Aleksandra Kurzak: "Gioia!"
Arias by Bellini, Donizetti, Moniuszko, Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, Verdi. With Demuro. Orchestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Wellber. Texts and translations. Decca 4287230
Polish coloratura Aleksandra Kurzak is a far more welcome addition to the ranks of recording artists than several coevals who have recently issued similar "calling-card discs." Some such issues only serve to showcase the inadequacies of the young artists so promoted. But Kurzak's gifts — an attractive voice of which one remembers the timbre, impressive musicality and the ability to characterize — are evident, and one would like to hear her sing almost all of the roles represented in this collection, recorded in Valencia in December 2010.
Like Krassimira Stoyanova, Kurzak, when a student, pursued serious violin studies; a commensurate sense of line still distinguishes her work. Her international career began at Covent Garden, as Aspasia in Mozart's Mitridate. A short time later came her sensational Met debut (Dec. 2004) as Offenbach's Olympia. She's returned often to London's ROH; in New York, Mozart's Blonde followed four years later, and she sang Gilda the year after that. The Met will welcome her back this season as Humperdinck's Gretel, in December. Kurzak has begun to de-emphasize or drop the super-high roles from her repertory, although one hears Violetta's interpolated E-flat here. But her staccatos and trills remain impressive, the basic sound of her voice is far warmer and more liquid than many artists who sing this music can offer, and her Italian and German are creditably idiomatic, not heard through a Slavic filter. She isn't a history-making perfectionist, but most everything she sings here — firmly supported by Omer Meir Wellber's Valencian forces — is stylish, nuanced and movingly presented.
The CD's last and most interesting cut is Hanna's rousing number from Straszny Dwor (The Haunted Manor), by Stanislaw Moniuszko, Polish opera's godfather. Certainly another aria by Moniuszko — or something from Paderewski's Manru, which Kurzak's countrywoman Marcella Sembrich brought to the Met — would have been more interesting and valuable than the disc's initial "Una voce poco fa," filled with the once-popular transpositions and out-of-style decorations generations of coloraturas worked on this mezzo aria. Susanna's "Deh, vieni" reaffirms Kurzak's Mozartean skill set.
As is customary on too many contemporary recital discs, Kurzak is left without an Alisa in the very fine Lucia entrance scene (she uses the naughty but fun "steeplechase" decorations in the cabaletta familiar from Beverly Sills's complete recording), so the scene loses some of its coherence. Likewise, there is no chorus for Adele's "Mein Herr Marquis" (good) or Musetta's waltz (a fine fit for Kurzak, but a lame choice for a recital disc, as it makes so little impact out of context), nor are there accompanying voices for "Son vergine vezzosa" (with its apt mazurka rhythm) or "Caro nome." Gilda's aria sits well for Kurzak, and she offers a nice, fresh version, avoiding the highest of the cadential staccatos that she sang at the Met in 2009. On the other hand, the well-considered version of Violetta's Act I scena has a "guest" in the idiomatic, bright-voiced Sardinian tenor Francesco Demuro, only active since 2007. Demuro joins Kurzak again for a very enjoyable (and, textually, astonishingly full) account of the Adina–Nemorino duet.
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