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Recordings

Great Operatic Arias with Gerald Finley
20 May 2010

Great Operatic Arias with Gerald Finley

Listeners who have appreciated Gerald Finley’s stylish and moving singing of baritone roles in operas by Mozart and other composers will be pleased with the recent CD release of Great Operatic Arias in English.

Great Operatic Arias with Gerald Finley

Gerald Finley baritone. London Philharmonic Orchestra. Edward Gardner, conducting.

Chandos CHAN 3167 [CD]

$14.68  Click to buy

In addition to Don Giovanni’s famous duet with Zerlina, several roles created by Finley on stage are featured in excerpt on this recording. Arias from Doctor Atomic by John Adams and The Silver Tassie by Mark-Anthony Turnage are performed here by Finley with great commitment, reminiscent indeed of his original live performances. One also has the opportunity to hear Finley in less accustomed repertoire by Weber, Donizetti, Puccini, and Wagner. Several of the excerpts performed are operatic ensembles or duets in which Finley is well supported by soloist colleagues and the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir. The London Philharmonic Orchestra provides accompaniment under the skillful direction of Edward Gardner.

In the earliest pieces composed and featured in this collection, the duet from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and an aria from Weber’s Euryanthe, Finley shows his characteristic ability to inhabit a role, so that he sings and acts with his voice as one. In both excerpts Finley communicates urgency and emotions that suggest a complexity of character. Lysiart’s aria from Euryanthe begins with a declamatory style at which Finley excels, his diction matching the soul-searching questions of the character. As the piece increases in melodic interest Finley’s approach gains intensity with full decorative force layered onto phrases such as “death and vengeance.” At the close of this scene, the longest in the collection, one has gazed via Finley’s interpretive singing into the conflicting sides of Lysiart’s character, the forces of destruction ultimately winning the upper hand. The duet from Don Giovanni, “Là ci darem la mano,” shared here with Lucy Crowe and performed as “There will my arms enfold you,” illustrates well the rich legato, which is a hallmark of Finley’s singing in such roles where it is appropriate. One can sense the voice performing the act of a seductive embrace as he allows the lines to flow with baritonal resonance.

In yet other styles Finley makes an equally strong impression, such as Robert’s aria “My only beloved Matilde I claim” from Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. In this piece, requiring a strong lyrical approach punctuated by dramatic accents Finley builds gradually in his contemplation of the mutual passion with his beloved. During the initial recitation the singer emphasizes Matilde’s name and its effect on Robert; here Finley intones the word “overpower” in order to give musical expression to his ardor. As often, it is refreshing to listen to Finley sing such words or phrases forte and in upper registers without giving the least sign of strain. Further accents on “her face” and “her eyes” lead to the acceptance of Matilde’s physical “perfection” — and its communication of emotion — with a carefully modulated coloration of the voice. In the repeat of the text’s first half the dramatic result is underlined by Finley’s sustained pitches on “like flame or like wine,” with which the aria effectively concludes.

In those contemporary operatic selections here included, which were originally composed to English texts, Finley’s performances set a standard for the repertoire. The aria sung by Harry from Turnage’s opera The Silver Tassie is performed just before the lead character must return to the trenches of World War I after having spent leave-time in his native Dublin. After a dissonant orchestral beginning each verse accompanied by a simple, repeating line serves as an understated reflection on service and the toll it takes on individual feelings or private loyalties. Finley approaches the overtly song-like nature of the piece as an exercise in variation. He sings the first four verses softly, nearly piano, in a melancholy yet determined resolve to fulfill his military duty while not forgetting the calls of the homeland. Although each line follows essentially the same pattern, the vocal decorations are varied subtly just before or at the point of the end-rhymes. The omnipresent mood of war is suggested by an orchestral intrusion starting at the mid-point of the aria and returning intermittently until the end. Finley responds to these reminders of conflict by inflecting his statements with controlled yet rising pitches, which essentially yield a disciplined variation of the opening lines. The old is confronted by the new, as inevitable change caused by the War is registered in the spirit of Harry and his generation. The second piece from this group is the aria “Batter my heart” from John Adams’s opera Doctor Atomic. Finley’s performance as Oppenheimer in this work has been celebrated in various productions throughout the operatic world, e.g. at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Here the justly chosen aria, based on a poem by John Donne, showcases both the music and Finley’s association with it. The dilemma of Oppenheimer in his work on the horrific weapon causes him to turn to God and to appeal for renewal in his feelings for humanity. Finley negotiates convincingly the undulating intonations in the first four verses and their repetition, as exemplified in the lyrics “three person’d God” and “break, blow, burn, and make me new.” These verses are surrounded by intricate orchestral colorings functioning almost as an interlude of contemplation for the main character. As Finley’s voice rises with intense expression on individual words (“never shall be free,” “except you ravish me”), the listener senses the inner struggles which continue beyond the moment of appeal.

As an example of Finley’s versatility in other repertoire we may look to Antonio’s scena from Linda di Chamounix — composed as an aria and duet sung together with the figure of Maddalena — during which the father’s fears for Linda are expressed. In the introductory aria Finley demonstrates a mastery of bel canto singing in his ideal combination of broad legato and carefully placed decorative melismas on key words such as “altar” and “father.” The accompanying duet shared with Anne Marie Gibbons illustrates Finley’s skill at participating in a vocal line with an emphasis on expressive ensemble singing. The remaining selections in this cd are well chosen and give indication of Finley’s potential future projects for both operatic stage and recording. Several of the translations used in this cd were recently commissioned or produced at the time of the recording.

Salvatore Calomino

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