Arias from La Favorita, Samson et Dalila, The Maid of Orleans, Sapho, Faust, Romeo and Juliet, Damnation of Faust, Le Roi d'Ys, and The Queen of Sheba
Elina Garanca, mezzo-soprano; Bologna Philharmonic Orch/Yves Abel, cond.

'DRAMA QUEENS" Arias by Orlandi, Porta, Handel, Keiser, Handel, Hasse, Cesti, Monteverdi, and Giacomelli
Joycer DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Il Complesso Baroco Ens/Orch/Alan Curtis, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 265425 TT: 77:18

STRAUSS:"Ein Schönes war" and "Es gibt ein Reich" from Ariadne auf Naxos. Three Hymns, Op. 71. "Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding" and "Da geht er hin" from Der Rosenkavalier. Closing scene from Capriccio.
Soile Isokoski, soprano; Helsinki Philharmonic Orch/Okko Kamu, cond.
ONDINE ODE 1202 TT: 61:21

WAGNER; Act II of Tristan and Isolde
Kirsten Flagstad (Isolde), Eyvind Labolm (Tristan), Enid Szainthó (Brangäne), John Gurney (*King Marke). Daniel Harris (Kurwenal/Melot); New York Philharmonic Orch/John Barbirolli, cond.
MUSIC & ARTS WHRA 6044 TT: 73:52

Here are four important vocal issues. Two major mezzo-sopranos have solo disks of unusual repertory. Ever since her 2003 appearance at the Salzburg Festival in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca's career has flourished; she is in demand everywhere. A beautiful woman, she can be seen on DVDs of Rossini's La Cenerentola, Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Bizet's Carmen, Mozart's Così fan Tutte and La Clemenza di Tito, as well as the gala Berlin concert of July 2007 (REVIEW). Her latest recording called Romantique as it supposedly focuses on "big romantic repertory," contains some of the expected arias, but many that are unusual, from Sapho,Le Roi d'Ys and The Maid of Orleans. Garancia is in top form, and her rich voice has been resonantly recorded. Equally fine is Joyce Di Donato's disk called Drama Queens, which features regal arias from 17th and 18th century opera written by a wide variety of composers. Many of these are vengeful and highly dramatic, filled with astounding vocal demands, all met in dazzling fashion by the remarkable soprano. Her rapid coloratura is astounding indeed. Alan Curtis leads the baroque ensemble, and recorded sound is excellent. I doubt many listeners will wish to hear more than 77 minutes of this repertory at one setting.

Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski first gained attention from collectors about a decade ago when her recording of Strauss's Four Last Songs, recognized as one of the finest. Since that time, Isokoski has enjoyed a distinguished career with welcome appearances in many major opera houses. She often performs music by Finnish composers, and has dozens of recordings in a wide range of repertory. Now we have this superb collection of music of Strauss that includes excerpts from three of her signature roles: Der Rosenkavalier, Capriccio, and Ariadne auf Naxos. We also have Three Hymns, three songs about the power of love to texts by Friedrich Holderlin composed in 1921. It is remarkable that these beautiful songs are seldom performed—they would have been perfect for Leonie Rysanek. Currently there are only two other recordings, with Felicity Lott and Karita Mattila. Isokoski's singing is equally radiant, and it is a pleasure to experience her confidence and beauty of tone in their very difficult music. Audio is just fine. An important issue.

The West Hall Radio Archive issue of Act II of Tristan and Isolde, a broadcast of April 16, 1939, is a treasure. It was the last of three performances presented by the New York Philharmonic conducted by John Babirolli, the first totally uncut performance of Act II in the United States. The opera had been presented at the Met, but always truncated, as was the NYP broadcast conducted by Arturo Toscanini five years earlier (with Gertrude Kappel and Paul Althouse), and this performance is the only one of Kirsten Flagstad singing the complete Love Duet until her famous 1952 recording with Wilhelm Furtwängler on the podium. Barbirolli's tempi are brisk but do not sound rushed. Flagstad is magnificent, at her peak, although the high Cs in Act II even then were problematic for her—the first is hesitant and she does not attempt the second. As collectors know, these two notes were sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in Flagstad's 1952 recording. This is of little consequence. As Lauritz Melchior was in tour with the Met at the time of the New York broadcast, he wasn't available, so Swedish tenor Eyvind Laholm is heard as Tristan. He is commendable, and it is surprising that his U.S. career wasn't more extensive. After a performance of Meistersinger in 1938 at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg he was called "Hitler's favorite tenor," which did not help his career. However, he is in fine form in this broadcast, perhaps helped a bit by the microphone. This recording apparently is not available in the U.S.— look for it on the internet. And don't overlook the live Tristan from Covent Garden conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham with Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior recorded in 1937, and another from the same venue the previous year conducted by Fritz Reiner again with the two greatest Wagner singers of the era.

R.E.B. (October 2012)