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Miah Persson: “Sempre Libera”

CD Button Arias by Donizetti, Gounod, Bellini, Bizet, Delibes, Meyerbeer, Offenbach, Messager, Verdi, Puccini; Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Harding. Texts and English translations. Bis 2112

Recordings Persson Sempre Libera Cover 1115

SWEDISH SOPRANO MIAH PERSSON has heretofore been known as a Mozart specialist, with a few forays into Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, Gretel and Anne Trulove. She has recently been hinting at a change to more mature and deeper characters, switching from Zerlina to Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni and adding to her repertory the Governess in Britten’s Turn of the Screw. And here, in her splendid new album of arias, Sempre Libera, there isn’t a Mozart piece to be found. She’s testing the waters of bel canto, opera lyrique, and Verdi and Puccini, and is quite successful at all. 

Persson’s bright soprano is a pleasure to hear: even in all registers, excellent coloratura, fine trills and high notes seemingly fly from her without any hint of effort. She seems quite comfortable throughout the mostly familiar arias here (Juliette’s waltz song, Marguerite’s jewel song, Musetta’s waltz, and the inevitable “O mio babbiono caro”) and brings much life and spirit to the less familiar (“Ombre legere” from Meyerbeer’s Dinorah, and “Le jour sous le soleil beni” from Messager’s version of the Butterfly story, Madame Chrysantheme). 

Three of the first four tracks on the CD deal with high-spirited, ebullient young characters, and they suit Persson’s voice and personality perfectly. Norina’s “Quel gardo il cavaliere…So anch’io la virtu magica” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is rendered with charm, wit and agility; she brings the same spirits and glistening soprano to the jewel song from Faust and Gounod’s Juliette’s “Ah! Je vous vivre.” Mixed in with these is Bellini’s languid, longing “Eccomi in lieta vesta…Oh! Quante volte,” where Giulietta’s intense yearning for Romeo spills out in sensual bel canto lines. Persson gives much passionate ardor especially in the phrase “Ardo…una vampa, un foco tutta mi strugge” (I burn, a flame, a fire consumes me) but still manages to keep the vocal line delicate and beautifully spun. If Ms. Persson had gone deeper into this character’s transition from girl to woman in the aria, it would have had a stronger sense of morbidezza, but this is a minor quibble.

Smoky sensuality is not a quality I’ve previously associated with Persson’s voice, usually noted for its brightness. But two selections on this disc (both duets with mezzo-soprano Katarina Karneus) show Persson’s strong abilities in projecting these very qualities: “Viens, Mallika” from Delibes’ Lakme, and even more strongly, Offenbach’s “Belle nuit, o nuit d’amour” from Les Contes d’Hoffman. In this familiar barcarole, Persson and Karneus weave a sensual web of romance and desire with hints of a darker purpose underneath.

Also here are the staggering coloratura pyrotechnics of “Ombre legere” from Meyerbeer’s Dinorah, which Persson tosses off with stunning agility and ease, and the Madame Chrysanthème aria, the closest thing to verismo on the disc where Persson does a fine job of darkening the voice, but one longs for a bit more vocal heft. She is more successful in her Puccini selections, such as a sexy yet witty “Quando me’n vo” and a charmingly girlish “O mio babbino caro”.

The title track, the scena “È strano!…Ah, fors’è lui...Sempre libera” finds the soprano in excellent voice, and certainly makes a case that Persson is quite ready for at least the first act of La TraviatasVioletta. The first section is infused with Violetta’s longing for and fear of committed love, and when she flies into “Sempre libera,” there is a great sense of ease and freedom. The only downside of this track is the bleating tenor of Andrew Staples as the offstage Alfredo. And, oddly, this is the only track on the CD that is followed by thunderous audience applause.

Daniel Harding is a sensitive and supportive conductor, and leads the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in some thrilling work in this variety of musical styles. This excellent disc should only increase the demands for Persson in the world’s opera houses, perhaps in much wider repertory. —Henson Keys

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