Arias by Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi

COMPOSERS: Arias by Bellini,Donizetti and Verdi
ALBUM TITLE: Italian opera arias
PERFORMER: Natalie Dessay (soprano); Concerto Köln/Evelino Pidò
Nothing that Lehár wrote after 1929 ever quite hit the spot like Das Land des Lächelns. Full of fashionable musical Chinoiserie, it’s a cousin of Turandot composed in the same decade. Yet what moved audiences in Berlin and above all Vienna was yet another richly upholstered operetta version of the Austro-Hungarian dilemma. This melancholy story of the Chinese Prince Sou-Chong who takes Lisa, an Austrian aristocrat’s daughter, back to China where they discover two cultures are too much for one love affair is again a meditation on the impossible multi-ethnic identity of the Hapsburg’s lost empire. Ulf Schirmer coaxes fine playing from the Munich Radio Orchestra. You expect them to waltz beautifully into Lisa’s opening number, but they also do the Chinese-style woodwinds for Sou Chong’s wedding just as well. Julia Bauer and Alexander Kaimbacher as Mi and Gustl sing an elegant pair of supporting lovers. But it’s the young Polish tenor, Piotr Beczala as Sou Chong, who steals the show. When he reaches the big number, ‘Dein ist Mein ganzes Herz’, you completely forget Nicolai Gedda on EMI, and even the great Tauber, who created the role, is given a musical run for his money. Camilla Nylund’s Lisa is certainly less knowing than Schwarzkopf in her early mono recording, but she doesn’t quite outdo Nancy Gustafson for Richard Bonynge (whose version is sung in English): there’s a covered quality to the voice in her middle range, though the top is as big and bright as you could hope for in the Act III finale. But by then Lisa and Gustl are returning to Vienna and to the Austro-Hungarian dilemma; the story is done.