For a young singer to sustain a big-league career in the international opera firmament, an invaluable asset to cultivate is a distinctive vocal timbre that is instantly recognisable. Names such as Callas, Sutherland, Pavarotti, spring to mind. A notable stand-out among many of today's anonymous-sounding young bloods is the Italian soprano, Carmen Giannattasio. Her unmistakable sound, with its gleaming top register and beguilingly coloured middle and low notes, matched with an innate musicality and a larger-than-life star quality, evoke the hallowed names cited above.
And true to form, Giannattasio's star has been steadily on the ascendant over the past decade. Her triumphs on the stages of La Scala, Covent Garden and the Met can be sampled on Youtube in her signature roles from Verdi's Il Trovatore and La Traviata, and in Puccini's La Boheme.
Aside from distinguishing herself in such standard repertoire, Giannattasio, a pupil of the legendary Turkish diva and bel canto specialist, Leyla Gencer, has already made waves heading up a series of Opera Rara's recordings of esoteric bel canto masterworks. These include Rossini's La Donna del Lago (2007), Donizetti's Parisina (2009), Rossini's award-winning Ermione (2010) and Bellini's Il Pirata (2012).
Now Opera Rara's latest 2-CD set, of another Donizetti rarity, Caterina Cornaro, earns the distinguished British label further kudos. The superb all-round performance captured in this premiere commercial recording of the Italian maestro's penultimate opera more than atones for the work's neglect to date.
Composed for the famed San Carlo Opera House in Naples, Caterina premiered in 1844, just four years before Donizetti finally succumbed to the ravages of syphilis and the resultant insanity that overtook him in the twilight of his life.
Almost incredibly, the mostly high quality of the music enlivens this 15th century Venetian royal family saga of intrigue and betrayal, belying the tragic circumstances of the opera's creation. Typically, its dramatic scenario gratefully showcases the talents of its cast against the score's melodically evocative and powerfully rhythmic vocal and orchestral writing, particularly in Act 2.Sample virtually any of the tracks on CD 2 to experience Donizetti firing on all cylinders.
As Gerardo, the opera's tenor lead, Cape Town-born Colin Lee illustrates why he is regarded as one of South Africa's most distinguished vocal exports. Fearlessly essaying the high-lying tessitura of his music, he delivers a performance that stylishly complements Ms Giannattasio's heroic account of the opera's title role. To sample the lady in full flight, listen to her all-stops-out account of Caterina's grand aria and cabaletta finale on CD 2. Or indeed the alternative ending, generously included here as an appendix.
Troy Cook's burnished baritone proves a perfect fit for the role of Lusingnano, King of Cyprus - Caterina's husband whose dramatic death in the closing moments of the drama leaves the opera's prima donna a grieving centrestage presence as the curtain comes down.
Opera Rara podium stalwart David Parry is at the helm of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with BBC Singers on pinging form under the direction of chorus master Renato Balsdonna.
Don't hesitate to invest in this fine set which yields hours of satisfaction with repeated hearings.