to his serenades, let alone undergoing the emotional and physical tortures Puccinian women suffer for their men.

Halloran is another bright and intelligent Australian soprano. Her Mimi and Butterfly are well thought out and characterised. In the ‘Dream’ aria from La Rondine her voice expands into a rich and well controlled forte. Her singing in the ‘Butterfly’ duet is the highlight.

The unsung, so to speak, heroes are conductor Stephen Mould and the orchestra, underpinning the moods and commenting on the characters like old troupers from an Italian house that play this music daily. In “Sì, mi chiamo Mimi”, the short, blunted phrases as she details her dull daily routine suddenly swell, as she mentions the pleasure spring flowers bring her, into beautiful arching phrases. La Spina, incidentally, is not on hand to sing ‘si’ when she asks “lei m’intende?” The disc ends with the “Butterfly” duet where the orchestra respond superbly; the harp passage as Butterfly begins to remove her wedding gown almost suggests its silken texture. Similarly, the horns in the closing moments throb with suggestive anticipation as Pinkerton urges Butterfly into his arms and bed. The low gong strike in that closing passage hovers in mid-air and the overall sound is in the demonstration class.

Michael Magnusson

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