Are coloratura soprano showcases ever supposed to be this provocative? With her solid technique, mid-weight chest voice, small but spot-on high notes and strong sense of what those virtuoso vocal leaps might be trying to say, Anu Komsi initially seems to be giving a business-as-usual recital with the Hamlet, Lakmé and Zauberflöte selections: a mad scene here, a wronged woman there, a flashy Russian folksong (Alabiev’s ‘Solovey’). With the ingratiating novelty of Glière’s Coloratura Soprano Concerto, Komsi and her conductor husband are unmistakably treading the same path as Sutherland and Bonynge.
Then Komsi vanquishes Sutherland’s shade with John Zorn’s 2011 opera/song-cycle La machine de l’être that has no text or stage directions, only vocalises inspired by an Antonin Artaud drawing created in a mental asylum during his last days in 1948. Komsi has made the piece her specialty since, unlike much Zorn, the piece’s instrumentation allows it to be slotted into conventional programmes.
Placing Glière and Zorn on the same disc is a brilliant stroke of programming. Komsi is at her inventive best in creating subtexts to the wordless vocal lines, suggesting a sunny lifetime of experience in Glière, though not sharing Sutherland’s delight in the second movement’s duet with flute, a Lucia di Lammermoor allusion that, truth be told, is a bit twee. Zorn’s Machine of the Being (as the title is vaguely translated) is a tortured counterpart to Glière as well as an update of Thomas’s Ophelia with its atonal, percussion- and wind-dominated sonorities and coloratura passagework that turns into demonic laughter and screaming. Komsi’s artistry comes together fully in Sibelius’s Luonnotar: where Elisabeth Schwarzkopf projected elemental fierceness in Sibelius’s tone-poem, Komsi finds more nuanced profundity, not just in the words but by colouring and shaping vocal lines as vividly as in Glière and Zorn. Oramo inevitably has less of the glory but much of the disc’s success is due to his equal commitment to making this repertoire say all that it can.