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Marina Rebeka has been making quite an impression on the opera world with her attractive stage presence and the pearl-like lustre of her voice, glinting with flashes of drama. Ivan Repušic´, the Munich Radio Orchestra’s recently appointed chief conductor, remembered the soprano from conducting her Traviata in Berlin in 2015; the following year she stood in for Sonya Yoncheva at the last minute to triumph as Thaïs alongside Plácido Domingo with the orchestra at Salzburg. Captivated by the soprano’s confident artistry, Repušic´ invited Rebeka to become the Rundfunorchester’s first artist-in-residence. The Rossini album Amor Fatale was already recorded before the residency; so when Repušic´ considered conducting Verdi’s Luisa Miller, Rebeka was first choice for the title role. A concert performance follows this autumn at the Prinzregententheater in Munich.

‘I was very honoured to be asked,’ says Rebeka. ‘It came at a good moment for me. Luisa’s a big role, a complex personality, with lots of coloratura and some heavy singing. The first act is so free, but the finale is really long and high, and you can’t be tired.’ Not that stamina is a problem: the soprano points out that she took on five new roles in eight months last year, and Luisa is also new to her, alongside her first Amelia in Simon Boccanegra in Vienna next year. ‘Some roles you can learn really quickly,’ she says. ‘I studied a lot of Verdi in Italy – in the composer’s homeland of Busseto and Parma – and I absorbed the style and the feeling for it.’ She is nevertheless happy to debut the role of Luisa in concert: ‘Sometimes when you are in a staged production you can’t follow the composer perfectly from moment to moment. To stay authentic to the composer’s will, it’s good to have the score in front of you to begin with. Once it’s in your muscles, you can go onstage.’

Rossini, meanwhile, is deeply engrained into Rebeka’s muscle memory and on the evidence of the new CD, the composer’s style runs in her blood: she studied at the Rossini Academy in Pesaro – Rossini’s birthplace and a shrine to his legacy, with its festival each summer – and her artistic destiny has been linked to his music. ‘Rossini was a completely unexpected choice for me in the beginning, as it’s so difficult. There’s so much text in the recitatives – but never say never! Rossini was my stage debut (Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia), my first CD, first DVD, and then I sang in Moïse et Pharaon for Muti in Salzburg.’ The latter proved a triumph and a massive boost for Rebeka’s career. ‘It’s always great to sing Rossini, it takes so much stamina and training, and although my voice is developing lyrically I will never leave him.’

Having studied with such Rossinian luminaries as the late Alberto Zedda (the great bel canto conductor and former artistic director of the Rossini Festival), Rebeka has absorbed the composer’s performance style, working on developing her own vocal decorations. ‘I see them as a way to open your character and personal vision of the role. You can get them from someone else, but better to write your own and express your own feeling and emotions. In some arias, such as “D’amore al dolce impero” from Armida, they are already written for you and it’s impossible to decorate any further.’ Indeed, Rebeka dispatches the aria, a theme and variations, with rich full tone and some astonishing coloratura, revelling in every vocal pyrotechnic that Rossini threw at his then-wife, Isabella Colbran. It must surely rank as one of the most magisterial accounts of the aria since Monsterrat Caballé’s, recorded 50 years ago.

Another aria with barely time to snatch breath is ‘Tanti affetti’ from La donna del lago, also written for Colbran, to which Rebeka brings a smile in the voice and a lightness of touch as she ascends and descends with astonishing rapidity. The new CD is a testament to her rock-solid technique as well as a souvenir of some of her greatest stage triumphs, and is idiomatically conducted by Marco Armiliato. She essays both of Mathilde’s arias from Guillaume Tell, (a role she has sung in Amsterdam, Pesaro and the Met), floating a graceful line in the first and attacking the dramatic coloratura of the second with thrilling confidence. In fact, this aria displays her ability to colour the voice, with its balance between dramatic thrust and lyric elegance. Likewise with the two arias from Maometto II, one a dreamily-spun, the other more forceful. Rebeka talks about the possibility of adding to her Rossinian stage roles, and on the basis of this recording we should be looking forward to her Semiramide and Armida – she certainly has the temperament and technique to triumph in both.

Meanwhile her residency with the Munich Radio Orchestra continues after Luisa Miller with a New Year’s Eve Gala Concert and another concert in April 2018 of French arias, Vive l’Opéra, both in Munich. Rebeka has plans for more bel canto, including Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, and also more lyric repertoire. Rest assured, though, she won’t be leaving her beloved Rossini in the lurch for long.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Opera Now, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing