The Melba label continues to bring Australian performances of grand opera to international audiences with this CD of (mostly) obscure soprano arias from the French and Italian repertoires from the mid nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. Elizabeth Whitehouse brings intelligence, passion, and a strong interpretive personality to the arias. She has an attractive, light lyric voice that's not large, and loses a little body at the top, but that's agile and expressive. The decision to highlight unfamiliar territory is a smart move; listeners who have never heard of Whitehouse may be intrigued by these selections from nearly forgotten operas, many by composers who are represented in the standard repertoire by a single work, including Saint-Saëns, Giordano, Ponchielli, Cilea, Leoncavallo, and Mascagni. Since they had at least one enduring work in them, doesn't it make sense that they would have produced other music worthy of contemporary attention? This CD answers the question strongly in the affirmative. There are some questionable selections -- the inclusion of arias from Andrea Chénier and Adriana Lecouvreur don't qualify as rarities -- but the arias from Giordano's Siberia and Cilea's Gloria are real finds. The aria from Sapho, Gounod's first opera, is wonderfully sensuous and foreshadows some of Massenet's effulgence. The verismo school offers some of the most compelling music; in addition to the Cilea, the Leoncavallo and Mascagni excerpts are especially appealing, and the aria from the latter's Sì is a real charmer. Richard Bonynge leads Orchestra Victoria in elegant and passionate accompaniment. Melba's sound is excellent -- clear and present.
Rare French and Italian Opera Arias Review
by Stephen Eddins