Oropesa Sings Mozart

MOZART: A Berenice – Sol nascente. Alcandro, lo confesso – Non so d’onde viene. Bella mia fiamma – Resta, oh cara. Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio! Chi sà, chi sà, qual sia. Misera, dove son! Voi avete un cor fedele. Ah, lo previdi. Vado, ma dovè? oh Dei! Ah! se in ciel, benigne stelle / Lisette Oropesa, sop; Il pomo d’oro; Antonello Manacorda, cond / Pentatone Classics PTC5186885

If you’re going to issue an album of Mozart arias, you need to do one of two things: 1) sing some of his more unusual arias, not ones that have been done to death by everybody else, and/or 2) sing them with good interpretation, not just as vocal exercises as most other sopranos do. Ion this new Pentatone CD, scheduled for release on May 7, soprano Lisette Oropesa has chosen the former route. In fact, there are several arias here that even I had never heard before, mostly because I’m not a Mozart completist. In fact, the only arias on this album that I have in my collection are “Ah, lo previdi,” “Ah! se in ciel,” “Bella mia fiamma” and “Vado, ma dovè.”

I’ll get the bad news out of the way first: like nearly everyone else nowadays, Oropesa is backed by a HIP orchestra, which means whiny, anemic-sounding strings. But the good news far outweighs the bad. For someone who switched from being a flautist to being a singer, Oropesa has an unusually rich, vibrant voice. She clearly doesn’t fit the modern-day mold of the average Mozart soprano, most of whom have pretty but bland cookie-cutter voices. She also sings with a fair amount of dramatic emphasis, which I also appreciated very much, and yet still has all the “coloratura fireworks” you’ve come to expect: high notes, runs and trills in abundance. The difference is that she uses the voice to convey the feelings behind the words, and this harks back to what I call the gold old days and others (primarily academics) abhor because she’s not “letting the music speak for itself.”

In addition, Antonello Manacorda’s orchestra, Il pomo d’oro (which, believe it or not, translates into English as “The Tomato”!), plays with a good amount of energy themselves, straight tone or not, so that’s another plus for this recording.

I kept trying to think whose voice Oropesa reminded me of but couldn’t come up with just one name. Marcella Pobbe came closest, but Pobbe never had those extreme high notes that Oropesa possesses. Although she is obviously a Latina, Oropesa doesn’t have the extreme edginess of tone that one associated with such coloraturas of Latino descent such as Mercedes Capsir. There is richness in her sound in addition to the bright, even vibrato. In the end, I decided that her voice is indeed unique. The highest notes are sung, as the old voice teachers used to say, “Aperto ma coperto” or “In the dome of the head,” a point right between the eyebrows and just above the nasal cavity. This produces an even brighter, less vibrant sound. On a modern digital recording like this, their sound is interesting and even stunning, but if she were recording in the old acoustic record days I’m sure the cramped frequency range of the recording horn would reduce it to a shrill whistle—not fair or accurate, but that’s what you got when you were a high soprano singing into a machine that clipped all frequencies above a mezzo-soprano’s high A. The point I’m making is that Oropesa thus has two “sounds” in her voice, the upper register and the rest of her voice. She integrates them very well, but their sounds are different.

With all of the above taken into consideration, then, I predict that this recording will get two entirely different types of reviews: favorable, like mine, from critics who prize expression over a cool reading of Classical-era music, and unfavorable from those who think that Oropesa gives out too much…or, worse yet, those who complain about her vibrato, not because it’s fluttery or uneven but just because it exists. Such scribes fail to realize that this is what a great number of star sopranos in the 18th century probably sang exactly like this (read the writings of Pier Francesco Tosi if you don’t believe me).

As for the music itself, it is typical Mozart, pretty but often shifting colors between light and dark. The biggest drawback is that, regardless of Oropesa’s interpretations, too many of these arias just sound too much alike. “Bella mia fiamma resta, o cara” is one of the outliers, opening with a slow recitative before moving into the aria proper, and containing a number of subtle tempo and meter shifts, but many of the others sound like re-writes of the same aria several times over. “Vorrei, spiegarvi, o Dio” is a slow aria that sounds like something Mozart dropped from Nozze di Figaro. Oddly, in this aria, Oropesa’s voice bears some resemblance to Maria Callas when she had perfect vocal control—except for those pure high head tones. In “Ah lo previdi,” there’s an interesting passage of descending chromatics played by the orchestra, and its being set in a minor key mark it as one of Mozart’s best concert arias.

But the sameness of material is just about the only criticism I can make of this otherwise excellent recital. I will surely keep her name on my radar should something more musically meaty appear with her in the future.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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