Kiri Te Kanawa Italian Opera Arias
What was wanted here was a joker who would rush into the studio every now and then shouting ''Fire!''. Or perhaps the ghost of Walter Legge might have been invoked to haunt EMI's Abbey Road studio and scare the life back into them. I've never known such a long drawn-out sleep-walking scene as we have here. There are many beautiful sounds during the course of it, and some thought has gone into the making of it. But scarcely ever does it quicken into any kind of urgent, passionate life, and all of these arias, even the gentlest of them, are essentially passionate.
The one best suited to the prevailing manner is the first, Liu's ''Signore, ascolta!'', and indeed at very first all seems to promise well, for the plea is directed towards a listener and the indrawn ''ah'' in the second phrase sounds spontaneous and vivid. Then the slowness lays its morphine breath upon it, and a self-conscious dreamy loveliness takes possession; the last notes are beautifully sung but any urgency in the plea has been lost. ''Senza mamma'' also starts promisingly, with a sensitive shading of words, but again cool pathos does duty for the restrained interior fire which should be smouldering. It's hard to say where this originates, for it seems to be pervasive and to come, if anything, rather more from the conductor than the singer: sooner or later, but usually sooner, in most of these performances the sense of forward-movement that makes for cohesion slips away into the world of dreams. Adriana's first aria, again, is all lingering graciousness, but by now we need something with some energy in it—and good programme-planning would have provided it. ''Poveri fiori'' follows, but of course with no passionate chest-voice to give substance to the floating beauty: oh, for a little touch of Muzio or Callas, or at any rate a less metaphysical conductor (somebody like Stanford Robinson, for instance) to get on with the job. Then comes Andrea Chenier, and surely now, with all that violence and the house burning and Love calling out from among the mud and gore we must have some full-bodied passion: but no, the emotion is recollected in tranquillity, and phrases which have rattled round opera houses stirring the pulse by no very subtle means are put to the service of a mild tastefulness in slow motion.
And so forth. Nedda doesn't swing joyfully into the reprise of her waltz; Margherita surveys the horrid past in meditative mood; the two Leonoras are ladies of similar moderation; and Violetta is mildly sorry that she has tuberculosis. Dame Kiri sings beautifully throughout, and in the end in ''Pace, pace, mio Dio'' lets forth quite a spirited ''maledizione''. The orchestra, having been in retiring, reticent vein for most of the time, comes out of hiding at this and echoes the sentiment