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Joyce El-Khoury (soprano)
Michael Spyres (tenor)
Hallé/Carlo Rizzi
rec. 2017, The Stoller Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester
Sung texts and English translations provided.
OPERA RARA ORR252 [79:15]
Michael Spyres (tenor)
Joyce El-Khoury (soprano)
Hallé/Carlo Rizzi
rec. 2017, The Stoller Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester
Sung texts and English translations provided.
OPERA RARA ORR251 [78:25]

Opera Rara, always an imaginative company with its choice of rare and forgotten opera recordings, has turned its attention to a pair of solo recital albums. Here we have an album each from Lebanese-Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury and American tenor Michael Spyres, both accompanied by Hallé under conductor Carlo Rizzi. Incidentally, El-Khoury and Spyres feature on Donizetti’s Les Martyrs with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Sir Mark Elder on Opera Rara (review). In July 2017 they gave a well-received concert at Cadogan Hall, London, mainly of arias contained on these new albums (review).

Each recital album contains mainly French arias from the Grand Opera tradition connected to a leading bel canto opera star of the nineteenth century. Both stars were closely affiliated with the Paris Opéra. El-Khoury’s release, Écho, comprises arias associated with great Belgian soprano Julie Dorus-Gras. Spyres on Espoir has a selection of arias sung by Parisian tenor Gilbert-Louis Duprez. On each album El-Khoury and Spyres come together for a duet.

The stimulus for El-Khoury on Écho, diva Julie Dorus-Gras, studied at the Paris Conservatoire, made her opera debut in 1826 in Brussels and her Paris Opéra debut in 1830. Dorus-Gras went on to première many roles, including three sung here: Alice in Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable, Princess Eudoxie in Halévy’s La Juive and Teresa in Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini. At first sight, it might seem curious that an aria from Le Freyschütz the French adaptation of Weber’s German opera Der Freischütz is chosen for this collection. Evidently it was an aria that Dorus-Gras often sang in concert. Incidentally, El-Khoury clarifies that the title of the album Écho is a significant word that appears in several of these scores. This perhaps echoes the artistry of Dorus-Gras who still motivates singers today.

Highly assured El-Khoury is on quite outstanding form, displaying her smooth, fluid mid-register to considerable advantage. Impressively honed, the soprano’s technique allows her to display coloratura passages compellingly. At times, El-Khoury’s voice reminds me of Angela Gheorghiu but without quite the same richness in her lower range. Notable is El-Khoury’s performance of Mathilde’s recitative and romance Ils s'éloignent enfin… Sombre forêt from act two of Donizetti’s grand opera Guillaume Tell. Lovesick Princess Mathilde contemplates her feelings of love for Arnold, a simple Swiss countryman who saved her life. What stands out is the depth of El-Khoury’s expression, clarity of intonation and feeling for the text. Exceptional too, from Hérold’s opéra comique Le pré aux clercs, is the soprano’s rendition of Isabelle’s act two entr'acte and air Jours de mon enfance. Isabelle, a young Béarnaise countess sings of her love for Mergy, although the king wishes her to marry another man. Striking here is El-Khoury’s attractive tone together with a convincing ability to glide quickly and effortlessly to her high register. Adding to the atmosphere is the substantial part for solo violin, gratifyingly played by leader Paul Barritt.

Spyres explains the importance of the album’s title Espoir (hope), especially in the context of his own ambition of becoming a singer, and tenor Gilbert-Louis Duprez’s aspiration to develop a new style of singing. Duprez made his first appearance in a principal role in 1825 at Odéon Theatre, Paris. He made a stunning debut at Paris Opéra in 1837 as Arnold in Guillaume Tell around the time the reputation of renowned tenor Adolphe Nourrit was in decline, forcing him to retire. In an exceptionally successful career Duprez gave first performances of many roles. By my reckoning all the arias sung here by Spyres are premières given by Duprez, except for the Naples première of Rossini’s Otello which is given here in a French version spelt Othello. In Italy Duprez did sing the role of Rodrigo from Otello and later the title role at Opéra in 1844. Duprez is best known today as the innovator of singing upper register notes up to high C from the chest, a more weighty and vigorous heroic voice. This technique practised by Duprez gave composers the possibility of writing more dramatic and technically challenging tenor roles, with increasing weighty orchestral textures.

Undoubtedly Spyres is a confident artist and performs here with convincing interpretive appeal. His durable voice is produced smoothly, with relative ease, although he seems slightly less comfortable in his lower range and use of coloratura. My first highlight is Othello’s entrance aria Venise, ô ma patrie from act one of Rossini’s Othello sung here in French. In the cavatine the Moorish general is jubilant after victory against the Turks and takes the accolades whilst thanking God for his help. Immediately noticeable is Spyres’ clear enunciation and attractive tone, especially in his middle-range, together with a most satisfying expression. High notes are achieved with relative ease, opening up creditably. Especially memorable too is De mes aïeux ombres sacrées the French chevalier Gérard’s air from act four of Halévy grand opera La Reine de Chypre. Asking his ancestors for understanding the tormented, Gérard — in love with Catarina who is to be married to the king — seeks blood and vengeance by committing what will be an act of regicide. Spyres gives a decisive performance. He reveals a faintly steely-edged timbre, strongly projected, and creates satisfying drama. With three arias Spyres is doing the cause of Halévy great service in promoting the Parisian composer’s operas which, with the exception of La Juive, deserve to be better known.

It is hard to fault the playing on both albums by the Hallé under conductor Carlo Rizzi. The orchestra is in such exceptional form. Both albums were recorded at Stoller Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester. The engineering team provide first-class sound, with clarity and a satisfying balance between singer and orchestra. Sung texts and English translations are appreciatively provided. Rosie Ward wrote the informative booklet essays which place the arias in the context of the operas.

This pair of Opera Rara albums of nineteenth-century operatic treasures from soprano Joyce El-Khoury and tenor Michael Spyres should delight opera lovers in general and admirers of French grand opera in particular.

Michael Cookson
Track listing
Joyce El-Khoury - Écho
Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)
1. Regnava nel silenzio… Quando rapito in estasi (from Lucia di Lammermoor) [8:30]
Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864)
2. Robert, toi que j'aime (from Robert le Diable) [5:39]
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) / Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
3. Hélas! sans le revoir (from Le Freyschütz) [8:00]
(French version of Agathe's scene from Berlioz 1841 Paris version)
Gaetano Donizetti
4. Ils s'éloignent enfin (from Guillaume Tell) [8:30]
Giacomo Meyerbeer
5. Va, dit-elle, va, mon enfant (from Robert le diable) [6:37]
Gaetano Donizetti
6. Lucia, perdona se ad ora inusitata (from Lucia di Lammermoor) [13:23]*
Louis-Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833)
7. Jours de mon enfance (Le pré aux clercs) [5:20]
Giacomo Meyerbeer
8. Quand je quittai la Normandie (from Robert le Diable) [5:31]
Jacques Fromental Halévy (1799-1862)
9. Assez longtemps la crainte et la tristesse (from La Juive) [8:54]
Hector Berlioz
10. Les belles fleurs…Entre l'amour et le devoir (from Benvenuto Cellini) [7:43]
Michael Spyres (tenor)*

Michael Spyres - Espoir
Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)
1. Venise, ô ma patrie (from Otello) [6:00]
Gaetano Donizetti
2. Dopo i lauri di vittoria (from Rosmonda d’Inghilterra) [4:30]
Jacques Fromental Halévy
3. Dans ces lieux (from Guido et Ginévra) [9:06]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
4. L'infamie…O mes amis, mes frères (from Jérusalem) [3:59]
Jacques Fromental Halévy
5. Tu seras donc pour moi (from Guido et Ginévra) [12:15]*
Gaetano Donizetti
6. Seul sur la terre (from Dom Sébastien, Roi de Portugal) [5:11]
François Auber (1782-1871)
7. Ils s’éloignent, je reste (from Le Lac des fées) [6:26]
Hector Berlioz
8. Seul pour lutter, seul avec mon courage (from Benvenuto Cellini) [8:35]
Gaetano Donizetti
9. La maîtresse du roi?:.. Ange si pur (from La Favorite) [4:46]
Jacques Fromental Halévy
10. De mes aïeux ombres sacrées (from La Reine de Chypre) [6:45]
Gaetano Donizetti
11. Tombe degl'avi miei … Fra poco a me ricovero…Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali (from Lucia di Lammermoor) [9:40]
* Joyce El-Khoury (soprano)



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