Berlioz, Bizet, Massenet, Saint-Sa‘ns, Thomas

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz,Bizet,Massenet,Saint-Sa‘ns,Thomas
LABELS: Finlandia
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: French Opera Arias
WORKS: Arias
PERFORMER: Monica Groop (mezzo-soprano); Finnish RSO/Muhai Tang
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-41936-2
This year has produced a slew of recitals of French arias (see also below), but rather than explore the obscurer reaches of the repertoire, as most singers have chosen to do, the programme here is unashamedly – wonderfully – mainstream. Monica Groop, one of the most engaging mezzos to have emerged in the past decade, has opted to showcase her Carmen, her Mignon, her Marguerite (from Berlioz’s ‘opera of the mind’s eye’ The Damnation of Faust), her Béatrice, her Dalila and her Charlotte (from Werther). Ascanio’s joyous ‘Tra la la’ from Benvenuto Cellini is as esoteric as it gets. For all its familiarity, it’s a captivating programme. Or would be in the hands of a singer more attuned to these seductive and enraptured heroines. For the warmth and winning charm that make Groop so engaging a performer on stage are absent here. Technically, there’s very little to fault – her voice is agile, ringing and richly shaded, even if her French is occasionally swallowed and some of the sustained high notes falter slightly. But dramatically she sounds hidebound – too careful, too considered, too clean, too cool. Instead of ardour, ecstasy, passion and risk, we get froideur, measure and an almost lugubrious correctness – a trait not helped by the conductor, Muhai Tang, who opts for some painfully plodding and deliberate speeds. Claire Wrathall