With this release, soprano Krassimira Stoyanova is now up to her fourth album on the Orfeo label. Her debut release ‘I palpiti d’amour’ (2008) was followed by the award winning ‘Slavic Opera Arias’ (2011) and then a ‘Verdi’ album (2014). I notice there is also another release found on Naxos, her ‘Puccini Complete Songs’ (2017).
For her new album, Stoyanova has turned her attention to verismo arias. Verismo is a blanket term of the broad, post-Romantic Italian operatic tradition after Verdi, which didn’t focus on gods, mythological figures and kings and queens but on realistic, ordinary people and their everyday, often mundane, lives. Relationships in the verismo aesthetic are often portrayed in their simplest form with tales of love, lust, jealousy and vengeance, perpetually concluding with grisly crimes of passion. Conversely, a couple of the most performed verismo operas Puccini’s Tosca and Giordano’s Andrea Chénier do involve historical subjects and arias from these two operas are sung here by Stoyanova. Clearly this opera tradition is now in vogue with leading sopranos; Renée Fleming released her ‘Versimo’ album 2009 and in the last couple of years two of the world’s most renowned sopranos have also issued desirable ‘Verismo’ albums: Angela Gheorghiu on Warner (review) and Anna Netrebko on Deutsche Grammophon (review).
A lirico spinto, Bulgarian born Stoyanova, now aged fifty-five, has sung at the major international including opera houses La Scala, Metropolitan New York, Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, although checking through her engagements on operabase.com from 2014, I notice that verismo operas haven’t figured in her repertoire. Stoyanova is a Verdi specialist and in 2015 performed Aida, her eleventh Verdi role. Particularly satisfying is Stoyanova’s strong projection, slightly dark and rich tone especially in her middle register, clarity of diction, and gleaming top register. Indeed, it’s easy to see why, with these qualities, she is so in demand for leading soprano roles. Over the last four or so years, the roles she has sung most often in different productions have been Amelia Grimaldi (Simon Boccanegra), Aida, Feldmarschallin (Rosenkavalier) Rusalka, Elisabeth de Valois (Don Carlos) and Marguerite (Faust). On the concert stage, the Verdi Requiem also figures prominently.
Most of the set-piece arias in this collection are exceedingly well known, with a few of them done to death, namely Puccini’s Senza mamma (Suor Angelica) and Vissi d'arte (Tosca). Although Stoyanova is singing nine Puccini arias here, the composer is not her speciality, as she has sung only the single Puccini role of Mimì (La bohème) since 2014. Revealingly, in a 2014 interview, Stoyanova said “Tosca? It is not a role for me”, so I was keen to hear how she would handle the artistic demands of the enduring popular showpiece Vissi d'arte, an aria that she does sing in concert recital. There was no need to worry as the soprano sings how the prima donna Flora Tosca lives for art and love with all the commitment and feeling one expects in an aria she knows so well. Cautious of singing the role of Madama Butterfly on the stage, having cancelled three engagements some years ago (Bologna, Turin and Barcelona), she sings a couple of arias from the opera. Notable is Che tua madre dovrà prenderti in braccio, where Butterfly threatens to end her life; Stoyanova renders it with poise and an accomplished control of her top notes.
With such an enviable number of verismo operas to choose from, regrettably it tends to be the same arias that persistently appear on recital collections. So not surprisingly on this album, it’s the arias from the rarer operas by Mascagini L'Amico Fritz and Lodoletta that hold the most interest. Son pochi fiori (L'Amico Fritz), when Suzel is presented to Fritz as a possible bride, exemplifies Stoyanova in her finest and most affecting form, conveying a convincingly girlish vulnerability. Of all the performances on the album, most exceptional is the aria Ah, il suo nome… Flammen perdonami (Lodoletta). Exhausted by her journey to Paris, the infatuated Lodoletta arrives at Flammen’s doorstep in a snow storm. Ashamed and distraught, she dies from hunger and the intense cold. Stoyanova’s voice is durable and never feels underpowered; she captivatingly communicates the suffering of the protagonist’s emotionally fragile personality with almost unbearable intensity. In both Mascagni’s arias, the combination of such glorious music and Stoyanova’s captivating voice is an extremely potent one.
Stoyanova’s conductor is fellow Bulgarian Pavel Baleff, who maintains a flowing tempo and obtains admirable support from the versatile Münchner Rundfunkorchester. Performing with undoubted commitment the players clearly relish this verismo repertoire. The engineering team from Studio 1, Bayerischen Rundfunk provides satisfyingly balanced sound quality with clarity and presence. For an aria collection of this type, the lack of any texts and translations is extremely disappointing. Some measure of consolation is provided by the provision of a helpful booklet essay by Roberto Lombardo which mentions each opera included in the collection and gives a valuable explanation of each aria within its operatic context.
Ideally, I would have preferred to hear three or four more arias from rarer verismo operas in this primarily Puccini-focused collection, but overall, this album of verismo arias from Stoyanova is most enjoyable and conveys a sense of her total involvement.
1. Puccini: In quelle trine morbide (Manon Lescaut)
2. Cilea: 'Del sultano Amuratte'…Io son l'umile ancella (Adriana Lecouvreur)
3. Mascagni: Son pochi fiori (L'Amico Fritz)
4. Puccini: Signore, ascolta! (Turandot)
5. Cilea: Un cofanetto? Scusate - Poveri fiori (Adriana Lecouvreur)
6. Puccini: Un bel di vedremo (from Madama Butterfly)
7. Catalani: Ebben? Ne andrò lontana (La Wally)
8. Puccini: Sai cos'ebbe cuore di pensare - Che tua madre dovrà prenderti in braccio (Madama Butterfly)
9. Puccini: Senza mamma, o bimbo (Suor Angelica)
10. Puccini: Tanto amore segreto (Turandot)
11. Giordano: La mamma morta (Andrea Chénier)
12. Puccini: Sola, perduta, abbandonata (Manon Lescaut)
13. Puccini: Non piu Fermate! Nell villaggio d'Edgar (Edgar)
14. Mascagni: Ah, il suo nome… Flammen perdonami (Lodoletta)
15. Vissi d'arte (from Tosca)
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