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“Operatic Favorites”
Bellini: Norma (“Casta Diva”)
Donizetti: Anna Bolena (“Al dolce guidami”)
Puccini: La Bohème (“Si, mi chiarmano Mimi”) – Gianni Schicchi (“O mio babbino caro”) – Turandot (“Signore ascolta”)
Verdi: La Traviata (“E strano…Sempre libera”)
Bizet: Carmen (“Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante”)
Gounod: Faust (“Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle”) – Roméo et Juliette (“Je veux vivre”)

Vania Vatralova-Stankov (soprano), The Sofia Symphony Orchestra, Noël Tredinnick (conductor)
Recorded in Sofia, Bulgaria (April 7, 8, and 9, 2008) – 53’33
GEGA NEW, Bulgaria, Classical Concerts Productions Ltd. GD 341 – Booklet in English and Russian

Evaluating a singer though recordings alone is a very tricky matter, and is potentially unfair to the vocalist involved; microphones have a way of emphasizing as primary certain qualities in a voice that would otherwise register with far less importance when settled within the overall aural fabric of an instrument caught in the natural ambiance of a concert hall. When one has experienced a singer in live performance, the ear can adjust and fill in the gaps, often resulting in a more just appraisal (the ear can also idealize matters beyond reality, but that is a different story). This limitation would appear particularly relevant in examining Bulgarian soprano Vania Vatralova-Stankov’s new solo CD on Gega New, a recital that initiates with Norma and concludes with Juliette by way of such disparate personages as Anna Bolena, Tosca, and Micaela. Originally trained as a violinist – and it must be said at once that such related musicianship is everywhere apparent in her vocal offerings – the young singer is reportedly now based in the UK and has won acclaim in the Donizetti at the Tower of London festival, and as Violetta with the Royal Opera’s student company and on Spanish television.

Based on the recorded evidence presented, Vatralova-Stankov appears to possess an essentially lyric instrument of medium weight, with an appealingly rounded tonal quality that intermittently becomes thin on high (not unusual in a youthful singer) and the sort of quivering vibrato that does not always take well to recording. Under pressure, as with the climax of Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte”, which as heard here evinces a rather heavy choice at this stage of the game, the vibrato seems to widen rather significantly; though again these are qualities that might emerge with far less significance in-house.

The opening selection, Bellini’s “Casta Diva”, would not upon first analysis appear to be the most obvious assignment for the soprano, but any number of singers have essayed Norma’s great solo as an extracted recital item. In such event, Vatralova-Stankov makes an attractive thing of it. There is a nicely elegiac quality to the interpretation, and the descending scales are dispatched smoothly. The aria is performed sans cabaletta. She then progresses to Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, again offering the main body of the tower scene with impressive conviction, though without its bravura conclusion. These omissions perhaps unconsciously highlight a curiosity in the recital; though the liner notes tell us the soprano is most attracted by the bel canto repertory, it cannot be said that these selections display her in her strongest light, as they rather lack the requisite spontaneous velocity and developed skill with embellishment and calibration of trill one would normally associate with this repertoire.

It is in fact in the lighter Puccini (Mimi and Liú), and the French selections that Vatralova-Stankov makes her most positive impression. Micaela’s thrice-familiar aria is perhaps the most successful item on the disc. It is quite winningly done, and displays the voice in a congenially-weighted role for which a full-throttle approach is neither asked for or given. This Micaela is a spirited young woman with the bravery to perform the task at hand, yet reminds us that she is a gentle creature at heart. The “Signore ascolta” from Turandot similarly boasts an appealing resonance to text and a deftly floated conclusion much in keeping with the spirit of the piece. Marguerite’s Jewel Song is also pleasing, though again one misses the finishing grace of a cleanly-oscillating trill that is so important in this piece, and so generally expected.

The soprano has won success with Verdi’s Traviata, and Violetta would appear a very natural assumption for her. The great act one solo is given a respectable performance, with fiorature cleanly in place, crowned with an interpolated top D-flat.

Noël Tredinnick leads the Sofia Symphony Orchestra competently, though his interpretations are a bit four-square, and engender a suspicion that he finds the repertory rather dull. The booklet is in the original Slavic language with a somewhat awkward English translation (one suspects the involvement of Babelfish). No texts are provided, but as the recital consists of very well known pieces this should trouble no one, nor should it dissuade them from exploring an enjoyable new CD.

There is vague sense that this recital is a trifle premature, presenting as it does a talented artist at an early stage of vocal development - certainly beyond her student years, but at present still acquiring the polish associated with a solid, top-flight career. It will be interesting to see how Vatralova-Stankov develops in the future. At present she has reportedly made a good start in some of the smaller venues, and time will tell where her attractive instrument will lead her. On the compelling evidence of this debut recording, there may indeed be some seductive delights to anticipate from this comely young soprano in the very near future.

Mark Thomas Ketterson




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