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Giacomo Puccini: Arias from Turandot (“Tu che di gel sei cinta”, “Signore, ascolta”, “In questa reggia” ), La bohème ("Mi chiamano Mimí", “Donde lieta uscì”, "Quando m'en vo"), Manon Lescaut (“In quelle trine morbide”, “Sola, perduta, abbandonata”) Suor Angelica (“Senza mamma”), Gianni Schicchi (“O mio babbino caro”), La fanciulla del West (“Laggiù nel soledad”), La rondine (“Chi'l bel sogno di Doretta...”), (Tosca (“Vissi d'arte”), Madama Butterfly (“Un bel di vedremo”, “Che tua madre”, “Tu, tu piccolo iddio”.)

Daniela Dessì (Soprano), Orchestra and Chorus of the Fondazione Arena di Verona, Marco Boemi (conductor)
Recorded in Verona, Milan, and Torre del Lago (2008/2009) – 56'
DECCA Ref. #: 476 3775 – Booklet in Italian and English

In a perfect world, the soprano who sings Suor Angelica should not even look at the role of Turandot. The roles of Manon Lescaut, or Minnie, are in the middle ground between dramatic and lyric-spinto land, but the soprano well-suited to the roles of Tosca and/or Cio-Cio-San should leave Lauretta and Mimì alone. In short, even within the Puccini repertoire, some voices are better suited to one thing and not another. Puccini soprano roles are taxing because of their length (Butterfly), their high tessitura (almost all), their unrelenting demands on power and stamina (Turandot, Minnie) or their call for endless lyricism and legato (Mimì, Liu.) With each Puccini role we need a different sound, or even a different singer. Some sopranos take on the entire Puccini canon – well, almost – leaving Turandot to be tackled by the Isoldes and Brunhildes on holiday. But the prudent ones acknowledge their limitations and sing fewer roles very well and for a long time. At least it used to be that way.

Daniela Dessì made her professional debut in 1980, which places her thirty-one years later – in her mid-to-late-fifties – still in the throes of an international career. That's respectable longevity, no doubt. The voice sounds fresh, especially in the central octave of her range. In “Vissi d'arte” she sings the middle section's “sempre con fede sincera...” with ample Italianate sound and just the right balance of expressiveness and firm legato in the middle voice. Essentially a lyric-spinto soprano, Dessì at times evidences a slow vibrato above the staff that threatens to become a tremolo when the spinto half offsets the lyric portion. But she is a smart singer and always displays an excellent command of phrasing that makes the words mean something and lets one overlook some of the vocal rough spots. The album's 16 tracks feature supportive accompaniments by the Orchestra and Chorus of the Fondazione Arena di Verona, with Marco Boemi in the podium and, at one point, stentorian tenor Fabio Armiliato singing the replies to Turandot's ending of “In questa reggia”.

In “Un bel di vedremo”, we hear what is essentially the same voice with basically the same assets and liabilities. Coloration is not Dessì's strong suit, but clear and intelligent delivery of the text is, and so she scores points both dramatically and musically, again and again. Here and elsewhere in the album, Dessì has a firm and intelligent hold of her voice, never driving it beyond its limits. Hers is a true Verismo soprano, not a beefed-up dramatic sound, yet with plenty of heft and “squillo” on top, which she also puts to fine use in Manon's “Sola, perduta, abbandonata.” Like so many good Italian singers, Dessì pinpoints key words – “orror, sola, ahimè...” that often glide by in the hands of less caring singers.

The climax of Manon's final aria – “No! non voglio morir... amore, aita!” – comes and goes without any major casualties, but other moments in the album leave one wondering if this fine artist should have stayed in a lighter repertory so as to sing well into her late sixties, the way Mirella Freni for the most part did before her. The album also includes the easier-going “Tu che di gel sei cinta” and “Signore ascolta,” Manon's “In quelle trine morbide,” Mimì's arias from La bohème, Suor Angelica's “Senza mamma”, and Lauretta's “O mio babbino caro”, all of which do not tax our soprano's voice the way Minnie's “Laggiù nel Soledad” from La fanciulla del West and “Il bel sogno di Doretta” from La Rondine do.

Collection albums can be tremendously important calling cards for singers who want to show a new facet of their artistry. Dessì, who has sung every imaginable soprano role in the French and Italian repertoires, could perhaps find in an assortment of rare Verismo gems a more congenial vocal territory well suited to her mature sound and musicality. The Puccini repertoire is hardly in need of discovery, while the lesser known works of Giordano, Mascagni, Cilea and Leoncavallo can yield many hidden treasures. We hope that that album will soon come along from Decca with Daniela Dessì on the cover.

Rafael de Acha




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