Believe in Love = Rare French and Italian Opera Arias – Elizabeth Whitehouse, soprano/ Orchestra Victoria/ Richard Bonynge, conductor – Melba

by | Jul 20, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Believe in Love = Rare French and Italian Opera Arias – Elizabeth Whitehouse, soprano/ Orchestra Victoria/ Richard Bonynge, conductor – Melba Multichannel SACD MR 301104, 67:25 ***(*):

It is always gratifying to see concept albums that actually maintain a cohesive and pointed presentation. Too often they fail to make their points, and resemble some marketer’s quasi-lucid attempt at cutesy record promotion. This one hits home, and where it fails is not in presentation or in the marketing department, but in the music itself. On the surface the combination seems to be a winning one—a conductor who excels in this sort of thing with a long and proven track record, a capable soprano who takes her time and lingers over phrases where she should linger, and excellent surround sound that supports the fine studio orchestra.

Glimpsing the composers’ names also fans the fires of hope: Gounod, Cilea, Ponchielli, Leoncavallo, Giordano, Mascagni, Saint-Saens, Gomes, Faccio. And indeed there are some fine arias here, perhaps—but only perhaps—deserving of greater exposure than they have gotten to date. But the flip side of this coin is that history seems to have made a rather final, if fickle, judgment on these works, and most of them, to my ears at least, are curiously unmoving. None of the operas from which they come are played with any frequency today, with maybe the exception of Gounod’s Sapho or Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, so from a purely musicological standpoint it is interesting to hear samples from the assorted group of noble failures. But after several hearings, I can’t say that my enthusiasm increased, never a good sign when evaluating a recording.

What I can say is that soprano Whitehouse, while no Fleming, makes a good case for these works, and sings them with a calm believability that almost convinces me of her sincerity in promoting these pieces. With Bonynge it is a different matter altogether, for this master of the bel canto art has spent a lifetime with these pieces (all from about 1840-1920) and there is no one on earth more qualified to lead such a project. The sound is excellent with good depth, though I felt that Ms. Whitehouse was center-miked a little too strongly. Primarily for opera buffs and the curious. The packaged presentation of the Australian label is a model of its kind.

— Steven Ritter
 

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