Sunday, August 28, 2011

Debut CD by Aleksandra Kurzak

Few singers get solo CD contracts these days, but Polish lyric-coloratura soprano Aleksandra Kurzak has nabbed one with Decca and her first CD, Gioia! is out now in Europe and on September 13 in the US. I’ve seen Kurzak sing Gilda and Blonde in the Met (perfectly good) and Donna Anna at the Theater an der Wien (excellent) and while she is a good artist with an attractive voice and solid technique (and a committed and smart actress), I didn’t note her as a big star in the making. But the CD and a September Opera News article (not online yet) suggest she is Happening. Is she?

Kurzak began as a Olympia/Queen of the Night coloratura but is taking a turn towards more lyric territory. The repertoire here spans both categories. It’s your standard “calling card”-type album of wildly assorted arias from “Mein Herr Marquis” to Mozart to Puccini. Kurzak has a pretty, light voice with a soft-grained, airy quality and wide, relaxed vibrato. Her coloratura is spotless and intonation excellent. But the exclamation point in the album’s title seems misplaced, she’s more poised and polished than expressive or exciting or varied. It is fine singing, but there are few signs of anything as spontaneous or exciting as “Gioia!” “Una voce poco fa” and “Mein Herr Marquis” both have dazzling passagework but are short on humor and personality. The sole Mozart aria, “Deh vini, non tardar,” suffers from excessive portamenti and awkward leaning into some notes. She fares better in Lucia’s “Regnava nel silenzio,” where her cool temperament is more of an asset, and her “Son vergin vezzosa” (from I puritani) is admirably fluid, but it doesn’t work terribly well without context. Was it chosen because it’s a polonaise?

Her attention to the words is spotty and Italian indistinct (is that a “babbino caro” or a “bambino caro”? it almost sounds like the second), but she turns out to be a surprisingly good Violetta, with a dreamy, floating “È strano” and “Ah fors’è lui” and a “Sempre libera” that is maybe not intense but is certainly more precise and easy than most. Tenor Francesco Demuro appears for the first Nemorino-Adina duet from Elisir d’amore, and sounds jolly if unevenly supported, and Kurzak is almost animated. The final track is the only rarity, an aria from the Polish national opera Straszny dwór (The Haunted Manor) by Stanislaw Moniuzko, an interesting piece that sounds like early Verdi with a Wieniawski-esque violin obligato. The conducting by Omar Meir Welber and the playing of the Orchestra de la Comunitat Valenciana are unobtrusively fine.

I have to wonder about the purpose of these sampler quilt albums--so few singers have the range to be equally good in such a wide breadth of repertoire, and it seems like it would be smarter for them to play more to their strengths. I think it would also make for more enjoyable listening.* Besides, who is just dying to buy another recording of “Caro nome” when you could get something new? (I know. Some people are. Not me.) The press material says this was originally planned as an all-Rossini album, and I have to think that would have been better.

Based on this, Kurzak is a promising artist still finding her footing. But between the dull selection of music and lack of temperament, this isn’t a CD I picture myself listening to many times. Here it is on US Amazon, if you are so inclined.
Trailer (is anyone surprised by the choice of freeze frame?):
*Does anyone else remember Elina Garanca’s Aria cantilena, which memorably juxtaposed Cenerentola with Villa-Lobos and followed them with Offenbach's “J’aime les militaires”?

5 comments:

Mirto_P said...

Intelligent interview, nice fresh, young voice that I wouldn't mind hearing more of providing she develops as an artist. But the getup and direction of the "Traviata" scene are just too, too ridiculous. Not sure who's funnier, her or the guy...

definitelytheopera said...

Why do labels still produce CDs of Greatest Aria Hits of Disparate Composers? Tacky business. I don't know that's the best road to take for a Rising Star Soprano; showing some curatorial discernment would be a much better idea.

She also looks too much like Netrebko. Surely it must have occurred to somebody in her management. Unless they want that, in which case, I rest my case.

Zerbinetta said...

Mirto_P, yeah, the usage of the Traviata bit in this video is awfully cynical. But we all know what sells.

Def, yeah, I'm not lining up for "disparate aria" CDs either, but on the other hand is is nice that singers are recording SOMETHING. I didn't think of Kurzak and Netrebko at all--I guess because Kurzak is really tiny and Netrebko is tallish. I always thought Ekaterina Siurina looks a little like Netrebko, though she is also short (now there's a singer who needs to record a CD!).

Alessandro said...

She sounds wonderful in Traviata. I also noticed a certain resemblance to Netrebko.
She also sings two duets with Joseph Calleja on his wonderful new aria CD "The Maltese Tenor". Now this is a fantastic tenor. Calleja and Kurzak sound wonderful in the Pearlfishers-Duet.

Linetta said...

She is a major star in Poland, much more praised and acclaimed than Beczala. 'Gioia' sold impressively well and she has already recorded her second all-Rosini album. But I have to agree with you. Despite charming personal manner, this solid and technically good soprano won't become a first class star. And yes, 'Son vergin vezzosa' was chosen because it is polonaise. :)

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