Mirror Image at the Opera

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This album of operatic duets arranged for two horns and piano is a pleasant surprise. Its success is due in no small part to the virtuosity and sensitivity of the horn players, Lisa Bontrager and Michelle Stebleton, but much credit also goes to the skill of the arrangers, and the appropriateness of the repertoire selected. Bontrager and Stebleton are well-matched in their tone, and they blend beautifully. Theirs is a typically American horn sound -- large, warm, robust, and creamy -- and their lyrical playing works well with this vocal repertoire. The horn's wide functional range allows them to play pieces written both for relatively closely matched voices, such as "The Bell Song" from Lakmé, "Au fond du temple saint" from Les Pêcheurs de perles, and "Mira, o Norma," as well as soprano and baritone duets like "Parigi, o cara," from La Traviata. In addition to many standard operatic duets, there are selections from more obscure works, such as Rossini's La Gazzetta, Boccherini's La Clementina, and Handel's Faramondo. The album includes some non-operatic pieces, including several Brahms songs and Théodore Dubois' lyrical Cantilene, originally written for violin, cello, and piano. The only piece that seems inappropriate for the collection is Eric Ewazen's Gold Coast Harmony, an attractive work written for this duo, but it seems essentially instrumentally conceived and sounds out of place in this context. Tomoko Kanamaru provides a lively and nuanced accompaniment. The balance is very good, but the sound is a little on the bright side.

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