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Joyce El-Khoury: "Echo"

CD Button The Hallé, Rizzi. Texts and translations. Opera Rara ORR252

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THESE COMPANION recitals from Opera Rara explore the career highlights of two of the foremost exponents of mid-nineteenth-century French and Italian opera through the talents of two gifted contemporary singers. In Espoir, tenor Michael Spyres takes up the mantle of Gilbert Duprez, the Italian-trained French tenor who originated the role of Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, among others. Duprez was known for his use of chest voice up the scale, including the high Cs in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (an approach Rossini apparently did not appreciate). Duprez was frequently paired with soprano Julie Dorus-Gras, embodied by Joyce El-Khoury on Écho. Among Dorus-Gras’s notable accomplishments was her assumption of both soprano heroines in Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable. Although she originated the role of Alice, she returned later as Isabelle, alternating the two during her farewell performance at the Opéra in 1845.

Duprez modulated his voice from a light tenor to a heroic one; Spyres transitioned to tenor repertoire after starting out as a baritone. There’s something to this parallel; Spyres’s bright, forward, metallic voice retains heft and forcefulness, without sounding forced. His high notes are thrilling and his low notes solidly in line. He also exhibits tenderness without sacrificing the core of his sound, as in the opening of “Dans ces lieux,” from Halévy’s Guido et Ginévra, and the delicately scored “Ils s’éloignent! je reste,” from Auber’s Lac des Fées. He is equally impassioned when pleading for his life, in “L’infamie! prenez ma vie!,” from Verdi’s Jérusalem, and swearing vengeance in “Des mes aïeux ombres sacrées,” from Halévy’s Reine de Chypre. “Seul sur la terre,” from Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien,edges towards brittleness, but the dreamy “Seul pour lutter,” from Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, offers more cushion and an inviting openness. “La maîtresse du Roi,” from Donizetti’s Favorite, is smooth and persuasive.As for Edgardo, Spyres communicates a strong sense of longing and dramatic purpose in “Tombe degli avi miei.” 

To both roles in Robert le Diable, El-Khoury brings lustrous tone, thoughtful phrasing and warmth, which suffuses even her highest notes. The climactic “grâce pour même” of Isabelle’s “Robert, toi que j’aime” combines authority and innocence, while Alice’s “Quand je quittai la Normandie” is vivacious, almost soubrettish. El-Khoury exhibits a gentle, creamy tone in the lower notes of Agathe’s entrance aria from Der Freischütz, sung here in Berlioz’s French translation, although her tone grows penumbral when she sings softly. However, her high pianissimo during the cadenza that closes Rossini’s “Ils s’éloignent enfin” is exquisite, and in the quieter midvoice sections, she achieves a compelling effect with a conversational approach. “Assez longtemps la crainte et la tristesse,” from Halévy’s Juive, accentuates El-Khoury’s lustrous sound and silken line, and she traverses the shifting landscape of Berlioz’s “Les belles fleurs” with emotional urgency and technical security. The most offbeat inclusion is the sweetly simple “Jours de mon enfance,” from Le Pré aux Clercs, by Ferdinand Hérold. 

Each singer makes a guest appearance on the other’s recording. El-Khoury joins Spyres for the thrilling duet “Tu seras donc pour moi,” from Guido et Ginévra, which offers palpable vocal chemistry. Spyres is Edgardo to El-Khoury’s Lucia in “Lucia, perdona.” He digs into the urgency of Edgardo’s pleas, spurring El-Khoury to match him, with delicious double cadenzas. However, he drops off the final high note well before she does, leaving the ending feeling imbalanced after the parity that precedes it. On both recordings, Carlo Rizzi whips the players of the Hallé into appropriate romantic frenzy, of which there is plenty, but proves equally adept at sensitivity.  —Joanne Sydney Lessner

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