Exsultate, jubilate, K165
Bella, mia fiamma, addio! … Resta, oh cara, K528
Le nozze di Figaro – Giunse alfin il momento … Al desio di chi t’adora, K577
Così fan tutte … Una donna a quindici anni
Idomeneo – Quando avran fine omai … Padre, germani, addio!
Don Giovanni – Ah! fuggi il traditor
Oh, temerario Arbace! … Per quel paterno amplesso, K79
Il re pastore – L’amerò, sarò costante
Don Giovanni – Là ci darem la mano*
Vesperae solennes de confessore, K339 – Laudate Dominum
Danielle de Niese (soprano)
Bryn Terfel (bass baritone)*
Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment
Sir Charles Mackerras
Recorded 24-30 November 2008 & 1 April 2009 at Abbey Road Studios, London
Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson
Reviewed: December 2009
CD No: DECCA 478 1511
Duration: 66 minutes
Danielle de Niese has rapidly established herself internationally in pre-classical music (Handel’s Cleopatra at Glyndebourne in 2005 followed by Poppea in 2008, Galatea at Covent Garden in 2009). Her first recorded recital was of Handel arias. Now she moves across to Mozart (not “graduates”, she protests. which implies an upward career movement) and offers a miscellaneous selection of operatic arias, liturgical pieces and concert arias. It is a mixed bag, lacking clear direction, not entirely playing to her strengths and the use of the definite article in the title is surely presumptuous.
The selection of “Exsultate, jubilate” and the Zerlina-Don Giovanni duet suggests a “Mozart’s Greatest Hits” compilation, ‘Al desio’ an attempt at musical archaeology, while the other choices and the order of the programme seem designed to demonstrate the singer’s range. I am bemused by the inclusion of the one-minute-and-fifteen-second ‘Ah fuggi il traditor’ to represent Donna Elvira, though placing it immediately after the long, formal opera seria scene from “Idomeneo” may be intended to depict her as equally at home in both the epigrammatic and protracted style.
Conspicuous she certainly is physically but I don’t detect an individual vocal personality and would have difficulty identifying her in a line-up of light lyric sopranos, of whom there is no dearth nowadays. The basic timbre is bright and glistening. There is a constant quiver in the tone which will not sit well with some listeners educated in the ways of ‘period’ performance-practice. Runs are accomplished without recourse to aspirates, though with a Caballé-like bubbliness. She sounds less bell-like or instrumental in the opening section of “Exsultate Jubilate” than, say, Lucia Popp does in comparison. Breathing is occasionally audible here and elsewhere. The mood of joyful exhilaration is caught, followed by a mellowing of tone in the slow central section but this opening track is typical of one major frustration in the recital: the uniform dynamic level of the singing: I waited in vain for contrast, particularly for any truly soft singing.
The alternative aria ‘Al desio’ for Susanna in the last Act of “Le nozze di Figaro”, composed for a 1789 Vienna production with Adriana Ferraresi is a stimulating choice in this context. Why anyone should elect to sing it in a performance instead of the masterly ‘Deh vieni’ (as Cecilia Bartoli once did at the Met) is beyond me but it is an interesting display piece, not merely for the voice but for the concertante instruments given opportunities to take the spotlight. Clarinets and bassoons alternately take turns to throw off their scales and arpeggios, horns and even pizzicato violins get in on the act, vying to squeeze in their responses between the soprano’s phrases, extending their involvement into her bravura closing section which is capped by a cadenza. Definitely a case of ‘too many notes’ if worth an occasional airing.
Concert Arias are represented by the early Metastasio setting “Per quel paterno amplesso” and the mature “Bella, mia fiamma”. If Mozart’s writing in the former is understandably foursquare for a pre-teen composer, de Niese maintains a consistent level of warmth in her tone and negotiates the semiquavers and triplets with assurance, even if the trills are only hinted at and Arbace’s enjoinders to his father are rather tame. She makes more of the later and greater piece, written to test Josefa Dušek. Alert to the text of the recitative, she inhabits the emotional world of the aria, making sense of the rearing and plunging line in the passage “Quest’affanno, questo passo” and attacking each appearance of the word “terribile” with suitable venom. The relentless demands of the Allegro don’t trip her up.
per se are variably satisfying. Her most vivid impersonation comes in Despina’s Act Two aria. Her serving-maid revels in this blatant declaration of working-class cunning, the phoney assumption of laughter and tears illustrated totally without embarrassment, the word “mentire” leeringly spun out. The effectiveness of female dissembling is triumphantly confirmed in an elaborate cadenza on the last appearance of “Posso e voglio” and she ends the aria with an unmistakable twinkle in the eye.
The opening aria from “Idomeneo” is less successful. In Ilia’s long recitative she never lets up on a breathlessly melodramatic delivery; she would have been better advised to share the dramatic colouring with the orchestra. The latter offers some particularly imaginative playing in the aria itself, notably the woodwind crescendos as Ilia cringes at the idea of betraying her people.
Sir Charles Mackerras’s direction of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment reflects affection for the composer as well as a lifetime’s scholarly study. The violin solo in ‘L’amero…’ is beautifully played alongside an admirably shaped vocal line, with thoughtful decorations applied to the reprise. Apoggiaturas are scrupulously applied by his singer throughout the programme.
Decca seem to be marketing Danielle de Niese as a multi-cultural superstar, with much emphasis on her background and precocity. What nowadays seems to be the obligatory emphasis on glamour is evident in the presentation of the disc … but perhaps it was also thus in the days of Callas and Tebaldi. What does cause me unmitigated fury is the booklet. Texts and translations are printed on pink over a background design which makes them difficult to read. The first page of Brian Dickie’s article is the same, the second is white on dark red and the third pink on black in an even smaller point-size, making it wholly unreadable!