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”?