Diana Montague - Great Operatic Arias, Vol 2
Reviewing Diana Montague’s first volume in this series (11/98), Alan Blyth pronounced it ‘undoubtedly one of my CDs of the year’. About her second I can certainly say that the rest of the year will have to come up with something pretty good if it is not to be one of mine.
The same admirable qualities of voice and technique are in evidence here. After rather more than 25 years of professional singing her voice is to a remarkable extent free of wear, entirely free of wobble, the registers so well integrated as to be virtually undetectable. If her singing does not suggest the word ‘brilliant’, that is because the technical difficulties are mastered so completely that they are made to seem easy – the triplets of Sesto’s aria in La clemenza di Tito, for instance, or the scales of the concert aria Chi sà (‘Who knows what feeling’), are so neatly taken that one forgets these are virtuoso pieces and that earlier, more starry, singers of the arias have been held up as the wonders of the age.
She is also, essentially, a ‘clean’ singer – in taste and timbre as well as in her way of passing from note to note. And I suppose that if I have a reservation it is to do with this. Like most of her generation, she has been so trained in this keyboard precision that the curve of a portamento is nowhere to be found. It would probably sound unnatural if she were to attempt it; yet it is one of the resources, indeed part of the art of singing, and when it is so completely absent as here, I miss it. I’m sure, for example, that Iphiginia’s lament would benefit from some caress of portamento (‘O relentless Diana!’ one feels like murmuring, with the text). Similarly, the ‘clean’ voice isn’t right for everything – the song from Prince Igor, for instance, and, in its different way, Orlofsky’s song in Die Fledermaus, want a touch of something more exotic.
But it remains a most likeable recital, in programme as well as performance. Lovely, for instance, to have the surprise of ‘In a cosy chambre separée’ sung as written – as a duet. The Merry Widow duet, too, is a charmer, even if it seems rather strangely followed by If you are near (‘Bist du bei mir’) with its serene anticipation of holy dying. The accompaniment of that and the aria from Atalanta by harpsichord and cello is a pleasing feature, as is the orchestral work throughout. Among the ‘supporting’ singers, Orla Boylan and Alan Opie deserve special mention – the Così fan tutte trio here is surely one of the best versions on records.