“Stacey Alleaume, a multi-award – winning soprano and Opera Australia principal has released her debut album of art songs from the late Romantic period. The choices suit her superb voice perfectly and with such excellent support from the pianist Amir Farid, there are many delights to enjoy on this disc.”
The opening song on the CD, L’été, by Chaminade, is a veritable showcase for sopranos. It immediately establishes that Stacey Alleaume has a wonderful instrument with a flexible, sparkling coloratura and a truly splendid top register – free and ringing. Then follows Henri Duparc’s atmospheric masterpiece, L’Invitation au Voyage, which requires great dynamic control, a flawless legato line and a very good pianist. The long rising phrases with their wonderful climaxes are here effortlessly achieved by Alleaume and Farid, whose nimble touch captures the exquisite effects of light on water that Duparc created in this extraordinary realisation of Baudelaire’s poem. Alleaume’s French is perfect. This has remained my favourite track on the disc – not only is it a great work but this performance is stunning.
To follow, O that it were so! by Frank Bridge, is a welcome addition to the programme, being a relatively rarely performed work but a very satisfying one. There are two Puccini songs. In Terra e mare one hears the lovely velvety warmth in Alleaume’s lower register and she subtly colours her tone to convey the sadness in the dreamer. Then Sole e amore (a melody which Puccini also later used in Act IV of La Bohėme) has delightful rubato. The slow tempi in two songs by Renaldo Hahn (L’Enamourée and A Chloris), demand a high degree of collaboration between singer and pianist and these two artists have that, and it makes this disc so special. Farid’s touch and the softer dynamic in this song capture the very French elegance of Hahn’s limpid melodies. Intonation simply has to be perfect in A Chloris – the transparency of the melody leaves the singer completely exposed and Alleaume is always perfect in this regard.
Three fine works of Respighi are included – Notte, Nebbie and Contrasto. All are of a mournful nature and provide a nice contrast in mood. Nebbie is a technically demanding piece, which in Alleaume’s hands sounds effortless due to her excellent breath control. Être aimé and Amoureuse by Massenet follow, and Clair de Lune by Saint-Saens, and are all very well sung as Alleaume has a lot of power in her voice when she wants to use it. She negotiates huge leaps with ease, and and caps the long phrases in these pieces with stunning top notes. Farid always provides the necessary support underneath the voice as he has a large dynamic range at his fingertips. For me, these works seem shallow and sentimental beside the other choices.
The four songs by the American composer Amy Beach (1867-1944) are of interest as they are not often performed and they are fine examples of late Romantic style. Beach was a successful concert pianist. When she took up composing, her husband would not allow her to have a tutor – this was not seen to be correct behaviour! Her life reflects the difficulties woman composers had in getting their work as musicians recognised! She overcame this in time and was eventually regarded as one of the leading composers of the period.
Alleaume and Farid are joined by Zoe Knighton on cello and Erica Kennedy on violin in Beach’s lovely Chanson d’amour, Op.21: No.1. With its long passionate phrases so well handled by all, it seemed written especially for these artists, and is another highlight on the disc. The glorious final top note from the soprano is very exciting.
Beach’s songs were her most popular works and the most famous one, The Year’s at the spring, is included here along with two others which form the “Three Browning Songs”, Op.44, composed in 1899/1900. Singing in English in such a high tessitura so the listener can understand the text is no mean feat but this soprano is able to do this very well.
Since graduating with a BMus in 2008, Alleaume has established herself as a very accomplished performer on the Australian operatic stage performing many principal lyric soprano roles with Opera Australia. She received rave reviews playing Violetta in La Traviata ( Handa Opera on the Harbour) earlier this year. Her performance on this debut disc suggests to me that her career will continue on its stellar course as she has all the necessary ingredients and her gorgeous voice has that inner steely core that will allow her sound to carry over large orchestras. Her top notes are splendid, and in her lower register she has warmth and an alluring quality. She is also very beautiful! Amir Farid’s contribution to the success of this disc cannot be understated – his playing is world-class. One can only look forward to more from these two- perhaps some German works, Strauss and Mahler please!