This fascinating album of arias for lyric soprano is an absolute triumph for all concerned. The Orfeo label has scored a major coup in signing soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, and one hopes that many more recordings will follow this superb debut disc.
Stoyanova first came to the attention of American music lovers in 2001 when she sang Valentine in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots in concert at Carnegie Hall with the Opera Orchestra of New York and conductor Eve Queler. The evening was a resounding success for Queler and all the singers, but the brightest star of the evening was the debutant Stoyanova, who made an indelible impression in the difficult 'falcon' role of Valentine and won over the audience entirely. Not surprisingly, she was soon contracted by the Metropolitan Opera, and made her debut as Violetta in the autumn of that same year. It is entirely appropriate then, that she opens this disc with a stunning rendition of 'Je suis seule… Parmi les pleurs…' from Les Huguenots and shows us exactly why the Carnegie Hall audience showered her with storms of applause.
From start to finish, Stoyanova and conductor Friedrich Haider have collaborated to create an album on which the soprano sets the gold standard for every aria she sings. Part of the success – surely – must be attributed to the fact that she has sung all of these roles either in concert or in fully staged productions, and so she is 'inside' all the characters, and is perfectly comfortable showing off her superb vocal technique, even in the face of some very daunting vocal challenges. As mentioned above, she begins with the aria from Meyerbeer's grand opera Les Huguenots and continues by offering us a selection of arias that – with a couple of noteworthy exceptions – have not been recorded very often.
Stoyanova's voice is remarkable for its evenness, fluidity, and rich, dark color, occasionally interwoven with a shining, silvery quality. Her basic sound – with a characteristically eastern European tint – is breathtakingly beautiful. From a technical standpoint, it seems that there is nothing she cannot do, and every one of the considerable demands inherent in the arias on this album is met with glorious confidence and élan. Despite her Bulgarian heritage, she offers stunning clarity of diction in excellent – if not ideally idiomatic – pronunciation of the French and Italian texts. Perhaps her greatest asset is that she brings a measure of 'reserve' to all that she sings: one never feels that she is singing too high, too loudly, or too fast. She simply sings well within her technical means at all times, and this allows the listener to focus on the characterizations and truly connect with each composer's intentions.
In more familiar arias, such as 'Come in quest'ora bruna…' from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra and 'Elle a fui, la tourterelle…' from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Stoyanova creates equally haunting, indelible portraits of these two very different daughters – the one hopeful, the other doomed. As Massenet's Salomé, a bit more sensuality would not be out of place, but the vocalism is strong and unsentimental. Throughout the program, in fact, Stoyanova displays total reluctance to lapse into the traditional, externally-applied effects: she doesn't over-hold high notes, she doesn't scoop or gasp for 'dramatic' breaths. The effect of this total lack of artifice is refreshing.
In two rare arias from Gomes' operas Il guarany and Fosca, the singer traverses a remarkable range of emotions and musical forms. These excerpts not only show us Gomes' compositional skill, but also leave us wanting to hear the complete operas from which they are taken. Stoyanova brings discretion and girlish poise to 'Se come voi piccini io fossi, o vaghi fior…' from Puccini's Le Villi, which – though perhaps lacking the idiomatic phrasing that a native Italian can impart (hear Scotto) – is gorgeously sung. She vividly highlights the kinship between Anna and Puccini's much-later creation: Liu. Moving from strength-to-strength, she offers a perfect-beyond-fault 'Il va venir' from Halévy's La Juive, and then perhaps the most viscerally exciting selection: 'Voi lo diceste… Quante volte come un dono… A frenarti, o cor, nel petto…' from Verdi's La battaglia di Legnano. In this remarkably demanding aria/cabaletta combination, Stoyanova holds nothing back, showing off a virtual catalogue of superlative technical skills including spectacular coloratura, precise staccati, and gleaming high notes. She truly has everything a great singer should have, and she leaves the listener wanting to hear much, much more.
Friedrich Haider conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with chameleonic mood shifting and impressive attention to detail, providing wonderfully atmospheric settings in which Stoyanova can concoct one captivating characterization after another. In particular, the delicately shaded opening preludes to the arias from Le Villi and Simon Boccanegra are expertly shaped with refinement and quiet intensity. Rarely does one encounter a collection of scenes in which the range of emotions is so broad and the musical demands are so diverse. Both Haider and Stoyanova exemplify musicianship at its highest level of achievement. As I mentioned above, I sincerely hope that Orfeo is planning a long association with this soprano. The excellence of her artistry is rare and should be preserved and shared to the fullest possible extent. By all means, add this wonderful CD to your collection, and make every attempt to hear this fine singer in person. This disc will easily be one of my 'discs of the year'.