Sunday, March 5, 2017

Naxos will Release an Engaging Album of Puccini Without Opera

While Giacomo Puccini’s career is pretty much defined by the operas he composed, his catalog includes nineteen songs for soprano voice, two of which are actually duets with a mezzo. The earliest of these, “A te,” was composed in his teens and predates his first opera, the one-act “Le Villi,” by almost a decade. The last, “Inno a Roma,” was written after Il trittico was given its premiere in December of 1918 and before he began work on Turandot.

Most of the songs are secular, setting Italian texts (no surprise there). However, there are three settings of sacred Latin texts; and these are performed with organ accompaniment. This coming Friday Naxos will release an album of all nineteen of the songs performed by Krassimira Stoyanova. As usual is accepting pre-orders for this CD. Note that Stoyanova is the only vocalist on this disc, since she also sings the mezzo part in the two duets (both of which are sacred songs). Her accompanist is Maria Prinz, playing both piano and organ depending on the genre of the song. The album was co-produced with BR Klassik, the recording label for the Bavarian Broadcasting Company.

Opera lovers are likely to find no shortage of familiar Puccini tropes across these songs. However, there is something comforting about encountering those tropes in the absence of hypertrophied instrumental bombast (or the threat that such a bomb is likely to detonate sooner rather than later). It is also interesting to note that Puccini is setting his own texts in three of the songs.

Thus, while there may not be very much depth (or, for that matter, breadth, since the entire album takes slightly more than 45 minutes), there is a comforting intimacy in both the music itself and Stoyanova’s account of that music. Even the sacred songs with organ accompaniment have an appealingly devout quietude. This is far from a “novelty album,” serving, instead, as a window on a side of Puccini that one does not encounter in the opera house.

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