Years ago, as a schoolboy discovering serious music for the first time, I went through a phase of making long lists of obscure operas. (Really, how weird can you get?) The sole legacy of this time-consuming and dead-end occupation (no internet then) is a familiarity with the names of many operas that have long vanished from the stage. In those days, the contents of this Melba CD would have seemed a veritable gold-mine, and x years later I confess to not having heard of most of the operas represented in this recital.
Richard Bonynge has assembled an intriguing collection of arias by composers whose operatic reputations rest for the most part on single works – Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Giordano, Cilea and Ponchielli. There are obscure composers, too. Hands up if you have ever heard of Faccio or the Brazilian, Gomes. (You have? Then go to the top of the class). Just to keep us in touch with reality, there are two familiar arias, from Giordano’s Andrew Chenier and Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. It’s safe to say that the remaining sixteen tracks will be unknown to all but the very keenest opera buffs.
So, hats off to Richard Bonynge, soprano Elizabeth Whitehouse and Melba Recordings for offering such a rare treat and taking what must be something of a marketing gamble. Australian opera-goers have come to know Elizabeth Whitehouse as a fine dramatic soprano with an arresting stage presence. She was a memorable Senta in Der fliegende Holländer and, most recently, a haughty Princess in Rusalka. She is in splendid form here and does her best to establish the various characters in arias that tend to inhabit much the same world; love and tragedy are never far apart in grand opera … For lovers of fine signing and adventurous repertoire, this CD is a must.
(Footnote: A question for your next trivia night: Which opera/operetta has the shortest title? The winner must surely be Mascagni’s Si. Its insouciance makes a charming bonbon to end the recital).