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Mirella Freni is also caught at her peak in live recordings of her in concert; thrice, in fact – 1971, 1983 and 1987 – so it’s interesting to hear the voice gain in tonal richness through the years. She sings favourite arias from La bohème, Tosca, Turandot, Carmen nd Manon; her later recordings are of Tatyana’s Letter Scene, high octane stuff, also Aida, a role she sensibly dropped quite quickly, and Le nozze di Figaro, where Freni moves up from her youthful Susanna to an impressive Contessa. The disc is bookended by two versions of ‘Io son l’umile ancella’, Adriana Lecouvreur’s paean to art. The earlier recording displays Freni’s refulgent tone, generous phrasing and instinctive use of portamenti. By the 1987 the voice is more luscious, the line spins even longer, the vocal effects are more measured and effective. One annoyance is that the recording gives the voice a slightly hard edge Freni didn’t possess live, and the sheer size of the voice, often surprising in the theatre, isn’t conveyed.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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