I tend to pair Christine Brewer with Deborah Voigt, two acclaimed American sopranos gifted with a beautiful top range, considerable power, and an appealing stage presence. In an age of diminished voices, one can't choose between them so far as being suitable for Isolde, Elektra, or Fidelio -- opera houses would be thrilled to have either as a headliner. But I was surprised that Voigt is 50 and Brewer 54. The latter has risen with comparative slowness, achieving her reputation in Strauss and Wagner mostly in the past decade, while the more versatile Voigt, aided by the powerful support of James Levine at the Met, has been a star much longer, and her range extends to a range of Verdi heroines as well as Wagner and Strauss. Calling her voice glorious, the Times critic expressed frustration that Brewer has been reluctant to sing in opera houses, or even to take on full roles. She's best known for excerpt recordings like this one.
On this Cd Brewer's voice seems to be that of a younger singer but with the signs of musical maturity. Her Recognition Scene form Elektra is possibly the most tender and touching I've ever encountered, and she sings from inside the emotion with convincing sincerity. Is she more impressive than, say, Alessandra Marc or Deborah Polaski? They are less ingratiating singers to me, and the plushness of Brewer's tone, along with its delicacy in the top range, sets her apart. Eric Owns makes for a forceful Orest, if a rather stiff one, while Donald Runnicles, despite his long career in the opera pit, seems too routine. The Atlanta Sym. plays beautifully, and everything is caught in impeccable sound by Telarc, as we've come to expect.
The same virtues, particularly Brewer's outpouring of beguiling sound, hold true in her portrayal of the dyer's Wife in the imprisonment scene from Die Frau ohne Schatten. The finale scene form Salome is more of a chestnut than the preceding scenes, and Brewer is ardent and unflinching, although there isn't much poison or sexiness in her delivery. Yet one cannot think of a true rival to Brewer's star power at this moment except for Voigt. Next up is another dream role for her, Ariadne, but it will be in English on the Chandos label.