This week we’re featuring the magnificent debut album of a great Verdi soprano — Sondra Radvanovsky. The new CD “Radvanovsky Sings Verdi” will be reviewed on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Sunday, April 18. NPR will also be streaming a track from the CD on their website.
In our 37-for-37 Series, here is another vocal phenomenon on Delos — the incomparable contralto Ewa Podles, whom many consider to be the greatest contralto singing today. To quote Opera News, “seat belts suggested” for Ewa’s heroic Handel.
RINALDO: Venti turbini • Cara sposa • Abbruggio, avvampo e fremo • È un incendio frà due venti • Ogni indugio d’un amante • Or la tromba • Tale stupor m’occupa • Cor ingrato • Il Tricerbero umiliato
ORLANDO: Fammi Combattere • È questa la mercede • Cielo! Se tu il consenti • Imagini funeste • Non fu già men forte Alcide • Già lo stringo • Ah Stieie larve! • Già latra Cerbero • Vaghe pupille
“She’s been described as a ‘vocal hurricane’ a ‘force of nature’ a ‘singer without peer in the world’ But why beat around the bush? Ewa Podles’ is a goddess…the sounds that pour out of Ewa Podles’ mouth seem to come from the core of the Earth, channeled through her body…there is no voice like this in the classical music world.” National Post, Toronto
“the Polish artist is that extremely rare phenomenon – a genuine contralto of luxuriant tone and bottomless resources. … a true bel canto expert. It’s hard even to imagine a voice of this weight scaling the heights and depths of Handel coloratura with such nonchalance, and it’s even more amazing to hear it on this disc… incredible agility, seamless breath control and almost terrifying authority.” —San Francisco Examiner
“impressive three-octave range…hugely resonant and heroic low tones, smoky middle, brilliant top…astonishing flexibility… this recital reveals her dazzling outrageous and personalized approach to Handel, and it is stunning. The first two tracks alone demonstrate mastery of every vocal, theatrical and musical technique demanded by this repertoire…. This is the stuff eighteenth-century writers used to rave about… Such artistic integrity and completeness set Podles apart… Seat belts suggested.” —Opera News
We recorded Ewa’s stereotype-shattering Handel Arias at Skywalker Studio when Constantine Orbelian and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra were on tour in California. It was our first album with the great contralto. Opera News described Constantine’s collaboration with Ewa on this album as “driving the getaway car,” consistent with the recommendation for seat belts in the review quoted above. For our second masterpiece Ewa Podles Album, Russian Arias (DE 3298), the venue was Moscow, with the same collaborators.
As Delos Founder Amelia Haygood wrote: “The feeling at Skywalker during the sessions, since echoed around the world, was that we were hearing the human voice do things we didn’t know it could do, and express things in a way we didn’t think possible in that music; and that Handel benefited spectacularly.”
Ewa summed up her approach to this music in a special comment for the album booklet:
“In the multiplicity of musicological theories and scientific treatise which confront each other concerning the style and performance of Baroque and Classical music, one can be completely at a loss. But who can be utterly certain about the way in which this music should be played today, or the manner in which it was played or sung at the time of its creation? The
interpretations I offer in the program chosen for this concert arise from instinct and from the heart. For of one thing I am absolutely sure: these composers were human beings of flesh and blood, writing for other living beings. And in his innermost substance, man remains the same today as he was in the past: in happiness, joy and the ecstasy of love; in the pain and despair of solitude, separation or loss…”
George Loomis wrote in the album notes:
Ewa Podles is one of the most versatile and exciting singers before the public today. Her repertoire ranges from Handel and Rossini to recent music by Krzysztof Penderecki, from Verdi’s dramatic mezzo roles to Wagner’s Erda. She stands at the forefront of a new breed of singers who, stylistically at home with music of many eras, give new artistic vitality to the Baroque operatic revival, not long ago the domain of early music “specialists.” With a voice that at once has brightness and tonal depth and with her unfailing facility for coloratura, Podles has established herself as one of our most accomplished Handel interpreters. Her three-octave range allows for exhilarating possibilities of ornamentation, and, not least, the sheer amplitude of the voice assures that the heroic dimension of the brave warriors Handel created for the most celebrated alto castratos of his day is given its full due.
In addition to having such a hero for a title character, the operas Rinaldo and Orlando have another point in common, for each is based on one of the two leading epic poems of the Italian Renaissance, Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, sources for countless operas before and after Handel. Rinaldo (1711) was Handel’s first opera for London and, in fact, the first Italian opera specifically written for the city. In selecting a libretto based on Tasso’s epic, Handel chose wisely, for its magical elements and opportunities for military pageantry helped satisfy an audience predilection for scenic effects not unlike that of French audiences. According to the libretto at the premiere, earlier Italian operas in London were deficient in lacking “Machines and Decorations, which bestow so grea
t a Beauty on their Appearance.” No doubt a spectacular performance by the castrato Nicolini in the title role also contributed to the opera’s resounding success.