Karine Deshayes: Rossini Arias
Few 19th-century composers wrote for mezzo-sopranos quite as brilliantly as Rossini and few mezzo-sopranos can resist embracing Rossini’s vocal pyrotechnics at some point in their careers. It was Cecilia Bartoli’s two Rossini albums (Decca, 9/89, 2/92), along with her recording of Il barbiere di Siviglia, which launched her into classical music’s stratosphere – and hers are still benchmark recital discs. Karine Deshayes has been steadily establishing herself as a polished mezzo in her native France. Along with recent debuts in New York and San Francisco, this delightful disc dedicated to Rossini deserves to bring her to wider attention.
This isn’t just a crash-bang-wallop display of vocal bravura. Deshayes and conductor Raphaël Merlin have put together an intelligent recital showcasing Rossini’s melodic gift as well as show-stopping acrobatics. Woven into the programme of arias are a few songs and the dramatic cantata Giovanna d’Arco in the orchestration undertaken by Salvatore Sciarrino for Rossini’s bicentenary. A couple of orchestral storms – a Rossini speciality – appear as prefaces to arias from their respective operas.
Deshayes has a lighter mezzo than Bartoli’s chocolate tone, without the Italian’s machine-gun coloratura, although she negotiates these passages with aplomb, especially in the rondo finale from La Cenerentola. In terms of vocal weight, she is more akin to Joyce DiDonato (‘Colbran, the Muse’, Erato, 12/09). If Deshayes doesn’t yet share the American’s technical brilliance, she has far more colour at the top of her range than DiDonato’s blanched tone. Chest notes can have a slightly hollow quality but never descend into muddy molasses.
She plays an affecting Desdemona, a feisty Rosina and a fiery Semiramide. Her ‘Bel raggio lusinghier’ is sans chorus (unlike Bartoli and DiDonato) but is extremely well sung, and only aspirated coloratura may trouble some listeners. Giovanna d’Arco forms the disc’s dramatic centrepiece. Deshayes’s gorgeous tone is injected with plenty of drama and a thrilling top, making a great showcase for this lesser-known gem. A delicious Canzonetta spagnuola brings proceedings to a coy end.
Deshayes is supported by the lively Les Forces Majeures – sinewy, robust playing that is a joy, especially the rattling timps in a fabulous Cenerentola tempest. With texts and translations included, this is certainly a disc dedicated Rossinians should investigate.