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This disc of arias from five of Mozart's operas showcases the soprano Barbara Frittoli. When Graham Vick's ill-fated Don Giovanni featured in the 2000 Glyndebourne season, one of the few things that weren't booed was Frittoli's Donna Anna: a model of decorum, elegance and vocal poise amid the onstage carnage that confirmed her status as one of the outstanding Mozart sopranos of the past decade. Elviras, Annas, Fiordiligis and Contessas have become her stock-in-trade; and here they all are, represented on this disc (alongside an Electra from Idomeneo, and the mini-drama of the concert aria "Bella mia fiamma, addio") in singing of extraordinary musicianship and stature. Stature is the word, because although Frittoli is young, the voice is grand with a deliberate, diva-like imperiousness that seems to prize cultivation over spontaneity. And the tempi here are equally deliberate under the strong, though sometimes over-solid, baton of Mackerras. But no matter. These are classic readings of the standard arias and a useful document of the achievement of a rising star. --Michael White
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In this light, it is highly tempting, therefore, to compare the outputs by Vaness (1991) and Frittoli (2000) of the more full-throttledl Mozartian soprano roles.
Interestingly, both ladies are statuesque and elegant, both in term of looks and vocal style. Their respective solo Mozart albums have a large portion of overlapping contents.
Vaness's album was accompanied by the Munich Radio Orchestra under the baton of the seasoned Mozartian Leopold Hager, and have much to offer in terms of idiomaticity, if not outright drama and excitement.
The striking common aspect between Vaness and the younger Frittoli, who is 15 years the latter's junior, is that both sopranos own voices that are opulent and pure at the same time. Listening to Vaness and/or Frittoli, one is left to wonder why both ladies, especially La Vaness, did not carve out as big a name in Mozart as did their predecessor, namely Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. It may the case that both Vaness and later Frittoli moved over too quickly from Mozart to Verdi and other spinto roles. Their marks left on the full lyrical Mozart soprano repertory did not truly materialise as did Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in the mid- 20th century. These two albums therefore supply the lacking and essential document of these two outstanding Mozart sopranos.
To say that La Vaness and/or Frittoli succeeded in surpassing the likes of Janowitz and/or Auger may be an over-statement, but the fact that their performances offer an exalted level of interpretation and stylistic awareness are undeniable.
It is difficult to compare the two, as they share much in common in their approaches to these pieces; even their capabilities are on par. The timbres do have a slight difference; Vaness being purer, and Frittoli being more incisive.
The conductors offer two schools of Mozart reading. Hager comes from Mozarteum of Salzburg while Sir Charles was a student of 18th-century performance expert, but evidently both understand the fact that Mozart tailored his arias to the differing abilities of available singers. By introducing ornamentation drawn from 18th-century sources, Mackerras adapted Mozart's arias to fit Frittoli's voice. Perhaps one can similarly so say in respect of Hager-Vaness' output, as the results are unsurprisingly tailor-made-like, especially when the ornamentation allows the singers to show off the gentle, floating high notes as in "Dove sono" from Le Nozze. Nowhere, however, are the ornaments mere vocal baubles. They all serve to heighten the drama,and the performances are nothing less than emotionally convincing.
In the case of Barbara Frittoli, a special pleasure is found in the accompanied recitatives, where Frittoli's native pronunciation of Lorenzo da Ponte's text shines through. With her naturally clear diction - supported by Mackerras's unerring sense of dramatic pacing - Frittoli's recitatives glow. Frittoli brings native understanding and incisive delivery to the text with a naturalness and lack of mannerism that is rare in this music, especially compared to Renee Fleming's. In lyrical passages, Frittoli's velvety soprano can be alternately fiery and limpid, but most effective is the expressive bloom of her voice on climactic high notes, as in her affecting performance of "Bella mia fiamma, addio!"
Vaness's strength, on the other hand, lies in her uncanny ability to blend the registers with a highly coherent as well as multi-faceted colour palette. This rare ability was not heard since Schwarzkopf abandoned opera singing for lieder in the early 1970's. Her choice of arias from Idomeneo encompassing both Ilia's as well as Electra's amply demonstrates her flexibility and versatility in this repertoire.
Both sopranos are never bland nor monochromatic, yet both are highly successful in maintaining an evenness and total tonal control in the pieces undertaken.
As one reviewer aptly remarked, both sing this repertoire to a level even more exalted than the famous Mozart diva Te Kanawa before them.
This recital shows her abilities in Mozart quite well with natural, flowing tempos set by Charles Mackerras. Ms. Frittoli has performed most of these roles on stage (Elvira in Paris, Anna at Glyndebourne, the Countess at La Scala, etc.) and this stage experience comes through in the characterizations and coloring of words. Her fiery Elettra stopped an August concert "Idomeneo" in its tracks after "D'Oreste, d'Aiace" at the Edinburgh Festival and I look forward to that complete recording (Mackerras: Bostridge, Milne, Frittoli, Hunt Lieberson) immensely. She is nothing if not dramatic with a true Italian intensity and rolling "r"s. This is an intelligent, wellsung and wellconducted recital. Keep an eye out for this lady to take her place among the best Verdi and Mozart singers of her generation and hear her now in her early prime.
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