Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Ruxandra Donose at Rosenblatt Recitals

Roger Vignoles, Ruxandra Donose - photo Jonathan Rose
Roger Vignoles, Ruxandra Donose - photo Jonathan Rose
Bizet, Offenbach, Massenet, Faure, Verdi, Saint-Saens, Enescu, Bretan, Rossini; Roxandra Donose, Roger Vignoles; Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 06 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Style and elegance in this recital of French and Romanian music from the Romanian mezzo-soprano

Following a change of artist for the opening of the Rosenblatt Recitals season, their second recital at the Wigmore Hall on 6 October 2014 was similarly affected and an ailing Carmen Giannattasio was replaced by the Romanian mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose accompanied by Roger Vignoles. Donose sang a selection of arias by Bizet, Offenbach, Massenet, Verdi, Saint-Saens and Rossini, along with songs by Faure, and the Romanian composers George Enescu and Nicolae Bretan.

In a spoken introduction, Donose explained that as the recital had been arranged at short notice, she had simply gathered together a selection of her favourite arias and songs which she wanted to enjoy with us. And, rather impressively, she sang everything from memory.

Donose and Vignoles started with a trio of arias from French opera. Bizet's Carmen, premiered at the Opera Comique in 1875, Offenbach's La belle Helene premiered at the Theatre des Varietes in 1864 and Massenet's Werther which was refused by the Opera Comique in 1887 (as too serious) and premiered in Vienna in 1892.

Bizet's Carmen is a role which Donose sang in London with English National Opera. Looking stylish and elegant on stage, it was these qualities which applied to her performance of Carmen's L'amour est un oiseau rebelle. She combined a rich and wonderfully well modulated vocal timbre with style and elegance, rather than earthiness; a performance very much in the Victoria de los Angeles mould. This was followed by Helene's aria, On me nomme Helene la blonde from Offenbach's operetta La belle Helene. Here she put together words and music in just the right combination, with wit, charm and not a little style; finely phrased but funny too.

Donose's voice has a surprising richness and depth to it, with quite a strong vibrato but surrounding a strong core. This seemed just right for Charlotte's letter aria from Massenet's Werther, which was sung with an expressive flexibility, and a finely supported and richly shaped line. This was a poignant, intense performance, vivid but scaled just right for the concert hall. If a recital aria is meant to  make you want to see the artist in the full role, then sign me up for Donose's Charlotte and Helene!

Continuing the French theme, Donose and Vignoles then gave us three of Gabriel Faure's songs. Le papillon e la fleur which is the composer's opus 1, no. 1 written when he was 16 and setting Victor Hugo. Here Donose was delightfully coquettish, as she and Vignoles gave us a charming waltz. Then Faure's best known song, Apres un reve, Op.7 no.1 in which Donose sang with a lovely sense of line and rich timbre. Her seductive charm in the song was complemented by Vignoles expressive accompaniment. Finally the fast and light Notre amour, Op. 25 no.2 which Donose presented with breathless enthusiasm, and control too, leading to a vibrant climax.

Finally, a return to French opera but this time by Giuseppe Verdi in his 1867 masterpiece Don Carlos, though Donose sang the Italian translation. O don fatale was vibrantly sung with a good strong lower voice and a vibrant top. Donose might not have the largest of mezzo-soprano voices, but her Eboli was richly dramatic with a good feel for Verdi's line.

We stayed with French opera for the opening of the second half, with Saint-Saens' best known opera, Samson et Dalilia, premiered in 1877. In Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix I felt that Donose's combination of style and elegance was more appropriate to the role, and she gave us a lovely unfolding line with finesse and poise at the top.

We stayed with the French language, but this time set by a Romanian, George Enescu (1881 - 1955). His Sept Chansons, Op. 15 set texts by the 15th century French poet Clement Marot. Donose and Vignoles performed three of them. Estrene a Anne (Gift to Anne) was an attractive little song, evoking medieval harmony and by no means as complex harmonically as I had expected from this composer. Languir me fais (You make me languish) rather evoked, for me, Francis Poulenc in medieval mood, with a lyric but rather wandering vocal line sung with a lovely sense of passion. Finally the perky and characterful Aux demoyselles paresseuses d'escrire a leurs amys (To young ladies too lazy to write to their friends), performed with charm and wit. The three songs were something of a surprise, lovely and effecting with an economy of means in all three.

Donose moved into Romanian for the next group of songs by Nicolae Bretan (1887 - 1968). Rea de plata (The reluctant debt payer) was a characterful and funny, rather folk-ish narrative song. with a perky tune. Si daca ramuri bat in geam (Poplar branches beat against a window) was passionately melancholy and poignant. Stelele-n cer was rather tuneful, another folk-ish ballad which became rather passionate towards the end.

Finally Donose and Vignoles sang Arsace;s Ah! quel giorno from Rossini's Semiramide a large scale piece in which Donose combined an expressive cavatina with a lively cabaletta with lovely even passagework, displaying a lovely feel for Rossini's style.

The audience was most enthusiastic and we were treated to two encores. First the Seguidillla from Carmen and then Gounod's Ave Maria.

This was a lovely recital and for Donose's performance I keep coming back to the words style and elegance, both visually and vocally, but there was plenty of passion there too. And she was finely supported by Roger Vignoles. The recital might have been arranged at the last minute, but there was certainly nothing last minute or haphazard in their perfectly judged performances.

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