El barbero de Sevilla – Me llaman la primorosa
Carmen – Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante
Bachianas Brasilieras No.5 – Tarde uma nuvem rósea
Roméo et Juliette – Je veux vivre
Guillaume Tell – Ils s’éloignent enfin … Sombre forêt
Composizioni da Camera, Volume II – Ne ornerà la bruna chioma
Rigoletto – Caro nome
Non t’amo più
La traviata – È strano! … Ah, fors’è lui … Sempre libera
Rosa Feola (soprano) & Iain Burnside (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson
Reviewed: 9 January, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
With Rosenblatt Recitals one can be sure of a singer’s quality which, with rare exceptions, is world-class. That every month during the main concert season vocal buffs within striking distance of London can hear the pick of the crop of young singers is a privilege which should never be taken for granted. My only misgivings are that the choice of recitalists has favoured the male voice over the female, and the tenor voice above all others.
Rosa Feola is three years on from winning second prize in the Operalia contest held in Milan in 2010, and has been winning golden opinions whilst developing a career with wisdom and discretion. There has been a tendency for the programming of these recitals to resemble pick-and-mix confectionery, a wide range of musical styles and vocal tests for the no-doubt numerous impresarios present to use as a living audition tape. Feola avoided this approach; she had a theme, broadly stated as ‘Love in several guises’ and she played to her strengths, with suggestions of what might be to come when the artist emerges into full maturity.
As the winner of the Zarzuela Prize of the afore-mentioned competition it was fitting that Feola should begin with Giménez’s 1901 version of The Barber of Seville and the equivalent of Rosina’s confessional ‘Una voce poco fa’. Unlike Rossini, this composer was wholly committed to the soprano voice for his Elena. The sequences in the cadenza amount to a stiff vocal exercise, an ideal piece for Feola to introduce herself and her voice. It is a strong lyric instrument; those patrons in the front rows were to be in for a not entirely comfortable evening, within a few feet in some numbers of a sound which is much more suited to be heard in the opera house. Alongside that power was an impressive command of coloratura and a natural ability to make contact with listeners.
Three items from the French Romantic repertoire were next heard. Micaëla’s aria from Carmen showcased Feola’s legato line, which was admirably well-schooled but not associated with blandness. Indeed, the lasting impression was of a timid woman aware of her task of acquiring the courage to challenge her rival. An accomplished vocal actress looks to be on the horizon.
Iain Burnside launched Juliette’s ‘Waltz Song’ with verve. Where one sometimes feels that pianists used to playing, say, Fauré and Wolf, are perceptibly ill-at-ease when accompanying operatic arias, Burnside in his recent appearances in this series has been utterly whole-hearted, almost as if he had aspirations to become a conductor. Feola coped well with the runs and was no less effective in the slower, dreamy passage before the bravura conclusion.
In the recitative of Mathilde’s scena from Guillaume Tell Feola conveyed by body language, as she would on the nstage, the character’s feelings, flinching for example at the words “mon effroi”. Her singing of the expansive aria was a little bumpy and hesitant in the first verse, but smoother in the second. The cadenza flowed without concealing its difficulties.
The second half was devoted entirely to arias in Italian. Two Tosti songs showed different levels of inspiration: ‘Sogno’ is formulaic and never really emerges from the restricted, conventional world of the drawing room, while ‘Non t’amo più’ is a different story. In her account of growing disillusionment brought about by her lover’s behaviour, Tosti and the poet Errico created a moving picture of a tragic heroine. The treacherous lover is memorably arraigned for his cold indifference to her suffering. Feola scaled down her voice while maintaining her intensity. ‘Musica proibita’ is normally the province of tenors but in the poem it is a girl who hears the melody sung outside by a young man and defies her mother to repeat it herself. To complement her singing Feola physically conveyed the playfulness of the naïve girl in her pose and movements.
The cavatina originally allotted to the native girl Zilia in Donizetti’s Cristoforo Colombo, later extracted as a concert piece, is something of a discovery. Zilia is an independent, feisty character in the Norina mould. The music is rich in fioriture, and Feola threw off its difficulties with aplomb. After hearing a sensational performance of ‘Caro nome’ from a Christmas 2012 concert conducted by Muti on YouTube this performance was slightly disappointing. The size of Feola’s voice, particularly in the decorative passages, had an enervating impact. The ending was ragged and abrupt; tailing off into the distance, as in the opera, would have surely have been better.
There was a perceptible feeling of anticipation for Violetta’s scena, which ended the scheduled programme. She would not have been the first recitalist to essay this demanding piece prematurely. Feola was not overparted either vocally or dramatically. She treated the music and its problems with respect. The tempos she chose for the recitative and for “Ah, fors’è lui” were sensibly brisk. In the aria she did not overdo the pathos; her attack on the word “Gioir” was like a knife, her runs in the cabaletta were impeccable and the unwritten climactic note was well placed.
A single encore ‘O mio babbino caro’ (from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi) completed a notably rewarding recital.