Pretty Yende: "Dreams"
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Pretty Yende: "Dreams"

CD Button Works by Bellini, Donizetti, Gounod and Meyerbeer. With Sicignano, Pretti, Olivieri, Lepore; Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano, Sagripanti. Sony Classical 88985430152

Recordings Pretty Yende Cover 418
Critics Choice Button 1015 

SOUTH AFRICAN SOPRANO Pretty Yende follows her successful debut album, A Journey, with the impressive Dreams, featuring bel canto “mad scenes” and other coloratura selections chosen from characters who find escape in dream lives, seeking love or hope for the future. Yende’s brilliant technical singing skills continue to mature; more important, here she reaches new depths of interpretation, explores a wider range of vocal colors and finds more warmth in her voice. These qualities, coupled with her charming personal story, have led to her meteoric rise in the opera world, culminating in leading roles at the Met this winter and spring, as Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore and the title character in Lucia di Lammermoor.

Lucia’s extended mad scene is at the core of the album, complete with a new cadenza by conductor/pianist Kamal Khan, written for this disc. Throughout the scene, Yende provides nuanced vocal colors, lightness and darkness in Lucia’s mental breakdown contrasting with her happier fantasies. This Lucia is warmer-voiced than most—no “canary-bird” soprano here. Yende sings with passionate commitment, technical security and a sense that her Lucia is more of a woman than a tormented girl. This is a rewarding rendition; the only problem is the final note. The upper middle range is one of the glories of Yende’s voice, but at the very top, her voice becomes thin and wavers. Lucia’s climactic note is cut short and almost drowned out by the orchestra (which plays beautifully and sympathetically under the nuanced, energetic baton of Giacomo Sagripanti).

Better is Yende’s rendition of the dramatic final scene of Bellini’s rarely performed and wildly underrated Straniera. She brings power and intensity to her Alaide, forced by royal obligations to insist that her lover Arturo marry her rival Isoletta. There is longing in the aria “Sono all’ara,” which turns to fury after her lover’s suicide. This is a heavier role than any of the others on the album, and Yende is up to the task (except for the final note, which again is thin and cut short). Someone should mount this opera for Yende—she could be a worthy successor in the role to Scotto and Caballé.

Her version of “Ah! Non credea mirarti,” from Bellini’s Sonnambula, has a wonderful sense of dreamlike melancholy, followed by the bursts of joy as Amina wakes and finds her lover Elvino returning to her. The joyous “Ah, non giunge uman pensiero” is thrilling, her voice brimming with happiness and charm.

Also on the disc are sparkling renditions of two coloratura showpieces, “Ah, tardai troppo…. O luce di quest’anima,” from Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix, and Meyerbeer’s “Ombre légère,” from Dinorah, in which a young woman delightfully imagines that she can have a conversation with her own shadow. Yende dispatches these high-flying arias with charm and ease, her soprano more crystalline.

The one misstep is track one, Juliette’s waltz song from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Yende chooses to sing this aria in G, rather than F. She says the aria is more “light and elastic” in G, but I find it shrill. It’s a throwback to her earlier career, displaying her gleaming upper register rather than the longings of a young girl.  —Henson Keys 

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