Sonia Ganassi Recital – Rosenblatt Recital Series (21 January)

Arias from Maria Stuarda & La Favorite (Donizetti); Tancredi (Rossini); Mignon (Thomas); Sapho (Gounod); Le Cid (Massenet); Samson et Dalila (Saint-Saëns); Carmen (Bizet)

Songs by Rossini, Donizetti, Berlioz and Gounod

Sonia Ganassi (mezzo-soprano) &
Rosetta Cucchi (piano)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 21 January, 2004
Venue: St. John’s, Smith Square, London

We are living in a golden age of mezzo-sopranos, one of the best of whom, Sonia Ganassi, gave a thoroughly enjoyable recital at St. John’s. She has a voice that is warm of tone, smooth in production, with a top that shines, enabling her to fling out bright, ringing notes on high, yet the lower register is not weakened. As a noted singer of Rossini she brings flexibility to coloratura pieces such as “Di tanti palpiti” from Tancredi.

With her able and involved pianist Rosetta Cucchi, who was obviously enjoying the whole experience, even to the extent of mouthing much of what Ganassi was singing (one almost expected a little duet along the way), she gave a well balanced and somewhat unusual programme, the latter adjective applying not only to some arias and songs rarely heard in recitals but to the fact that most of it was of French music. The first half, though mainly Italian, ended with “O mon Fernand” from Donizetti’s La Favorite. Yes, an Italian mezzo singing it in French, and French was the language for everything in the second half.

The first two songs, Rossini’s La Passeggiata and L’Ultimo Ricordo, were subjected to some touches of throat-clearing, but the voice rang out freely in the aforementioned Tancredi aria, with Ganassi introducing some graceful variations in her divisions. Then came an indication of the variety in the chosen items, for a group of pieces by Donizetti began with “Amore e morte”, the “last words of a dying man” sung in a restrained yet enthralling manner. Following it, and contrasting, came Queen Elizabeth’s scene from near the beginning of Maria Stuarda, once again allowing the voice free rein to fill the hall. After two more Donizetti songs we heard “O mon Fernand”, with Ganassi catching Leonore’s doubts and giving full force to her despair.

The second part of the recital was even better. The voice was expanding, rock steady, when necessary, but it was with two introverted items that Ganassi began. She found the wistfulness of Thomas’s Mignon as the young woman reflects on her past and the land to which she would like to return to live, love and die. Yet even more touching was Berlioz’s La Mort d’Ophelie: Queen Gertrude’s lament for the drowned Ophelia. No room for excess here, no need for histrionics: Ganassi subdued her tone, concentrated on the line and simply sang beautifully in hushed voice. It was one of the best contributions in an evening of high standards. A lightening of mood came with more Berlioz: his bolero Zaïde.

What followed was probably the pinnacle; I heard a number of people commenting on it as we left. “O ma lyre immortale” from Gounod’s Sapho is a splendid aria, and Ganassi sculpted it as if she were creating a piece of musical architecture, mesmerising us as she shaped Gounod’s grand melodies with magnificent tone, rich, firm. She fully deserved the spontaneous outburst of appreciation from the audience.

“Pleurez, mes yeux” from Massenet’s Le Cid ended the main part of the recital, then Ganassi and Cucchi added “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” and Carmen’s “Habanera” as encores.

I do not expect to hear a better recital this season. It was part of the Rosenblatt Recital Series, which taken as a whole is just about the best recital series that one can hear in London (and has been for two or three years). The next one will be by the young baritone Roland Wood, who represented England in the 2003 Cardiff competition (Tuesday, 17 February at St. John’s, Smith Square: 020 7222 1061).

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