Since this disc with Australian soprano Cheryl Barker is a tribute to her teacher, Dame Joan Hammond, first a word about that singer. Little known in the United States, Hammond is featured on the late critic John Steane’s rather idiosyncratic list of Singers of the Century. (Steane provided an essay on Hammond for this booklet prior to his death.) Raised in Australia, Hammond studied voice in both Vienna and London before embarking on a singing career that spanned World War II and took her to many of Europe’s leading opera houses. The soprano was even better known for her recordings; her rendition of Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” sung in English was a million-seller in Britain and her recording of “O, Silver Moon” from Dvořák’s Rusalka (heard on this disc in its original Czech) was also a major hit. After her retirement from the stage in 1965 due to a mild heart attack, Hammond returned to Australia to begin a new career as a vocal teacher and opera advocate. She was only the second Australian singer to be named Dame of the British Empire, following Nellie Melba and preceding Joan Sutherland, august company, indeed. So a tribute is probably in order.
Here Barker gives us a program of eight famous opera excerpts from Hammond’s repertoire and, in some cases, her own as well. The program begins with Tatyana’s famous Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, followed by Desdemona’s “Willow Song” and Ave Maria from Verdi’s Otello. Elisabetta’s last-act aria “Tu che le vanità” from Don Carlo is next sung, then the well-loved “Song To the Moon” from Rusalka. “Marietta’s Lied” from Erich Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt provides a more modern but still strongly traditional work, followed by Antonia’s lovely aria from Tales of Hoffman, and finally the plaintive Dido’s Lament, “When I Am Laid in Earth,” by Henry Purcell. The last four items on the disc are traditional songs in English with piano accompaniment that Hammond apparently used for encores at her recitals.
Well into a successful operatic career, Barker provides a quite good soprano voice in these selections…she sings very well…The Queensland Symphony Orchestra plays the opera excerpts very well under the direction of young French conductor Guillaume Tourniaire. Listening to the SACD disc in its 5.1 format perks up the orchestral sound considerably and adds depth. The Melba booklet is hard-cover and there is an insert inside the front cover for the CD to be affixed. Two excellent essays about Joan Hammond are provided, one of them in three languages, as well as texts and English translations. As a tribute to a fine singer and gifted teacher this recording has a place…This disc will be for fans of Cheryl Barker…and those who want this particular selection of well-sung opera excerpts.