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“Sempre libera”
Gaetano Donizetti: Don Pasquale: “Quel guardo il cavaliere... So anch’io la virtù magica”
Charles Gounod: Faust: “O Dieu! Que de bijoux!... Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle” – Roméo et Juliette: “Ah! Je veux vivre”
Vincenzo Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi: “Eccomi in lieta vesta... Oh! Quante volte”
Georges Bizet: Carmen: “C’est des contrebandiers le refuge ordinaire... Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante” & “Intermezzo”
Léo Delibes: Lakmé: “Viens, Mallika... Sous le dôme épais”
Giacomo Puccini: La bohème: “Quando me’n vo’” – Gianni Schicchi: “O mio babbino caro”
Giacomo Meyerbeer: Dinorah: “Ombre légère”
Jacques Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann: “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”
André Messager: Madame Chrysanthème: “Le jour sous le soleil béni”
Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata: “E strano, è strano... Sempre libera”

Miah Persson (soprano), Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Staples (tenor), Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Harding (conductor)
Recorded at the Berwald Hall in Stockholm, Sweden, (March–April 2014) – 66’16
BIS BIS-2112 – Hybrid Super Audio Compact Disc with essays in English, German, and French, translations in English

For the opera cognoscenti, Miah Persson has been one of the most revered sopranos for the better part of a decade now. The combination of her confidant soubrette with her striking good looks has made the Swedish singer a much sought after artist. This recording for BIS Records finds her pushing deeper into more meaty, lyric repertoire with exhilarating results. A traditional but thorough program, “Sempre libera” is sort of a greatest hits of soprano arias, yet there is plenty to enjoy here.

From the opening aria from Don Pasquale, it is immediately apparent that Persson still has that alluring sparkle in her cleanly delineated line; hers is an absolutely bewitching sound. Persson is at ease in the flashiest of coloratura, but also imposing in more robust excerpts. In the opening Donizetti, she progresses from coquettish to absolutely possessed, whirling through passages in a fierce race to the end. In similarly youthful pieces such as the “Jewel aria” from Faust and “Juliette’s waltz,” the pace and Persson’s ability to toss off phrase after phrase with precision, at breakneck speeds, no less, is often dizzying. In fact, Persson and Harding regularly avoid traditional pauses and shorten fermatas in cadences and cadenzas. Miah Persson, is on a mission and the sheer conviction of her approach causes the listener to straighten up.

Yet there remains a directness in Persson’s deportment that is absolutely top notch in the most ravishing selection on the disc, “Oh quante volte!” from Bellini’s telling of the star-crossed lovers. Combined with the breathtaking beauty of the solo french horn and harp, Persson is at her most ideal here: a rich, lyric sound with endless line that stays within itself. There are moments in the heavier excerpts on the disc where this isn’t the case. At the end of the title track, “Sempre libera,” Persson sounds stressed towards the aria’s treacherous conclusion, opting not to take the e-flat in the live recording (the only track that includes applause). Likewise Persson tends towards pressing at the conclusions of the Micaëla aria and “Ah! Je veux vivre!”.

Far from spoiling the performance though, these imperfections are dramatically weaved into the fiercely committed portrayals of Persson. And when she can find her ideal balance, as in Meyerbeer’s Dinorah the results are nothing short of divine. The less familiar Messager aria is a rapturous addition as well. Both famous duets, sung with the outstanding mezzo Katarina Karnéus, are pleasant enough but lack the absolute ease of style to distinguish them.

Persson’s collaborator, conductor Daniel Harding, is all too willing an accomplice. Harding leads the Swedish Radio Symphony with a deft command, providing an eager accompaniment to propel his star soloist. The Carmen Interlude is brisk, highlighting Bizet’s effortless weaving of the theme throughout his masterful orchestration and BIS’ ideal capturing of the entire affair in surround sound is captivating. Details are striking, with the wide soundstage easily reproduced in the listening room.

This is a lovely disc of beloved operatic highlights. Those who prefer more romantic, expansive renditions of these chestnuts may find it lacking. As the title and cover indicates, this is a disc that is lighthearted, almost carefree in nature. In the spirit of Violetta, Miah Persson will not be tamed.

Matthew Richard Martinez




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