Simone Kermes, Christoph-Mathias Mueller – Bel Canto: from Monteverdi to Verdi (2013) [Official Digital Download 24bit/96kHz]

Simone Kermes, Christoph-Mathias Mueller – Bel Canto: from Monteverdi to Verdi (2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Digital Booklet | 1.21 GB | Genre: Classical
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz  | © Sony Classical

With her new album Simone Kermes presents her dedication to bel canto. Despite the title the Baroque soprano hasn’t suddenly switched from one voice type to another but is simply following her own interpretation of this term, arguing that bel canto is “inconceivable without reference to the Baroque tradition”.

The album centres around famous arias of the belcanto soprano repertoire: “Casta Diva“ from Bellini’s Norma, “O luce di quest’ anima“ from Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix and “Dolce pensiero“ from Rossini’s Semiramide.

The programme also features a number of rarely performed works: Airas of Mercadantes “Virginia“, Rossini’s “Maometto Secondo“, Donizetti’s “Betly“ or Bellini’s “Adelson e Salvini“. As a connecting link between baroque and bel canto Kermes added the two arias of the Queen of Night from Mozart’s Magic Flute. Simone Kermes is accompanied by Concerto Cöln, performing on period instruments.

Simone Kermes has received a number of international awards for her solo albums, such as the annual prize of the Deutsche Schallplattenkritik, the Diapason d`Or, Midem Award, Choc Le Monde de la Musique, Gramophone magazine’s Disc of the Month and the Echo Prize. For her CD entitled Colori d`amore she was the winner of the Echo Prize in the highest category, Female Singer of the Year, in 2011. In 2012 the Munich Abendzeitung awarded Simone Kermes its Star of the Year Award, and in April 2013 she received one of Russia’s highest cultural awards, the Golden Mask, for her performances as Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Tchaikovsky State Academic Theatre in Perm.

Composer: Claudio Monteverdi, Giuseppe Verdi, Vincenzo Bellini..
Performer: Simone Kermes
Conductor: Christoph-Mathias Mueller

Reviews: I have been crazy about Simone Kermes since the first time I laid ears on her, and went even wilder when I began to watch her on YouTube. I’ve only seen her “live” once, in a concert performance of Handel’s Athalia in New York under Ivor Bolton in 2009. Her performance then was more understated than I had imagined it might be, but it suited the character. More importantly, I realized that Kermes has a gift that very few singers have: When she is singing it is impossible to ignore her—she grabs your attention. Since then, I’ve enjoyed all of her discs of Baroque music; her energy, her enthusiasm, her attention to text, her fearlessness, the gorgeous pianissimo, the lunges into chest voice when called for and/or for emphasis, her brilliant sense of rhythm, her spot-on fiorature, staccato, and scale work—all make her very special. She glistens.

I approached this new CD of Bel Canto (and Mozart and Verdi) arias with an open mind, as I did with Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Norma, which I found to be a valid alternate approach to an opera that the world thinks it knows inside and out, much like Toti Dal Monte’s reading of Madama Butterfly, which is masterful in its own way. Well, you can’t win them all, and my loyalty to Kermes has been tested and it has failed. This CD, while probably not on the same epic level as, I assume, was Dame Nellie Melba’s attempt at singing the role of Brünnhilde in Siegfried at the Met in 1896 (after which she developed a node on her vocal cords and was silent for months), is as close to a catastrophe as a major artist can come.

Kermes has come to Verdi and Mozart through the Baroque and its techniques and has attempted to make up in artistry what she lacks in sheer voice. An admirable experiment, but not correct: Baroque ornamentation was different from Donizetti’s and Rossini’s, let alone Verdi’s, and Mozart comes from an alternate musical land entirely. Emotion is expressed differently in Handel and Vivaldi than it is in the composers presented here. But that’s enough of a preamble.

Specifically, the opening aria from Mercadante’s Virginia is a fine romp, with the eponymous heroine in a swell mood, and Kermes captures it all in the right spirit and tone. “Giusto ciel”, Anna’s prayer from Maometto II, however, brings trouble: sung utterly without passion and with a ghostly tone, it is dead in the water. Even worse is “Casta diva” (shorn of its cabaletta), performed as if it were “Ah, non credea” from Sonnambula—that is, with the soprano asleep. (The photo on the CD’s cover is of Kermes in a nightgown, feet not touching the ground, and in a trance. A warning if ever there were one.) Sung in its original key, it is utterly lifeless, an exercise in quiet, sustained singing, a soubrette’s attempt at wearing big clothing.

The two arias of Mozart’s Queen of the Night are horses of a different hue, and they are fun: the first lacks bite (one is accustomed to fire from Kermes, but where is it here?), the singing itself breathtaking if robotic, the high Fs and coloratura spotless. Betly’s sweet yodeling number from the opera of the same name is, somehow, ridiculous, sounding like an encore; Linda’s “Oh, luce di quest’anima” is better, since the character is a naïf. Amalia’s aria from “I masnadieri” is ridiculously underpowered and peculiarly embellished, and the nadir is Odabella’s opening aria from Attila, normally the property of a Lady Macbeth or Abigaille, and here sounding like the work of a friend’s talented 17-year-old niece with ambition. Odabella is out for vengeance, but you’d never know it here; it sounds like a curtsy. Nelly’s long-lined aria from Bellini’s student opera Adelson e Salvini is lovely, and “Bel raggio” gets good glitter, while the CD ends with Monteverdi’s “Si dolce è ‘l tormento”, stunningly performed though somewhat over-embellished.

Did I mention that Kermes sings all of these arias without vibrato, which is so effective in many of her Baroque arias but a disaster here? And in her Baroque arias she often leans on the voice thrillingly for dramatic emphasis; none of that daring is in evidence. She is on her best vocal behavior and it’s both weird and boring. The period-instrument group, Concerto Köln, under Christoph-Mathias Mueller, plays magnificently, but also in the wrong idiom. My ear tells me that pitch is not quite A=440, but it isn’t A=415 either. One hopes Kermes’ feet will touch ground again soon; she is forgiven for this but I cannot even recommend it to her greatest fans. It’s simply wrong-headed.

01 – Mercadante – Virginia. “Icilio io l’Amo”
02 – Rossini – Maometto II. “Giusto Ciel, in Tal Periglio”
03 – Mozart – Die Zauberflöte. “O Zittre Nicht , Mein Lieber Sohn”
04 – Mozart – Die Zauberflöte. “Der Hölle Rache Kocht in Meinem Herzen”
05 – Bellini – Norma. “Casta Diva”
06 – Donizetti – Betly o La Capanna Cvizzera. “In Questo Semplice Modesto Asilo”
07 – Donizetti – Linda di Chamounix. “Ah! Tardai Troppo – O Luce di Quest’ Anima”
08 – Verdi – I Masnadieri. “Dall’ Infame Banchetto M’involai…”
09 – Bellini – Adelson e Salvini. “Dopo l’Oscuro Nembo”
10 – Rossini – Semiramide. “Bel Raggio Lusinghiero… Dolce Pensiero”
11 – Verdi – Atilla. “Santo di Patria Indefinito Amor…”
12 – Monteverdi – Si Dolce è ‘l Tormento (Scherzi Musicali)


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