The material on this album will be familiar to those who caught the concert broadcast version last winter. I knew going in that it would be mostly the same selections, but I wasn’t sure whether Röschmann, Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony would record it separately in the studio, or whether the album would be pieced together from the recorded concerts. It’s the latter (minus the piano concerto that the live audience heard). One might not immediately realize that this was a live concert, though – all the audience noises and applause have been removed.
It’s a disc of Mozart arias from roles that Röschmann built her operatic career on – the Countess’s two arias from Figaro, Donna Elvira’s “Mi tradì”, Vitellia’s “deh, se piacer me vuoi” and “non più di fiori” from La Clemenza di Tito. There are also two arias from Idomeneo, one of which die hard Röschmaniacs will have heard her sing before if they’ve got the bootleg of her as Ilia at the Met in 2006, and another of Elettra’s. The program finishes with a concert aria that I had never heard before the broadcast last year, “bella mia fiamma, addio”.
One of the things that has always drawn me to Röschmann’s opera performances is the intensity and the subtlety she gives to every role she takes on. She gives herself completely to every performance. It’s a quality I missed, listening to this. The performances on this disc have a feel of caution to them, as if she’s holding back. Partly this may be the concert format – there’s no hours long dramatic arc out of which these develop – but part seems deliberate. I first noticed this on the second track, Vitellia’s “deh, se piacer mi vuoi,” but the impression was reinforced at several other points during the recital – e.g. at the end of the Countess’s “dove sono.”
But in terms of simple sound, there are many moments of real beauty here. During “Zeffiretti lusinghieri” I sat listening in the kind of trance of happiness that made me question my “lacks intensity” reaction to the earlier material; I half wondered if it was simply because I had heard her sing those other things so many times before. “Non più di fiori” is also lovely (those low notes! And the way she does the recitative!), though as a concert piece it lacks the feeling of catharsis it does when she sings it in a performance of the complete opera – one realizes by way of contrast how powerful an actress she is, because when she’s not working the magic at the same level it’s very evident.
This isn’t to say that these performances lack character. The Countess’s two arias, for example, have a beautiful ache of sadness – you can tell immediately that these two are the same individual.
I was thinking about whether I would give this recital to someone who had never heard her before. Part of me says yes, because there are some stunning moments on this. But on balance probably not, because this album doesn’t truly convey what makes her special as an opera singer.*
*If I wanted to convert someone on this point, it would be the DVD of Tito and, for something more recent, this past spring’s Dido and Aeneas.