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Sempre Libera
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata: E strano [1.42]
Ah, fors ‘e lui [2.57]
Sempre liberna [4.50]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
La Fille du Régiment: C'en est donc fait [0:40]
Par le rang et par l'opulence [5:32]
Salut à la France! [3:27]
Lucia di Lammermoor: Regnava nel silenzio [4:28]
Quando rapito in estasi [3:51]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Rondine: Ch’il belsugno di Dortetta [3.16]
Manon Lescaut: Intermezzo [4.49]
Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro [2.32]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Manon: Je suis encore tout étourdie [3.36]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
L’Enfant et les Sortilèges: Arrière! Je réchauffe les bons [2.49]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Zaide: Rube sanft, mein holdes Leben [6.14]
Die Zauberflöte: Der Hölle Rache [2.56]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Die Schweigsame Frau: Sento un certo non so che [3.12]
Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860-1956)
Louise: Depuis le jour [3:46]
Eli Kristin Hanssveen (soprano)
Operaorkesteret/John Fiore
rec. no details supplied
LAWO LWC1041 [62.13]

Quite often discs of opera extracts from divas young and - well, slightly less young - can be something of a scourge for a reviewer. What are we to do with a random and miscellaneous collection of commonly slow and soupy arias, performed with an often massive vibrato and sometimes dubious orchestral accompaniment. So I felt a little uncertain when I approached this disc as to what I might expect from a singer I hardly knew. 

For some reason the CD player got itself onto the ‘random’ button and I began with a slow start of Donizetti’s C’on est donc fait and the continuing arias from La Fille du Régiment which fall into the slow and soupy category as did the next randomly selected track. This was Puccini’s tear-jerking O mio babbino caro which surely no-one can dislike, but which is also unhurried and sentimental. It then skipped back to the orchestral ultra-romantic Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut which I had only just heard, coincidentally a few days before whilst walking around the ‘Puccini Casa’ in Lucca. The voice, alas still rather palled, and when I discovered that there were no texts supplied but just a brief résumé of the opera story and background to the aria I started to feel a bit sick. The situation was not saved by the fact that much space had been given over in the little pull-out poster-type annotation to several photos of Eli Kistin Hanssveen looking both ice-cool and also highly glamorous.
After that ‘iffy’ start things started to look up. I looked more carefully at the repertoire and realised that the usual format had to a certain extent been nicely side-stepped. For instance the Donizetti extracts mentioned above culminate in the showy and virtuoso Salut à la France. This happily leads on to the Ravel extract, an even more excitingly flashy piece, orchestrated so magically. It is here that the Operaorkesteret under the sensitive John Fiore show themselves to be quite superb and not merely a band knocked together for a recording. The balance here and elsewhere is ideal and the recording spacious and clear. Hanssveen clearly loves the experience. This all demonstrates that her voice is marvellously flexible and, as discovered from the earlier extracts she is well able to delve into and indeed inhabit the romantic heart of these chosen pieces - especially in Verdi’s Sempre libera from La Traviata. You might find her a little heavy in this aria but she brings across the drama in a suitably contrasted manner. Also exceptional and a rare ‘listen’ is the Richard Strauss aria from one of his lesser-known operas Die Schweigsame Frau. Here the singer can really take-off out of a deliberately baroque style evoked by the composer.
It is often said that the test of a good voice, no, an outstanding voice, is in Mozart and Hanssveen gives us arias from Zaïde, an original choice in many ways, and from Die Zauberflöte.These give her an opportunity to demonstrate very ably two significant aspects of the recital, one, the expressive, as in the aria from Mozart’s early Zaïde and the other, the dramatic, in the famous Queen of the Night aria from Magic Flute. In the latter she is precise in articulation and tuning to the Nth degree.
It seems very apt in this programme of unusual repertoire, aimed perfectly at the Hanssveen’s voice, that she should choose to close with Louise’s glorious aria from Charpentier’s now rather underrated opera of the same name. Its glorious wash of romantic melody suits the voice well and the orchestra and singer act as one throughout.
So, a worthwhile recital by a singer better known in her native Norway since her debut in 2002. She has a passionate and precise voice and a wide and expanding repertoire which includes popular music. Hers is a voice and career to follow.
Gary Higginson