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Opera Rara treats us to two new releases of distinction this month, from soprano Joyce El-Khoury and tenor Michael Spyres. El-Khoury pays homage to the renowned French soprano Julie Dorus-Gras, who premiered many great roles in Paris in the 1830s and ’40s; Spyres devotes his attentions to Gilbert Duprez, a megastar in Paris at the same time. Correspondingly, the repertoire for both discs focuses on French opera – both releases stand alone but also make great companion pieces, as each features soprano and tenor in duet.

El-Khoury has a fascinating voice of myriad colours. I cannot claim that she always makes the most beautiful sounds imaginable, but her tone has a veiled, almost mysterious quality and she is capable of some entrancing floated pianissimi. She also has a formidable technical armoury which she puts to good use in some challenging pieces. El-Khoury attacks ‘Robert, toi que j’aime’ (Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable) with supreme confidence, untroubled by the extremes of range it demands. She has the coloratura and acuti for Lucia di Lammermoor and the simplicity of line for Guillaume Tell. One particularly interesting curiosity is an aria from the French version of Weber’s Der Freischütz (Le Freyschütz) with recitatives by Berlioz.

Spyres’s voice is a cleaner, more straightforward sound. His French is impeccable, and he keeps his tone forward and bright, with a strong sense of propulsion and rhythmic vitality. He gets offto a thrilling start with Rossini: Otello’s entrance aria (in French) in which he displays his even legato, astounding range and verbal clarity. Then it’s a traversal of Duprez roles, through Donizetti, Auber, Verdi and Berlioz. Spyres’s particular curiosity is the world premiere recording of an aria and duet (with El-Khoury) from Halévy’s forgotten Guido et Ginévra, premiered by Duprez and Dorus-Gras at the Paris Opéra in 1838 – and exciting stuff it is too. Parisian audiences of the time were spoiled by having two such incredible singers to bring their roles to life, and fortunately we can say much the same about Spyres and El-Khoury today. Carlo Rizzi’s conducting of the Hallé cajoles and charms throughout.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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