Like Prohaska’s more recent recital disc, Behind the Lines, this one, recorded in 2010, is a collection of songs from a wide variety of time periods and in several languages, held together by theme. In this case, the theme is the figure of the siren. (Also, some day, I would like to see a soprano not sport five different come-hither looks in the album booklet. I’m sure it is possible. Actually, I know it is – I have a Handel recital CD on the cover of which Maria Bayo is wearing a woolly turtleneck and looking merely friendly; it can be done. But anyway.)
The songs range from John Dowland and Henry Lawes (accompanied by lutenist Simon Martyn-Ellis rather than pianist Eric Schneider, who does the rest of the selections) through Schumann, Schubert and Wolf and up to some twentieth-century songs by Arthur Honegger. The moods vary widely, from the pleasant and – it’s not quite cheerful, that’s the wrong word, but one imagines this going in an 18th-century theater production, with moving cardboard sets and all that – anyway, pleasant and unchallenging Haydn selection, “The Mermaid’s Song,” to more haunting evocations of sirens and their victims to occasionally a bit trippy, e.g. the the Purcell selection, “Two daughters,” in which Prohaska sings a duet with herself. I get why it’s done this way – the two sirens are not really people; they’re not separate individuals, but rather two instances of the same thing, so having the same voice for both is not nuts. That said, might have been fun to invite a friend to sing the other part, right?
One or two of the songs are among my favorites – I was happy to see, for example, that Wolf’s “Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchens” was here. I am used to Dorothea Röschmann’s interpretation of this, which is a little wilder – the young girl is far more alarmed than she is here – and also enormously funny. Prohaska and Schneider on the piano take it significantly slower than Röschmann and Martineau – the picture is of the protagonist unpicking her fishing net with a sense of puzzlement.
One thing I found myself noticing is that that Prohaska is very good at the songs with a dreamy, haunting feel, like Schubert’s “Des Fischers Liebesglück.” Here, she can let the sound of her voice itself do a lot of work, and it’s very effective. In some other selections, though, she doesn’t quite nail the effect she’s going for, e.g. Dvořák’s “Mesicku Na Nebi Hlubokém” (Rusalka’s song to the moon), which does not convey Rusalka’s longing as powerfully as I have heard more seasoned performers do it. My impression having listened to the whole recital is of a young singer who hasn’t reached the top of her interpretive game yet – when she does, maybe she’ll return to some of these songs.