> Editor's Choice
Opolais, Erdmann, L. Braun, Serdyuk; WDR Rundfunkchor, WDR Sinfonierorchester, Nelsons. Texts and translation.
Orfeo C848 121 A
The Feel of the Theater
Andris Nelsons leads a consistently gripping account of Puccini's Suor Angelica, starring Kristine Opolais.
Although Andris Nelsons has made a name conducting Wagner operas, he shows a real affinity for a very different sort of music drama, Puccini's Suor Angelica. In this concert performance, recorded live at the Philharmonie Cologne in May and October 2011, Nelsons makes the most of the little descriptive orchestral touches at the start of the opera, such as the bassoon solo portraying Sister Genovieffa's lambs or the violin harmonics mimicking the donkey , but he realizes that this opera turns into an entirely different affair with the announcement that the convent has a visitor . Nelsons's Cologne players discreetly ratchet up the tension as the time ticks away, and then for the rest of the opera, starting with the entrance of the princess , phrases are notably long and detailed (particularly in the string sections, which seem to be large in numbers). He plants the early premonitions of the "Gloriosa virginum" music in the listener's ear by slightly tightening the rhythm, so that the full-out version at the final miracle binds the work together. Nelsons maintains sound and line through the entire span of the work, and the drama is consistently gripping .
The Angelica, Kristine Opolais, who is married to Nelsons, is attuned to this approach. Her performance at the beginning is as warm as the setting provided by the conductor. She doesn't immediately give away the store when the visitor's coach is spotted, instead playing the subtext. There is great sweetness when she sings of her little sister all grown up . But after the princess has gone, there are sweeping, searing phrases and a real sense of ecstasy in the final floating lines of her aria. Opolais also sings all of the actual pitches in the suicide scene , rather than treating them cavalierly under the guise of "acting."
The Principessa is an odd role for an audio-only recording. She has only five vocal entrances, two of them short, and the great effect the role makes in the theater comes from the things she checks herself from doing. Lioba Braun, who has since sung Isolde under Nelsons's baton in Paris and Birmingham, does well with what she has . Mojca Erdmann's Genovieffa makes a pure and light-spirited contribution to the scene that Nelsons sets, along with a nicely plump chapel organ.
The libretto in the booklet provides an English singing version of the text, not a literal translation. Just about everything is wrong with the recorded balance. Today's sound engineers think it is their job to negate every aspect of orchestral balance achieved by the composer and conductor. Here there is no acknowledgment that some of the music is meant to come from offstage. The supposedly distant pianos in the final miracle are ludicrously loud. Yet the performance has the feel of the theater, for which all credit must go to Nelsons. Apparently if you can keep the second act of Lohengrin together, Puccini is a piece of cake.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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