Mariella Devia Opera Arias
A voice of lovely quality and extensive range, a technique well-schooled in legato and florid work, an intelligence that is keenly active in matters both musical and dramatic shown in careful phrasing and sensitive coloration: so must run a first report on the singer as heard in this recital. In his essay for the booklet Giorgio Gualerzi goes further and suggests that ''if anything perfect exists in this world, it is definitely the case that today Mariella Devia is synonymous with perfection''. That challenges contradiction, but he will get none from me. These performances were recorded live in Lugano. To sing two or three such arias in one programme is impressive enough (Tetrazzini told Sir Henry Wood that she travelled with only one coloratura aria in any single tour), but to include such a major slice of the whole repertoire is something of a marvel. Nor does she ration the high notes: all are there, without forcing or shrillness, and also without the prefatory breath which usually gave notice that something fairly spectacular in alt was about to be emitted by Toti dal Monte.
Mention of that name, however, affords a reminder that perfection is not necessarily what one asks of a singer. The imperfect dal Monte had a shine on the voice and an unmistakably personal style of utterance. Or, to take a soprano with whom Devia has more evident affinity, Galli-Curci. If one plays Devia's performance of Juliette's waltz-song immediately after Galli-Curci's there is no technical imperfection or flaw in the voice that calls out for remark. Yet something is missing. Hear Galli-Curci again in the two 'verse' sections (''Cette ivresse'' and ''Loin de l'hiver morose''). The phrasing-over from ''qu'un jour'' to ''Puis vient l'heure'', the expressive touch at ''le coeur cede a l'amour'', the portamentos that gently hold as in cupped hands the fragility of the girl's dream: these are the things I miss, each small in itself but cumulatively making the difference between 'perfection' and something more important.
The fact that one is encouraged to make such comparisons is in itself a compliment. It is a further compliment to say that at no point does Devia suggest comparison with the more likely influences of her immediate predecessors: in that sense her singing is personal, her own and nobody else's, but exercised within the best guidelines of a long tradition. Her manner (in the Lucia Mad scene for instance) is simple and unaffected. Her precision (hear Lakme's Bell song) is exemplary, as is the unity of the voice. ''Unquestionably one of the world's greatest singers'' says Gualerzi. She seems at least, on the evidence of this recital (and some earlier recordings), to be one of the most accomplished and agreeable of lyric-coloratura sopranos presently before the public. Unquestionably.'