Cher Public

Joy in the morning

“Gioia!” is the title of Aleksandra Kurzak‘s debut aria recital, her first international release under a new exclusive contract with Decca Music Group, and—not surprisingly—this writer’s response to the soprano’s sparkling vocalism.  

In the liner notes, the Polish soprano explains that the title of this recording was her agent’s suggestion: “He said that he can see the joy on my face when I’m singing. I’ve also heard from fans that listening to me sing makes them smile, because they can tell how much I enjoy performing.”

While I don’t dispute any of that, my “joy” also derives from witnessing a well-trained, prodigiously gifted vocalist rewarded with celebrity. This is no media creation built on a foundation of Botox, unrestrained décolletage and marketing gimmickry. This is not to say Kurzak is less than beautiful—she is! But the emphasis here is rightly where it should be: voice, voice and more voice.

By any measure, this disc is a feast of great singing. The voice is simply gorgeous with a liquid, unforced flow of limpid, pearly tone. Her approach is very instrumental and the round, flute-like appeal of her voice is immediately apparent. She possesses a flawless coloratura technique, with both precision and fleet agility. Her florid singing is refreshingly clean, the scales free of aspirates and devoid of Bartoli-like clucking. Her intonation is perfect. This is singing of uncommon quality, refinement and musicianship.

The disc opens with “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, a recent Kurzak triumph in London and Verona. She sings it in the higher key of F major, allowing her to show off some truly dazzling staccati and acuti. The crystalline high notes glitter and burn but she uses other parts of her voice equally well and sings fully throughout the range. The characterization is flirtatious without resorting to annoying coyness.

Kurzak is much in demand for Mozart’s Susanna and her “Deh, vieni non tardar” demonstrates why. Her rock-steady, poised legato singing and sense of line are evident throughout. What a feminine, beguiling way she has with both text and music! While the vocal line is fairly plain here, Kurzak has employed far more appogiature and ornamentation in live performance.

Anyone with the good fortune to have witnessed Kurzak’s role debut as Lucia di Lammermoor in Seattle last fall already knows she is heavily favored to become her generation’s leading exponent of the iconic Donizetti heroine. She is a compelling storyteller in “Regnava nel silenzio,” conveying the rapt, hypnotic focus required. Her trills are spot on and the inclusion of the cabaletta’s second verse allows her the chance to execute some generous embellishments and interpolated high notes.

Adele’s “Mein Herr Marquis” is a delightful souvenir of her soubrette days as a member of the Hamburg State Opera ensemble. She sings it with natural ease and breezy charm. “O mio babbino caro” may seem an odd choice but her girlish, unaffected manner make a positive impression and—knock me down with a feather—she uses portamenti!

Kurzak made her role debut as Violetta last year in Warsaw and will introduce her portrayal to many of the world’s stages over the next few seasons. She bites into the “E strano” recitative with real passion. “Ah, fors’è lui” is a true reverie, fully capturing the vulnerability of the character’s dilemma. “Sempre libera” has both emotional depth and easily dispatched brilliance—a rare combination in this piece. She caps it all with a thrilling high E-flat.

“Caro nome” is a Kurzak signature number (Gilda was her debut role at La Scala and one familiar to Met audiences). Her sound blends exquisitely with the flutes and the final cadenza is perfectly judged and executed. Again, the flawless intonation is appreciable here.

“Son vergin vezzosa” is the album’s one disappointment. It’s not that Kurzak is unsuited to the role (her first Puritani is scheduled for Bilbao during the 2012-2013 season); rather, the selection misfires because her vocal decoration is overly chaste. The lack of comprimarios and choral support really undercut her here (a drawback throughout the disc). A cautious tempo also doesn’t help.

Kurzak notes that “I feel this piece is particularly appropriate for me because it’s known as the ‘”Aria Polacca” (the Polish aria). It uses the rhythm of the dance mazur, which is the basis of the mazurka.” I can’t help but feel that “Je suis Titania” would have made the same point and provided a more convincing showpiece.

Kurzak is joined by promising Italian tenor Francesco Demuro in “Una parola, o Adina.” The two have sung these parts together at the Wiener Staatsoper and they are a winning duo. Demuro’s warm timbre contrasts nicely with Kurzak’s cooler sound. While listening to this, I had an association to my first experiences hearing Kathleen Battle in her youth. Kurzak displays the same devastatingly seductive purity of tone and simple, direct utterance that made Battle so cherishable.

Musetta’s Waltz is utterly bewitching: Kurzak is content to let the music do its work without layering on fake sexiness and breathy attacks. (Incidentally, she sings her first Mimi for Naples in May 2012.) The disc concludes with a scena from Moniuszko’s The Haunted Manor, a comic work deeply loved by the Polish opera community. It’s a honey of an aria, with a solo violin supplying some virtuosic obbligato accompaniment. Kurzak is proud of her Polish heritage and happily serves as an ambassador for Polish culture.

Omer Meir Wellber provides sensitive support on the podium and both Kurzak and the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana are well-served by the recording engineers.

All in all, this is a triumphant offering from an artist whom I believe to be most important vocal discovery of the past five years. This is a long overdue rebuttal to an industry obsessed with Coppertoned divas capable of executing Madonna-like choreography but who couldn’t sing their way out of a Mozart phrase if their lives depended upon it. May Kurzak enjoy the same long and fruitful partnership with Decca that Joan Sutherland did during her career. Highly recommended!

  • This is a very nive review, thank you Bordello…

  • I can’t help but feel that “Je suis Titania” would have made the same point and provided a more convincing showpiece.

    But it’s so nice when singers toss in something from the patria! Stoyanova put two Bulgarian arias on her new disc. I approve of this practice both because you get to hear some unusual rep and because you get to hear them sing in their native language.

  • D’oh. The above comment shows the great heights of my intellect this morning. Total misread, I’m afraid. Withdrawn!

  • reedroom

    Kurzak made her Seattle debut (and role debut) as Lucia a couple of seasons ago, and I thought she was phenomenal in every way. So did the company, who honored her with its “Artist of the Year” award. Glad to hear that this recording reflects that.

    • actfive

      I have to wonder WHY Chicago Lyric couldn’t get her for this fall’s LUCIAs. I just can’t get excited about Susanna Phillips.

      • Enzo Bordello

        From a AGMA missive to its members before the recently averted LOC strike:

        “AGMA’s concern from the beginning of negotiations has been that Lyric and the Board do not have a plan to address the ten year, 27% decrease in ticket sales except to cut the artistic product through significant decreases in the number of Choristers, engaging fewer star performers, shifting comprimario roles from seasoned professionals to young artists, elimination of rehearsals with orchestra, and elimination of Actors and Dancers from opera.”

        It’s all about money, actfive. The disappearance of international world-class artists from LOC is no coincidence. It’s a strategic financial decision. Engaging Kurzak would have cost them a lot more than hiring a former Ryan Opera Center alum.

  • Clita del Toro

    Here’s a youtube of Kurkak’s Ah fors’e lui and Sempre lib era from ??? live performance: acting very much a la Trebs; tenor very cute; coloratura excellent;, but
    but general singing is good, not very expressive or interesting individual timbre. She sounds better and different on the CD clips???

    • manou

      She sounds different live. We are lucky here as Kurzak often performs at Covent Garden to great acclaim, as she is a lovely woman and a very good actress with a very special voice. Di più non chiedo.

    • judycadanna

      I like the concept, set, costume in that clip (it’s just this side of La Cage), but she seems very distracted by all the business of taking off the jewelry, wig, etc.

    • Camille

      I am sorry to agree about the timbre but the technique is very good amd she has a wonderful face for the stage.

      Certainly a vast improvement over La Nino, whom I heard for the first time yesterday.

  • Clita del Toro

    I didn’t realize that Kurzak sang three roles at the Met, including a Gilda in 2009. I must have heard the broadcast, but don’t really remember that performance with Filianoti as the Duke.

    • She was the CUTEST boy I ever saw when she dressed up as one in Act IV. Adorable. She made Mark Lester look like Billy Barty. As for the singing — duh, I don’t remember much but I wasn’t that impressed -- occasional bad intonation, but maybe an off night?

  • Victor de Los Angeles

    Awesome! We’re seeing her as Fiordiligi this month in L.A.

  • Camille

    Son donna e son curiosa…who would the “coppertoned diva executing Madonna-like choreography…” be, perchance?

    • manou


      • Camille

        I didn’t know.
        Oh say it ain’t so!

        Well, to be honest, the only time I’ve heard Mrs. Christie, on Sirius as it were, she sounded perfectly okay as Euridice in Orfeo. Guess I’m going to have to bite the bullet on this one, as I think Zerlina gives much more chance for cutesiness of the nausea inducing variety.

        Oh well, as long as she doesn’t sing ANNA. And there is la Frittoli in the cast as well to look forward to. I heard her sing Donn’Anna very well some years back and am curious to see what she will do as Elvira.

  • After such detailed and convincing review, I must get this CD

    • Camille

      Caro Ercole — you WILL be attending an HD of Anna Bolena, won’t you??? You MUST! We have got to have you review it somehow and I realize you will not be in NYC. Per favore!!

      Ciao e tante belle cose.

      • My dear Camille, I hope I will be able to attend a HD of Bolena, but how can a serious critic review a broadcast? I’ll be happy to send you my impressions privately…
        However, I am going to attend another Donizetti opera, one that I deem superior to Bolena, Gemma di Vergy in Bergamo.

  • Krunoslav

    I have heard Ms. Kurzak’s CD and I agree except about the extreme high notes, which seem to me to be in decline from when Kurzak turned the Met on its head as Olympia. Still, she is a real artist, with indivuality, a personal timbre and artistry-- in distinction to the perky but inadequate Makes-a-noidze and that frankly awful German DG pin-up girl being imported to the Met for Zerina. (ZERLINA!!!!!)

    • Camille

      Makes-a-noidze is perfect.

      • oedipe

        I CONCUR!

  • Camille

    After listening to the Traviata bit I must add that I wish she were to sing in the Met’s production rather than Dessay. I would pay money to go hear it in that instance but I’ll never pay a pfennig to hear Dessay again, as much as I once loved her.

  • atalaya

    Can we get a review of Olga Peretyatko’s new cd? She’s another of the young sopranos who, to a lesser than extent than Kurzak and Erdmann (who’s cd just got trashed in Opera News btw), is being promoted.

    This one’s from five years ago so maybe not fair to post:

    • operalover9001

      I have both the Peretyako and Erdmann CDs, and the Peretyako is so much better. I find the Erdmann to be rather boring, although I have seen her live and enjoyed it.

      • atalaya

        Alright, will check it out. That Olga was in Pesaro for a few years makes me love her already.

  • papopera

    how original; Barbiere, Figaro, Lucia, Fledermaus, Schichi, Traviata……..we couldn’t do without that could we

  • Nero Wolfe

    When is she next at the Met?

    • Krunoslav

      She does Gretel in December; hopefully she will also be covering Marie in FILLE and have more than once chance to go on for Makesanoidze.