Marianne Crebassa: "Secrets"
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Marianne Crebassa: "Secrets"

CD Button Say, piano. Texts and translations. Erato 0190295 768973

Recordings Crebassa Cover 518

FRENCH MEZZO Marianne Crebassa asserts herself with bravado in this program dominated by classic mélodies—repertoire usually considered a sanctuary of nuance and inwardness. She has recently progressed to leading lyric roles in major European opera houses, and this recording, a compelling portrait of the artist, was made under studio conditions at the prestigious Salzburg Mozarteum. Crebassa’s voice sounds warm and flexible, with an inherent theatrical quality, partly the result of prominent registers. Lower notes tend toward cavernous chest tone, which can make her seem defiant, desperate or angry even when the moment calls for something more muted. The higher register is insistent, primed for dramatic fire, almost rattling the songs’ frameworks. A husky shadow hovers around her tone even in quiet phrases.

Her voice is well controlled for lovely, sensuous impact in some familiar repertoire. The wily heroine of Debussy’s Trois Chansons de Bilitis here comes to life, capricious and confiding, while Ravel’s “Asie” suggests an ardent, perverse armchair quest for exotic thrills. If Debussy’s three Mélodies to Verlaine poems seem a little hyper—missing in particular the opportunities for subtle contrast in the middle number, “Le son du cor”—the singer is remarkably composed and alert in Gabriel Fauré’s pale Mirages. Here she warmly embraces the restrained, mostly horizontal lines, which approach recitative in a kind of cult of resignation. She and her very active accompanist, the pianist and composer Fazil Say, prove perceptive in shaping these elusive, autumnal Fauré works, which usually depend on seasoned veterans.

Crebassa has a tendency to adopt contrasting manners for different composers, but it’s hardly an unwelcome trait—until she gets to a group of songs by Henri Duparc. Here I’d prefer a different persona to have turned up, such as her languorous Bilitis or the gentle thinker, flirting with suicide, from her album Mirages. The approach, instead, is a little heavy, even operatic, favoring broad swaths of tone and triumphant crescendos. Intimate moments are scaled down in volume but not illuminated by the poetic charms that are crucial in the songs, especially “Chanson triste.”

While the singer’s native French diction is delightful throughout, she also communicates without words. In two numbers made up entirely of vocalizing, she is musically dynamic and versatile, as well as emotionally invested. One of these is Ravel’s familiar and haunting “Vocalise-Étude en Forme de Habanera,” which she sings to the hilt; the other is the longest selection on the program, part of a trilogy called Gezi Park,composed by her accompanist in response to a political event in his native Turkey. Say’s chants and riffs intertwine the voice and piano in a suggested dialogue that migrates from outcries and laments to hints of annihilation, a trailing-off effect, as if a street demonstration were succeeded by inexpressible grief. Crebassa’s vivid performance has arresting dramatic power. —David J. Baker 

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