With Durban’s live classical music scene in a lull at the end of our winter symphony season, it’s time to catch up on recording news.
Two Facebook posts from Britain’s Opera Rara caught my eye, and one of these pertained to the ongoing critical triumphs reaped by the company following its recent release of Gaetano Donizetti’s 1840 four-act French grand opera, Les Martyrs, reviewed in this column in May.
Conducted by Sir Mark Elder with American tenor Michael Spyres and Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury heading a stellar cast, the recording has picked up its latest accolade, France’s most prestigious recording prize, the Orphée d’Or award from the Académie du Disque Lyrique.
The other posting carried a report with photo of last month’s recording sessions of another grand-scale Donizetti work – the two-act torso of the composer’s unfinished three-act French grand opera, Le Duc d’Albe, which predated Les Martyrs as a commission for the Paris Opéra.
Due for release next year, this recording is set to notch up another milestone in Opera Rara’s catalogue.
Donizetti began composing Le Duc d’Albe in 1839, but abandoned the piece after completing two acts when the Opéra’s director turned his back on the project in favour of other commissions.
Aside from the return to the studio of tenor Michael Spyres for the title role in this ground-breaking new recording, what caught my attention was the casting of the much-talked-about young American opera star, Angela Meade, in the opera’s lead soprano role of Hélène d'Egmont.
The winner of the 2012 Beverly Sills Artist Award from the Metropolitan Opera and the 2011 Richard Tucker Award, along with a string of other major singing competitions, the statuesque Miss Meade has attained cult status in international music circles. A hark-back to a golden age of vocalism, she achieved overnight stardom, standing in at short notice for an ailing colleague, while making her professional debut singing the taxing role of Elvira in Verdi’s opera, Ernani at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Since that sensational event in 2008, the soprano has become recognized as one of the outstanding vocalists of her generation, returning to the Met and to other major opera houses and festival stages on both sides of the Atlantic in a string of star soprano roles. These appearances have included, among many other lead parts, the title roles in Rossini’s Semiramide, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena – and Bellini’s Norma, by common consent the summit of the entire soprano Bel Canto repertoire.
Sample Meade’s platinum-gold instrument, musicality and star quality at http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/donizettis-lucrezia-borgia-caramoor-festival. In this live concert broadcast of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, the soprano crowns her jaw-dropping feat of sustaining a pianissimo high A flat for close on 30 seconds during the opera’s Prologue, with a ringing high D at the climax of its concluding ensemble.
Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riwVCBmdDwc and witness Meade’s big-gun account of Leonora’s aria, ‘Pace, pace mio Dio!’ from Verdi’s La forza del destino, sung at a Richard Tucker Memorial Gala in New York. The singer’s humility and delight at the rapturous applause that follows her performance is endearing.
It’s a safe bet Opera Rara will celebrate another winner when it releases Le Duc d’Albe next year, heralding Angela Meade’s official recording debut, with Sir Mark Elder conducting the Hallé Orchestra.
Caption: American soprano Angela Meade as Elvira, the role that catapulted her to international fame in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Verdi’s opera, Ernani.
-WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS, 2 JULY 2015