ROSSINI Si, Si, Si, Si. Opera Arias and Duets
Those with long memories may recall another disc of Rossini arias which started with ‘Cruda sorte!’ from L’italiana in Algeri. Back in 1989 Cecilia Bartoli announced her artistry to the world with a Rossini recital (Decca, 9/89) which set standards for virtuosity that have proved hard to beat. It might as well be said straightaway that Marie-Nicole Lemieux does not equal her: for agility, for freshness of voice, for verbal wit, Bartoli wins hands down.
That does not mean, however, that this new Rossini recital is devoid of merit. Anybody who has seen Lemieux in Baroque opera will know how she can shine thanks to the combination of an imposing voice and a lively personality. Her most notable Rossini on disc so far has been Hedwige in Pappano’s recording of Guillaume Tell (EMI/Warner, 10/11), but this recital goes much further, taking her from the light-hearted spirit of Il barbiere di Siviglia and La pietra del paragone to two operas based on tragedies by Voltaire, Tancredi and Semiramide. As Arsace in the latter, Lemieux recalls Marilyn Horne with her commanding chest register, though she cannot match Horne’s formidable clarity in the coloratura. In ‘Di tanti palpiti’ from Tancredi she fields nobility; in Matilde di Shabran she draws on her mezzo’s natural warmth – though here, as in some of the other tracks, an uncomfortably wide vibrato has to be held at bay.
The most attractive numbers are a clutch of duets. Lemieux is paired with the dreamy, soft soprano of Patrizia Ciofi and their voices intertwine very nicely in the Norma-like consecutive thirds of Tancredi’s ‘Lasciami: non t’ascolto’. The celebrated duet for Ninetta and Pippo from La gazza ladra combines pathos and fleetness of foot, spurred on by Enrique Mazzola and the Orchestre National Montpellier Languedoc-Rousillon, attentive colleagues throughout. At the end, Rossini’s ‘Cat Duet’ forms a brief encore track. Unsurprisingly, these are two cats who miaow in perfect harmony.