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The Magic of Kasarova
Vesselina Kasarova (mezzo-soprano), orchestras/conductors as below
For such locations and dates as are given, see review
BMG CLASSICS/RCA RED SEAL 82876 51933 2 [79:57]

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

La Clemenza di Tito: Deh, per questo istante solo
Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis (pub. 1997)
Così fan tutte: Ah scostati … Smanie implacabili
Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis (pub. 1997)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

La Cenerentola: Tutto è deserto … Una volta c’era un re … Un soave non so che
Juan Diego Flórez (tenor), Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Arthur Fagen (pub. 1999)
Tancredi: Perché turbar la calma di questo cor
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Roberto Abbado (pub. 1996)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)

I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Siam giunti … Ecco la tomba … Deh! tu, bell’anima
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Roberto Abbado (pub. 1998)
Charles Louis Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)

Mignon: Connais-tu le pays
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Frédéric Chaslin (pub 2002)
Jules Emile Frédéric MASSENET (1842-1912)

Werther: Werther! Qui m’aurait dit la place … Je vous écris de ma petite chambre
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Vladimir Jurowski (pub. 1999)
Louis Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

La Damnation de Faust: D’amour l’ardente flamme … Au son des trompettes
Orféon Donostiarra de San Sebastian, Staatskapelle Berlin/Sylvain Cambreling (live, Salzburg Festival, August 1899)
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)

Orphée et Eurydice (Berlioz version): Qu’entends-je? Qu’a-t-il dit? … Amour, viens rendre à mon âme
Bayerische Staatsorchester/Ivor Bolton (live, Bavarian State Opera, November 2003)
Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759)

Rinaldo : Or la tromba in suon festante
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Friedrich Haider (pub. 1996)


In a world rather well-stocked with interesting mezzo-sopranos, Vesselina Kasarova’s claims are as high as any, but time was that a "Magic of …" compilation such as this would be reserved for artists with at least twenty years of recording career behind them. Is it not a little early as yet, and even counter-productive in the sense that those who have not collected her discs to date may now be tempted to "make do" with this selection from most of them (but why nothing from her lieder recital or the recent selection of Bulgarian melodies?).

Anyway … I wrote enthusiastically about Kasarova’s recording of Donizetti’s "La Favorite" (not represented here, rather strangely) and her recital of French arias entitled "Nuit resplendissante" (from which we get the "Mignon" romance). This latter has been rubbished in some quarters on account of the singer’s poor French and over-sumptuous, non-French style. My feeling was that the vividness of her communication and the beauty of her voice rendered the latter a rather paltry comment, and I queried if her French is really so much worse than the average for a non-French singer. However, I have to say that as time goes on (I’ve returned to parts of the disc quite often) her French vowels sound less and less French and certainly, if you compare her with Jennifer Larmore in the "Mignon" piece (a recital on Teldec entitled "L’étoile") you will find the American artist caressing the words and the actual sounds of the language much more. There is a technical point here, for the nasal sounds of the French language bring the voice far forward in the mouth, creating that distinctive timbre, small but able to penetrate effortlessly to the far reaches of a large theatre, which used to characterise French singing. Nowadays even the French prefer something more rounded but, of the two, Larmore’s seems the better modern compromise. However, the problem is serious not so much here – the "Mignon" romance can be very well resolved as just a beautiful piece of singing, and Kasarova certainly gives us that – as in the scene from "Werther". Here the words really do count and at times they are reduced to a jumble at the back of the throat. If you do not sing French with the words fully forward, then to compensate you have to sing Massenet as Italian singers tend to do, with a full-voiced Puccinian splendour, inauthentic but winning on its own terms. Kasarova hardly has a Puccini voice and her Werther falls between the two stools, under-powered from an Italian standpoint, under-characterised from a French one. And why ever finish the extract in mid-air instead of continuing to the end of the act? (Because the disc was already full, you will say, but then why start with three-and-a-half minutes from the orchestra alone, unremarkably conducted?).

So on the whole she makes a better showing in Italian. The "Cenerentola" duet shows the accuracy of her coloratura (but the two voices are not perfectly matched, Florez showing the virtues of more forwardly-placed words, Kasarova those of a more convinced interpretation) and in the excerpts from her "I Capuleti e i Montecchi" and "Tancredi" sets we hear her lovely voice, secure technique and keen communication at their best, as we also do in the extracts from her Mozart recital, which has in addition the advantage of strong conducting from Sir Colin Davis. I am only a little concerned that her descents to the chest register are too fog-horn like and unrelated to the rest of her voice (compare Marilyn Horne in the Handel aria and you cannot really tell where the American artist passes from one register to the other, which is as it should be). I also query if Kasarova is doing herself much good by pressing so strongly on these chest tones.

In spite of reservations, most of the recitals and sets from which these items come are worth having, so I wonder how much point there is to this compilation. For fans, there are two tempters, live performances of Berlioz and Gluck. These days one expects a recording of a live performance to sound technically as good as most studio-made ones; these have the voice wandering in and out, now faint, now overbearing, like the ladies’ handbag recordings of yore. The Gluck lets us appreciate the gut conviction of Kasarova in the flesh, as well as the hair-raising Viardot cadenza which might make the record for some. This recent item also seems to register some improvement in her French. If ever Kasarova returns to "La Damnation de Faust" in the studio I hope it won’t be with this conductor, who drools over the introduction interminably at something like half the marked tempo. Fortunately when Kasarova enters a more normal tempo is established, but Cambreling still tends to lag behind. To say that her singing seems a bit squally is probably unfair given the unsympathetic circumstances, but why release the track?

We are given texts and English translations (not to be taken for granted in this sort of compilation) plus an interview with the singer. All the same, to return to my original argument, if you are at all interested in the art of one of today’s leading mezzo-sopranos, I think you should ignore this compilation and go for the source discs.

Christopher Howell

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