Vesselina Kasarova - Love Entranced / Chaslin, Munich Radio
Vesselina Kasarova is out to get your tear and she is depressingly good at it
Her voice is unconventionally beautiful. It is a dark lyric mezzo soprano voice with a spinto thrust of many colors (the basic tone is burgundy, and getting brighter in her upper register). Lyric voices are light and usually not as capable of conveying drama or riding over an orchestra as their ‘dramatic’ counterparts... the middle ground is the lyrico-spinto, which this singer may be. These are singers with lyric voice but can put some heft on it and effectively cuts through the blaring orchestra at opportune times.
The Kasarova sound is woodsy and with a Slavic sad underlining... like a wistful clarinet. She has a vocal range of nearly 3 octaves (I've heard her low F and a high D6), though not without register breaks (you can tell when she switches from chest resonance to head resonance). It is mind-boggling how a voice this sumptuous can move so fast so effortlessly. She is especially good at exposing the pathos of each song, displaying great attention to details... like an instrumentalist who is mindful of the sound she is making. You won’t hear any rough edge or sharp cut off on a note from this singer unless she is intentionally saying something with them.
Vesselina Kasarova (Mezzo soprano)
Conductor: Frederic Chaslin / Munich Radio Orchestra
1. Les Huguenots: Non, vous n’avez jamais, je gage
2. Le Prophète: Donnez, donnez pour une pauvre ame
#1, 'Non, vous n’avez jamais, je gage
Non, rien appris de tel par la voix du jeune page.'
(No, I bet you’ve never, no, never heard such a tale from a young page.)
This playful song is quite a way to open a CD full of down and distressful numbers with. This is a song sung by Urbain (a trouser role where a male character is played by a female singer) the page who has brought a letter from a young pretty girl to his boss and now teases him about it. You can just hear the finger wagging in the orchestral intro to the piece! A quintessential Meyerbeer aria (the composer really had great love for the fast ha-ha coloratura stuff that can jump an entire octave up or down in a note or two). Lots of very demanding vocal fireworks that wonderfully highlight Urbain’s smart alecky rubbing-it-in to his boss (and when it is sung this suitably teasingly, you just want to give the singer a bit of a kick in the butt ... as a congratulatory gesture, that is).
All the light-heartedness of the first track comes crashing down with the very solemn desperation of #2, Donnez, donnez pour une pauvre ame! (Give, please give to the poor soul). In it Fidès is begging for alms to finance a mass to bless the soul of her son. It is desperately plaintive and features very dramatic octave leaping melodic line. A wonderful piece of dramatic singing by Kasarova, who never lets her grip off Fidès’ despair while deftly navigating all the technical obstacle course of a song. And, being a true mezzo, her low chesty Ah!’s immediately after the soaring high passage give very effective contrast to highlight how undignified Fidès really feels in having to beg for money... But a mother would do anything including swallowing her own pride for her son, of course.
Charles GOUNOD:3. Sapho: Où suis-je, Ô ma lyre immortelle
4. Les Troyens: Je vais mourir/ Adieu, fiere cité
The distress deepens with the following 2 tracks. In #3, Sapho is of course the legendary Greek poetess. Her rival had turned her beloved Phaön against her and Sapho sings this song while standing above a high cliff contemplating suicide. It is beautifully led in by a desolate flute solo to the recitative Où suis-je? Ah! Oui, je me rappelle tout ce qui m’attachait á la vie est brisé! (Where am I? Ah, yes, I remember.. All that once bound me to life is shattered). And shattered she is! And resolute, too. She really sounds like she sees the bottom of the cliff as the salvation from the wretched life Sapho wants to leave behind.
Sample clip: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EB75tcVKd48
Such tension in the voice (courtesy of wonderfully tight and controlled vibrato)! And she is depressingly well support in a fittingly tragic manner by Maestro Chaslin’s orchestra... so that #4: Je vais mourir/ Adieu, fiere cité arrives like a final stroke of the axe. The recitative leading to the main aria starts with repeated cries of anguish by Didon, Queen of Carthage, as her lover Aeneas had abandon her to go on a mission to build a new Troy in Italy.
While many singers express their cries of anguish only by sheer loudness, here the anguish is palpable in Kasarova’s voice itself. Her two ‘Ah!’ that opens the number starts of almost as white voice with increasing vibrato to the heart-stopping end of the note really is effective in putting the image of Didon’s dilating pupils from sheer terror in my mind’s eyes. They literally make me feel her heart palpates! Primal cries, if you will, of a woman who absolutely refuses to survive being abandoned by her lover. Any of tracks 2-4 is enough by itself to send me into a depression. 3 of them in succession is a downright conspiratorial overkill!
5. Mignon: Connais-tu le pays
6. Romeo et Juliette: Dépuis hier je cherche/ Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?
7. Cinq-Mars: Par quel trouble profond/ Nuit résplendissante
Mercifully, track #5, Connais-tu le pays (Do you know the country?) starts off in a lighter melancholy and allows me a gasp for air with its lovely flute obbligato. This is a beautiful ‘home-sick’ song sung by Mignon, who was abducted from her Italian castle as a child. She is telling her beloved Wilhelm of her vague memory of her homeland. It is almost dreamy in a very melancholy and descriptive ways (with the flute miming the birds singing in the trees and the strings highlighting the waves crashing against the shore).
Sample: www.youtube.com/watch?v=N65JgUJ_oMg (not from this CD, however)
# 6, Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle (what are you doing, white dove?...in a nestful of vultures), is sung by Stephano, Romeo’s page (this is another ‘trouser role’ of a young man sung by a woman). It is a teasingly provocative song where Stephan mocks the Capulets saying that their little white dove (Juliette) will one day fly from their camp to marry his boss Romeo. Whistlers beware! The intro to this little number is irresistible to not whistle to. Her high C sounds easy and pinging, too.
#7, Nuit résplendissante (Resplendid night), is from a political opera by Gounod that has completely fallen out of repertoire everywhere. The Marquis de Cinq-Mars was a favorite of Louis XIII who led a plot against Richelieu and lost his head when a co-conspirator turned him in. This cantilena sung by Cinq-Mars's lover, Marie, is a very subtly ominous piece that always put me on the deck of a doomed ocean liner in the middle of the night admiring the starry sky while a deadly ice-burg looms ahead unnoticed in the fog. The orchestration is so wonderfully premonitive of a tragedy to come, while the vocal line doesn’t quite sense the danger until toward the end of the piece.
8. Samson et Dalila: Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse
9. Le Cid: De cet affreux/ Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux
10. Le Roi d’Ys: De tous côtes j’apercois/ Lorsque je t’ai vu soudain reparaitre
#8, Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse (Love, come to help ), is from the Biblical theme opera ‘Samson et Dalila’. This is a song of vengeance in disguise. Dalila (Delilah), knowing that Samson has a thing for her, is seducing him away from leading the revolution against the Philistines by singing of how not even his god-given strength would be able to withstand the power of love. And while many singers have no trouble singing songs of distress, not many dare sound so sinister in pieces like this. Kasarova here convinces me I wouldn’t want to rub her the wrong way or she might just plunge a dagger into me when my back is turned.
In #9, Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux (Weep, weep, my eyes), is Chimène’s vocalization of her broken heart. Her father had insulted the father of her beloved Rodrique, and the two are now dueling and Chimène is caught in a no-win situation.
By the final phrase Ah! Pleurez toutes vos larmes! (Ah! Weep all your tears).... it you still have any tear left after all this emotional beating, you will just have to let it drop if only to pay tribute to anyone who can sing this piece in so distressed a manner without actually dropping dead at the end of the climatic high B. But dropping dead she doesn’t and offers up a change of mood in the finale.
Track #10, Margared’s Act II aria from Le Roi d’Ys, is a vengeful song of a princess who, upon discovering that the man she loves actually loves her sister and not her, gives way to an insane jealousy that leads to her betrayal of her home city in the name of vengeance.
I must say, Vesselina Kasarova is quite determined to make you weep with this album, either from sympathy with the distressed heroines like Didon, Fides, or Chimène or from sheer terror at the rage of operatic femmes fatales like Dalila or Margared. And if you aren’t weeping by the time you get to this piece, you either haven’t got a heart or you have by-passed the weeping all together and have been put in a desperate stupor that tear doesn't suffice to express. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit... but only a bit.