Puccini: Suor Angelica / Opolais, Nelsons

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PUCCINI Suor Angelica Andris Nelsons, cond; Kristine Opolais ( Angelica ); Lioba Braun ( Princess ); Mojca Erdmann ( Genovieffa ); WDR SO & Ch Cologne ORFEO C848121A (59:00 Text and Translation)

& PUCCINI Preludio Sinfonico in A

If you own and are satisfied with any of the truly excellent recordings of Suor Angelica already in the catalogue (Scotto/Horne with Maazel on Sony, Tebaldi/Simionato with Gardelli on Decca, or perhaps the classic of them all, de los Angeles/Barbieri with Serafin on EMI and/or Regis), you probably don’t need this new recording. One cannot claim that it is superior to those, each of which has its own unique strengths. But if you are a curious opera lover who is interested in the present and future, and in hearing a different take on the opera that is actually capable of being mentioned in the same breath as those recordings, this should be of interest.

To make Suor Angelica work the performers must submit to its overt emotionalism without lapsing into a vulgar kind of sentimentality. It is actually a tricky balance: too dry and removed and you lose the essence of the work, too blatant in emotional display and it turns goppy. Here that balance is superb—thanks in particular to soprano Opolais and conductor Nelsons—both among the current generation of important musicians coming out of Latvia. Opolais is young (born in 1979), but sounds already a mature artist. Her approach is probably most similar to de los Angeles in her 1957 recording—a purity of tone married to heartfelt but restrained expressivity, and a knowing sense of the shape of Puccini’s phrases. The role requires a rarely called upon balance of the ethereal and the passionate, and Opolais manages it masterfully. She and Nelsons clearly believe in this score, and approach it with tenderness and a sense of the music’s shape. At the climactic moments in the final scene, Nelsons lets a torrent of sound loose, and the impact is considerable.

Braun’s Princess is well sung and manages to convey the icy nature of the character without turning her so cold as to become a caricature. All of the smaller roles are well taken. Nelsons’s conducting is absolutely splendid throughout. The committed playing of the orchestra and the rich, full sound and excellent balances also contribute to the success of this recording. The bonus track, Puccini’s little Symphonic Prelude, an early work from 1882, when the 24-year-old composer was a student at the Milan Conservatory, is very attractive and is played with enormous conviction. Excellent notes, with good translations, help round out the production. The recording dates from May 2011. No, I won’t throw out de los Angeles, Scotto, or Tebaldi, but I am delighted to add this one, and suspect I will turn to it as often as any.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ORF-C848121

  • UPC: 4011790848129

  • Label: Orfeo

  • Composer: Giacomo Puccini

  • Conductor: Andris Nelsons

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Cologne West German Radio Chorus, Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Beata Borchert, Beate Koepp, Benita Borbonus, Carola Günther, Christiane Rost, Kristine Opolais, Lioba Braun, Mojca Erdmann, Nadezda Serdyuk, Sabine Kallhammer