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Kiri Te Kanawa - Opera Arias
Full contents list at end of review
London Symphony Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung; Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Lyon/Kent Nagano; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Jeffrey Tate; Philharmonia Orchestra/Julius Rudel
rec. 1988-97
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 635295 [4 CDs: 235:07]

All pink and grey and pretty, this nattily packaged 4 CD box set collects four of Kiri Te Kanawa’s studio recordings made between 1988 and 1997. She is thus found here in prime vocal condition, singing in three languages and under four different, distinguished conductors. Two of the discs are devoted to Italian opera and there’s one each allocated to French and German opera. The second disc is wholly devoted to the composer whose idiom her creamy, radiant voice often suited ideally: Puccini.
Renowned especially for her singing of leading ladies in Strauss and Mozart operas, the absence of the latter, with the exception of one aria for Pamina, is noticeable here. No Countess, no Fiordiligi, no Elvira - and, for that matter, no Desdemona or Amelia, even though we hear her sing three other Verdi heroines from Il trovatore”, “La traviata” and “La forza del destino”.
Still, there is no claim from Warner that this represents a “Best of” collection or a comprehensive review of her career; it is simply a convenient and attractive repackaging available at a bargain price to admirers of a very un-diva-ish soprano star especially beloved of British and American audiences.
The singing is not flawless; sometimes there is a hint of catch or hoarseness on attempted pianissimo and also blank passages of characterisation which play into the hands of those who accuse her of being dramatically bland; the very evenness of her tonal emission and registration throughout her range can sometimes create an impression of too much ease where other singers have audibly to struggle.
Ultimately, however, the overwhelming impression is of a voice of surpassing beauty. The ample, soaring top notes in the Verdi arias, the tender, feminine quality so suited to Massenet’s plaintive melodies, the unexpected power of her cries of “Azaël” in the aria from Debussy’s rarely heard “L’enfant prodigue”. Arias from Charpentier’s “Louise” and “Les pêcheurs de perles” both indicate that this is a singer of exceptional gifts and versatility. There are surprises here for those who have forgotten how apt is her voice to the stately beauty of Gluck, but if there is one aria which best typifies her supremacy in some repertoire, it is Magda’s “Che il bel sogno di Doretta” from “La rondine”, with its arching, stratospheric phrases so suited to her voice. Yet she can draw, albeit sparingly, upon a trenchant lower register and rise to the tragic nobility of Leonora and Elisabetta in their desperate appeals to God. I must here put in a word for the beautiful cor anglais solo preceding Marguerite’s aria from Berlioz’s “La damnation de Faust”, played by the Royal Opera House’s Graham Salter.

The German album was the last recorded here but the top notes are still pure and plangent, the lower register, following her earlier work on strengthening it after some criticism, fully capable of doing justice to "Totenreich" in the "Ariadne" aria. As always with Dame Kiri, there is some hoarseness and discoloration on the "ee" vowel in the middle of the voice and there is perhaps some very slight loosening of the vibrato, but neither of these things in any way much compromises enjoyment. There is no question whether she can do justice to the Wagner arias: the voice soars as it should, at least as recorded, and makes me wonder why she didn't take on more Wagner on stage. There is scrupulous musicianship and care for the beauty of line here but as much as I enjoy the Weber and the Wagner, the Strauss arias are the glory of this disc, particularly the rapturous apotheosis of Daphne which forms the concluding scene of the opera. The orchestral playing here is as beautiful as the singing; indeed the Philharmonia play divinely under Julius Rudel. The recital ends with a glorious account of Korngold's famous "Glück, das mir verblieb", sung as serenely and beguilingly as any singer before or since.
Not just for Te Kanawa's fans, this set also provides a great survey of the role of the soprano in 19th and 20th century opera  

Ralph Moore 

Full contents list 
La Damnation de Faust: D'amour l'ardente flamme
Me voilà seule…Comme autrefois (from Les Pêcheurs de Perles)
L'altra notte in fondo al mare (from Mefistofele)
Depuis le jour (from Louise)
Ecco: respiro appena. Io son l'umile ancella (from Adriana Lecouvreur)
Poveri fiori (from Adriana Lecouvreur)
L'annee en vain...Cependent les soirs (from L'enfant Prodigue)
La mamma morta (from Andrea Chénier)
Cette nuit … O toi qui prolongeas mes jours (from Iphigénie en Tauride)
Glück, das mir verbleib 'Marietta's Lied' (from Die Tote Stadt)
Qual fiamma avea nel guardo!.... Hui! Stridono lassù (from I Pagliacci)
Il est doux, il est bon (from Hérodiade)
Je marche sur tous les chemins (from Manon)
Adieu, notre petite table (from Manon)
De cet affreux combat…Pleurez, mes yeux ! (from Le Cid)
Ach, ich fühl's (from Die Zauberflöte, K620)
Elle a fui, la tourterelle (from Les Contes d' Hoffmann)
Signore, ascolta! (from Turandot)
Tu che di gel sei cinta (from Turandot)
Senza mamma, o bimbo (from Suor Angelica)
Vissi d'arte (from Tosca)
Se come voi piccina io fossi (from Le Villi)
In quelle trine morbide (from Manon Lescaut)
Manon Lescaut: Intermezzo Act III
Sola, perduta, abbandonata (from Manon Lescaut)
Sole e Amore
Si, mi chiamano Mimi (from La Bohème)
Donde lieta usci (from La Bohème)
Un bel di vedremo (from Madama Butterfly)
Madama Butterfly: Intermezzo Act II, part 2
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (from La Rondine)
Senza mamma, o bimbo (from Suor Angelica)
O mio babbino caro (from Gianni Schicchi)
Signore, ascolta! (from Turandot)
Tu che di gel sei cinta (from Turandot)
Es gibt ein Reich (from Ariadne auf Naxos)
Zweite Brautnacht! (from Die Ägyptische Helena)
Ich komme, grünen Brüder (from Daphne)
Tacea la notte (from Il Trovatore)
Attendo,attendo.. Addio del passato (from La Traviata)
Pace, pace mio Dio! (from La forza del destino)
Toi qui sus le néant des grandeurs (from Don Carlos)
Allmächt’ge Jungfrau! (from Tannhäuser)
Dich, teure Halle (from Tannhauser)
O Sachs, mein Freund! (from Die Meistersinger)
Du bist der Lenz (from Die Walküre)
Wie nahte mir der Schlummer … Leise, leise, fromme Weise (from Der Freischütz)
Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle (from Der Freischütz) 

rec. 19, 20, 23-24 June, 17-19 October 1989, No.1 Studio. Abbey Road, London; 14-22 May 1996, Opéra National de Lyon; November, 1988, No.1 Studio. Abbey Road, London; 9-10, 13-24, 17-18 October 1996, 5, 7, 9-10, 12-13 March 1997, No.1 Studio. Abbey Road, London. DDD