Monday, May 4, 2009

Vesselina Kasarova: Passionate Arias

I have been spending the last week in an acoustic bliss. Vesselina Kasarova's newest solo CD, Passionate Arias (on RCA Red Seal label), arrived in the mail... and it is even better than I had expected.
Those who are familiar with the state of the opera today probably already know her as one of the greatest Rossini and Mozart singers of her generation... and lately of Baroque music, especially in the trouser roles (male roles played and sung by female singers) due to that fascinatingly androgenic voice and look that she has. So, looking at the track list on this CD and one may be justifiably skeptical about the repertoire it present: dramatic vamps from the late Romantic Period: Principessa di Bouillon from Adriane Lecouvrer, Azucena from Il trovatore, Eboli from Don Carlo, Ioanna from Tchaikovsky's Maid of Orleans, Santuzza from Cavalleria Rusticana, Bizet's Carmen, and Dalila from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila.

See... these days, the Baroque-Mozart-Bel Canto repertoire and the Italian-French Dramatic repertoire are sung by 2 rather different voice types. The BMBC singers are like the flight-footed sprinters. They have lighter voice of large range and incredible speed that can cope with all the virtuoso demand of the music. The IFD singers, on the other hand, have larger and fuller voice that can deliver the drama better while being able to pierce through a much larger and louder orchestra. Kasarova's voice is unusual... falling somewhere in between the two. It is sizable, full, and darkly colorful enough to make you dream about her in Verdi operas, but it is also a heck of a fast-moving voice (when she does virtuoso bravura aria, one fancies her as a heavy metal rocker.... check this clip out and see how exciting a bit of opera singing can be!). But, at any rate, she's spent the last 20 years of her professional career singing exclusively Baroque-Mozart and Bel Canto music, so a jump into the heavy dramatic repertoire is at the very least interesting.

Listening to the CD, all doubts are scorched right off the my mind from the first track to the last. Kasarova is so terrifyingly good that I'm having a hard time writing a review this CD... I'll just say for now that those people who like to go around clips of her on Youtube to say that her voice had been ruined or uglified or whatever really haven't got their ears screwed on straight. Either that or they don't know what the hell they're mouthing off about at all. Her voice is bigger and warmer than before, and with an even more alluringly dark tint to the basic tone that really adds to her already considerable ability to breathe new life into whatever she sings.

Yes, I've seen a negative review of it on Die Welt online. To that I'll say, that all opera fans will likely already have preconceptions about the operatic characters appearing on this CD... and likely an ideal singer of Azucena (Podles?), Eboli (Baltsa?), Santuzza (Obratsova?), and Carmen (Resnik? Domashenko?) firmly fixed in their mind. Experiencing this CD will likely cause one to choose: do you stubbornly renounce Kasarova's portrayal as 'mannered' for being her own woman who might not fit snugly into your own previously conceived idea of her, or will you allow yourselves to learn more about this surprisingly complex character whose feelings and convictions are just as strong as your own?

Kasarova is the singer who threads fervishly on the line that separates pure singer from pure actor. And though she will occassionally cross the line and emits off some sounds that make you go 'Ugh!', more often than not she is spectacularly successful at pulling off the illusion that sung speech is what people do to communicate in real life and that it is the proud and jaded (though really quite a bit more beautiful than you'd have expected) Azucena herself who is recounting her mother's unjust burning at the stake to you as if it had happened only 10 minutes ago. From the vengeful Princess of Bouillon to the repentent Princess Eboli to the rebellious-bird-like Carmen and the mesmerizingly seductive Dalila... 

No, Kasarova doesn't just simply sing anything. She is much more than just a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. Hers is a voice that carries a strong and yet sensitive character. One that enables the many shades of humanity that compels you to sympathize with her - knowing full well that the character is a murderess or a seductress.

Here's a sneak peek at the final track on the CD. It is uncannily dramatically effective how she connects her first pass at 'a voler dan tes bras' to 'Ah! répond à ma tendresse' with that gorgeously controlled diminuendo... and then accentuate the end of the phrase with those chest tones.

Then on her last pass of the same bridge she does the conventional little 'break' between the verses and smoothens the pass through the lower passagio because she knows by then that Samson is now hooked. He isn't going anywhere and will tell her what she wants... she just has to keep him transfixed). Kasarova doesn't sing any note just for the sake of sounding it. She does it in a certain way because what is coming out of her is meaning something. That's what separate a real artist from just singers!

And... the Dalila tracks aren't even the most impressive ones on this CD. Kasarova is accompanied by Maestro Giuliani Carrera and the Munich Radio Orchestra. The Serbian tenor Zoran Todorovich appears on 2 tracks (as Jose in the dance scene from Carmen and as Samson in Dalila's final aria).

So... you know what to do after glimpsing what a tour de force recital this CD is. Amazon has it for a very reasonable price!

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