ARION: VOYAGE OF A SLAVIC SOUL / RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Softly the soul flew up to heaven. The Nymph. Summer Night’s Dream. DVOŘÁK: Oh, that longed-for happiness. So many a heart is as though dead. Around the house now I stagger. I know, with sweet hope. Over the landscape a light slumber reigns. In the woods by the stream. In that sweet power of your eyes. Oh dear, matchless soul. TCHAIKOVSKY: Gentle stars were shining upon us. Can it be day? Why? RACHMANINOV: Oh, never sing to me again. The Harvest of Sorrow. Spring Waters. Arion. JANÁČEK: Love. Constancy. Rosemary. Musicians. NOVAK: Pohádka Srdce (A Fairytale of the Heart), Op. 8 (Five Songs) / Natalia Romaniw, sop; Lada Valeševá, pno / Orchid Classics ORC100131
Despite her Slavic-sounding name, soprano Natalia Romaniw is Welsh, having been born in 1987 at Swansea. It was her grandfather who emigrated from the Ukraine to Wales after World War II. She is a Cardiff Singer of the World and Gold Medal winner from the Guildhall School of Music who was also a member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, graduating in 2014. So as modern-day singers go, she is a relative youngster at age 33 although, in Ye Olde Days, she would already have sung in major opera houses for at least a decade.
This is no small thing. Whereas baritones really don’t develop their voices until their mid-20s and tenors often take longer, not “settling” their voices until about age 27 or 28, sopranos develop early and one wants to hear them when they still have that “bloom” on the voice. Very few are the sopranos who could keep that bloom into their late 30s and 40s, among them Adelina Patti, Frieda Hempel, Herva Nelli and Anna Netrebko. Most sopranos already sound “riper” and more mature by age 36 or 37. A good example is how quickly Renata Tebaldi’s voice changed in quality between her 1955 and 1959 recordings as Liú in Turandot. Maria Callas, on the other hand, never had a youthful sound, even when she was young. The only soprano I can think of whose voice actually improved as she reached 30 was Judith Raskin.
Getting to this recording, what we hear is an unusually dark and very Slavic-sounding soprano voice with a quick, controlled vibrato. She also has great control of the voice, an excellent legato and good diction, all pluses. If this album had been released as a Melodiya LP 50 years ago, it would be the kind of album that collectors would hunt for. My sole complaint is that her interpretations are rather generic. Every song sounds pretty much the same. Her emotion is generic rather than word-specific, and unfortunately her accompanist, though an accomplished pianist, doesn’t sound as if she cares a whole lot about the music. Alas, Romaniw is not alone in this; Generic Emotion seems to be what is called for nowadays. Our illustrious Modern Directors don’t want singers who understand their roles and interpret them like the character they are supposed to be because their perverted productions are so different from each other that THEY are the star of each new production, not the singers. She also hits a particularly strained and ugly-sounding high B in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Summer Night’s Dream, but she floats a nice high note in Dvořák’s In that sweet power of your eyes.
Bottom line: Romaniw has a well-trained and interesting voice but is a decidedly uninteresting interpreter. Apparently, he Slavic soul means about as much to her as a bag of potato chips. I wish her well, but for God’s sake, lady, learn how to interpret, will you?
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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