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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 12, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 32
Aleksandra Kurzak's CD debut on Gioia!
Arts & Entertainment
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Aleksandra Kurzak's CD debut on Gioia!

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Allow me to begin my praise of this CD by quoting from my 2010 review of an unforgettable debut at Seattle Opera: 'Aleksandra Kurzak, in her first time as Lucia, scored the kind of triumph one seldom gets to witness. And not just for her singing. Oh yes, she has a gorgeous, warm, large, and perfectly controlled voice, with all the musicianship one could wish for. Her high E-flats were absolutely confident and so well focused that, without great volume, they could easily be heard over the entire chorus and orchestra at full bore. And she has a real trill (rare these days) and accurate coloratura to burn.

'But it was her acting in every scene that made this show unforgettable. It didn't hurt that she is also very pretty. She moved with athletic skill, even making me think at first that her balancing act on the rim of the ancient well was actually dangerous. And she did this while executing difficult runs and trills! But the tour de force, of course, was the famous mad scene. Here she pushed acting and athletic moves to the extreme, rolling across the stage, singing a la Netrebko with her head hanging upside down on the stairs, and threatening choristers with huge lunges with a big knife, among other feats. During these, her singing never showed the slightest compromise or fault. In fact, she made me feel that, while she showed incredible daring, taking risks at every opportunity, she was having a ball!

'The audience went nuts, giving her the most enthusiastic ovation I have ever heard at Seattle Opera. What a way for a soprano to debut a new role! Remember the name of this Polish soprano, Aleksandra Kurzak.'

Now, with her first CD, Gioia! on Decca, you have a chance to evaluate this young Polish soprano, even if you missed her stage performance. What you will find is vocalism with almost no faults and a whole lot of virtues. The voice is gorgeous and very well recorded. Her technique is nearly flawless. Now, imagine a singer who sounds perfect but cautiously executes every note. Then imagine another soprano who sings just as perfectly but sounds like she is eager for every challenging phrase, whose voice conveys not caution but joyful exuberance. That's Aleksandra Kurzak! It's clear why her producer chose Gioia! for the title of this CD.

Experiencing her on stage made one think of Maria Callas, so intense was her realization of the passions of Lucia. But listening to her recording, which includes the first act cavatina, 'Regnava nel silenzio' from Lucia de Lammermoor, you will hear exactly why she is not another Callas: the passion one sees in her acting is mostly missing from her voice. The joy of performing is there in her sound, but the thrilling, hot passion one hears in the famous Callas recordings is not. Her sound is definitely prettier than Callas', but she lacks the variety of tones, the variation in vibrato speed, and the dramatic use of breath that set Callas apart. Some of this likely comes from Kurzak's choice to make that lovely sound, at the expense of drama. But she also lacks what enthusiasts like to call 'word pointing.' The diction is not only rather vague (although not as clouded as Joan Sutherland's), but the meaning of important words fails to color the sound. Italian vowels are not clear. (For contrast, listen to how Zinka Milanov, who could not act well physically, put the drama in the voice.)

Nonetheless, this is an exciting recording debut. Her singing makes one smile, such is the obvious joy with which she launches into each aria. Included are the usual favorite lyric arias, everything from Violetta's 'Sempre libera' and Rossina's 'Una voce poco fa' to Gilda's 'Caro mome.' The only unusual number is a delightful recitative and aria from the Polish opera Straszny dwór by Stanislaw Moniuszko (1819-'72).

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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