Monday, 30 July 2018

Spinto showcase: Angel of Fire from Katerina Mina

Angel of Fire - Katerina Mina - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Verdi, Giordano, Beethoven, Wagner, Cilea, Puccini, Barber and Stephan Hodel; Katerina Mina, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Grzegorz Nowak; RPO Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 July 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A showcase for the spinto soprano, Katerina Mina

The spinto soprano voice is something of a rarity at the moment, yet it is a vocal type which is central to much of the standard 19th century opera repertoire.

This new disc, on the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's own label, showcases a newcomer to the scene, London-based, Cyprus-born British soprano Katerina Mina. She is accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Grzegorz Nowak in arias by Verdi, Giordano, Beethoven, Wagner, Cilea, and Puccini, plus Andromache's Farewell by Samuel Barber and two new pieces by the Swiss composer Stephan Hodel.

A soprano releasing a debut recital CD of arias for spinto voice might seem overly ambitious (dangerous too, if the voice is young). But Katerina has had an unusual career. Born in 1975 and trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Darma, she had to take 10 years out from her career as she had a rare type of blood cancer. Fully recovered, she returned to singing in 2013 to find her voice had developed and this disc is the result.

Katerina Mina has a bright, forward voice with a good spine to it, and at its best, there is a generousness to her performance and a nice flexibility.
Larger, more dramatic voices, though, are notoriously tricky to record and on this disc we are perhaps slightly too aware of Mina's vibrato, and under pressure, the voice inclines to hardness.

We start with 'Pace, pace mio Dio' from Verdi's La forza del destino and core repertoire for Mina's type of voice, yet difficult to cast nowadays. She shows a nice combination of flexibility and attack, though the emotion is a bit generalised. Next comes 'La mamma morta' from Giordano's Andrea Chenier. This definitely seems to be a piece which suits her and there is a nice expressive edge to the recitative.

Whilst Leonore's great solo from Beethoven's Fidelio is certainly impressive, 'Komm Hoffnung' seems too careful and lacks the inner radiance needed whilst the end of the piece pushes her to the limit. 'Elsa's Dream' from Wagner's Lohengrin fits Mina far better, though hints of hardness in the tone suggest she might be pushing too much.

'Io son l'umile ancella' from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, conversely, is just right with Mina providing the sort of spine in the voice which was lacking in recent London performances of the opera. All I wanted her to do was relax a little more, and enjoy the music. 'Solo, perduta, abbandonata' from Puccini's Manon Lescaut is powerful stuff, a piece she clearly loves. 'Vissi d'arte' from Tosca follows and there is some lovely relaxed phrasing here, with just a tendency to push climaxes.

The two Stephan Hodel pieces are highly attractive. In style they sit somewhere between Blues, Barber and Broadway, and Hodel's rich orchestration complements Mina's performances. Listening to these made me think of the American repertoire, Menotti's The Consul, and Barber's Vanessa and Antony and Cleopatra, and I would love to her Mina in these.

We do get to hear her in Barber's Andromache's Farewell, a scena for soprano and orchestra written for the New York Philharmonic just before Antony and Cleopatra. A terrific piece, Mina brings out the drama undoubtedly but I wished that she relished Barber's lyricism more.

For all my quibbles, and the feeling that the recording has not always captured her voice at its best, this disc is a terrific achievement and there is much to enjoy. Katerina Mina is clearly a voice to watch out for, and I would certainly hope to hear her live.

Angel of Fire
Arias by Verdi, Giordano, Beethoven, Wagner, Cilea, Puccini, Barber and Stephan Hodel
Katerina Mina (soprano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Grzegorz Nowak (conductor)
RPO SP 057 1CD [57.56]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • Lucretia through a newcomer’s eyes and ears: Britten at the Grimeborn Festival (★★★½) - opera review
  • Prom 17: Parry, Holst & Vaughan Williams (★★★★) - concert review
  • Approaching Winterreise: Angelika Kirchschlager on performing Schubert's great song cycle  - interview
  • Richly Romantic: Mascagni rarity, Isabeau, brought to life at Opera Holland Park (★★★★½) - opera review
  • A disturbing journey: Schubert's Winterreise from Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake (★★★★★)  - concert review
  • Byron's Grand Tour: Alison Pitt & Gavin Roberts at the St Marylebone Festival (★★★½) - concert review
  • It’s Opera Giacomo, but not as we know it - Turandot at Torre del Lago (★★★) - Opera review
  • A study in dementia: a radical new version of Verdi's Nabucco from the Heidenheim Opera Festival (★★★) - Opera review
  • Lithe and musically engaging: Verdi's I Lombardi from the Heidenheim Opera Festival (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Premiere of a rarity: Donizetti's L'ange de Nisida from Opera Rara and the Royal Opera - (★★★★★) Opera review
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