Arias, Classical, Opera
ABC Classics 481 0776
Reviewed by Inge Southcott, April 1st, 2014
There is a plethora of recordings of sopranos singing Mozart arias. It reflects his genius at composing music of unsurpassed beauty for this voice type, one which he so thoroughly understood and loved. Does this new one from Emma Matthews, the highly acclaimed coloratura soprano, offer something special? She performs nine Mozart arias with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under the baton of its Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Marko Letonja. Letonja’s experience conducting operas (at La Scala, Staatsoper Berlin, Vienna State Opera, Opera in Basel and Opera Australia, amongst others) no doubt helped in building such a successful collaboration between the orchestra and singer, which is evident in every track on this disc.
As an entrée, Matthews tosses off ”Lieve sono al par del vento”, KV126 – from Il Sogno di Scipione, which is an early bravura aria (1771) in the opera seria style. It is full of bubbling scalar passages rising to sparkling top Cs, plus one amazing top E for added wow factor. The orchestra supports her every nuance. Then “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes leben” from Zaide follows, with wonderful slow cantabile singing high in the soprano range. The feast continues with “Vorrei spiegarvi, O Dio”, KV418, an absolute delight with oboist David Nuttall playing in duet with the voice. It is a highlight on the disc. (It was in fact composed for Aloysia Lange, sister of Constanze Weber, Mozart’s future wife). All four Weber daughters were excellent sopranos, and for the eldest, Josepha, Mozart wrote the role of Queen of the Night (Die Zauberflöte), whose second aria, “Der Hölle Rache”, is the next offering. Unfortunately Matthews, in her effort to express the vengeful rage of the Queen, produces an unpleasant tone quality in the fortissimo high notes. Mozart once wrote, (referring to Osmin’s angry rage aria in Die Entführung aus dem Serail) that ”…music, even in the most terrible situations, must never offend the ear but must please the listener” (quoted in Jane Glover’s book, Mozart’s Women, p.226). In the very next aria, “Ah, lo previdi,” KV272, where the character is also expressing rage in the first section, Matthews just allows the vehemence of the orchestra with its sforzando accents to give the necessary dynamic tension, and she never compromises her tone. This is a noble concert scena in 4 sections after the style of Gluck. The last section features more beautiful responses from the oboe as Andromeda is pleading to join her dead lover. This is music of such breath-taking beauty as to transport one to another realm.
Whilst infatuated with Aloysia Weber during 1788-9, Mozart composed “Ah se in ciel, benign stelle”, KV538, and “Voi, avete un cor fedele”, KV217, specifically for her. They are two fiendishly difficult concert arias which exploited her spectacular range, control and cantabile singing. Matthews is blessed with just such abilities too and gives wonderful performances, though I do prefer a less serious and more flirtatious interpretation for “Voi, avete un cor fedele”. There is also a meltingly beautiful “ Ach, ich fühl’s” from Die Zauberflote, and a stunning rendition of ”Dove sono”, the Countess’s aria from Le Nozze di Figaro, where she negotiates the difficult slow rising phrases through the passaggio flawlessly. I hope we will see her performing the Countess in Australia before long.
Lynne Murray provides the interesting background details in the cd notes, and translations are provided. Matthews has won many awards (including 7 Helpmanns and a “Mo” award for Classical Performer of the Year) and great acclaim for her previous album called “Emma Matthews in Monte Carlo” ( released in 2009 by Deutsche Grammophon/ABC Classics). She writes in her gracious acknowledgments : “I’m delighted to have recorded this selection of treasures, and it is a joy to share them with you”. Well it was a joy to listen to the recordings again and again, and this new release from one of our finest sopranos is whole-heartedly recommended, as yes, it does offer a very special Mozartian experience!