Although one may scan the many pages of the liner notes of Columna Musica's enthusiastically annotated Col sorriso d'innocenza (With the Smile of Innocence) in vain for mention of the phrase bel canto, essentially this is a collection of bel canto arias sung by big-voiced Spanish soprano Laura Alonso with a little help from mezzo Francisca Beaumont in duet scenes. Drawn from works by Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini, Col sorriso d'innocenza does well in that not all of these "bleeding chunks" are drawn from carcasses carved into very often. Although Donizetti's Rosmonda d'Ingiliterra and Emilia di Liverpool have been recorded a time or two, one will search in vain for any competing account of his 1841 opera Adelia, a generous portion of which is served here. A major feature of this package is the lengthy booklet note, entitled "The Art of the Soprano Assoluta" and written by Spanish vocal music expert Arturo Reverter. It is amusingly translated, with meaty phrases like "skin-level emotions" and description of the character Imogene in Il Pirata as being "raw-flesh-like." It is also astonishing to learn that dark-voiced sopranos were inheritors of the mantle of the castrati, and a number of names of sopranos born too early to record are cited as evidence. The degree to which Reverter indulges in hyperbolic discourse in the booklet note truly stands apart from the crowd -- he doesn't manage to even mention the star of the show, Laura Alonso, until we reach the final paragraph of the fourth page.
And of Alonso? She is a good singer, not an extraordinary one, but she would do well in an ensemble cast, and indeed, the ensemble from the neglected Adelia is the highlight of this album. When she's off the rails, you notice, but for most of the disc, Alonso is on track. On her website, you might find her singing in Sartorio's Cleopatra and a bit of video of her performing in Berg's Lulu, both of which are far more interesting than anything on this album. The Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga under Alexander Livenson produces a merely competent and pedestrian accompaniment. The recording quality is quite good, but it seems as though there was such a concern toward making sure no dire disaster compromised the quality of this recording that mediocrity was snatched from the jaws of, perhaps, magic. Only the hardest of hardcore opera fanatics will get much out of Col sorriso d'innocenza and that largely owing to the presence of Adelia and perhaps the star quality of Alonso herself, who is definitely on board with that aspect of being an opera diva. Perhaps future recordings will better expose Alonso's talents, as this is ultimately just plain boring, unless the listener wants to pace him/herself and listen to a couple of tracks at a time, take a break, then resume. The liner notes are another matter; it's hard to offer suggestions as how to handle them.