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Planet Hugill: CD Review – SPIRITO

I enjoyed this disc immensely, and it shows that this type of disc can be about far more than simply the personality of the singer. Here Marina Rebeka gives us some real drama.

Marina Rebeka: Spirito


An engaging combination of drama and technique in these five scenes from bel canto classics


Bellini, Donizetti, Spontini; Marina Rebeka, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Massimo di Palermo, Jader Bignamini; Prima Classic Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 November 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)


November 09, 2018
Robert Hugill


I caught the Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust in Riga in 2017 [see my review], and she was Vitellia in the new recording Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito from Deutsche Grammophon, with Rolando Villazon as Tito [see my review]. For this solo disc she is joined by the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, conducted by Jader Bignamini for a recital of bel canto arias on her own new record label Prima Classic. The disc includes substantial scenes from Bellini’s Norma and Il pirate, Donizetti Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda and Spontini’s La Vestale (sung in the original French). 

Rebeka explains in the booklet note that the programme arose partly through her engagement with the music and partly through her fascination for manuscripts, so that the editions created for this programme (by Rebeka herself along with Marija Beate Straujupe, music librarian at Latvian National Opera) are based on the composer’s autographs rather than later traditional versions. 

The big advantage of this disc is not so much the editions themselves, as the willingness to think about what is being presented. And that extends to the excerpts themselves, where we have a sequence of scenes, so cavatinas are followed by tempo di mezzos and then by caballetas. There is a large supporting cast, the chorus of the Teatro Massimo, tenor Marco Ciaponi, baritones Francesco Paolo Vultaggio and Gianluca Marheri, mezzo-soprano Irene Savignano, who enable Rebeka to give us scenes with linking dialogues which make the necessary change of mood between cavatina and caballetta. 

Rebeka has a remarkably dramatic voice, the sort with an interesting edge to it (in sound quality it reminded me a little of Montserrat Caballe). This means that all of her accounts on this disc include a dramatic quality which is sometimes missing from coloratura performances, Rebeka’s approach to the music has real bite, yet she is capable of remarkable delicacy too. 

Her Norma is quite dramatic and I feel that occasionally Rebeka pushes the voice towards harshness, but the combination of thrilling drama and delicacy is engaging, and there is a fine sense of line in ‘Casta Diva’. In Imogene’s mad scene from the final scene of Bellini’s Il pirate, Imogene moves from a nice delicacy of phrasing, through vivid recitative to the vivid dramatic coloratura at the end, and throughout this Rebeka makes us fully aware of the words too. 

The final scene of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda does not include a mad scene, but a prayer, and here the dramatic edge to Rebeka’s singing brings a surprising thrill and intensity to music which can sometimes be soft grained, yet she gives us some finely floated top notes too and ends with a finely spun line. The result is moving, yet with a sense of personality too. With Donizetti’s Anna Bolena we return to the mad scene, and Rebeka sings much of the scene with a lovely clear tone, giving her Anna a sense of innocent naivety, yet ending with real dramatic coloratura. 

For the final scene we move to a different country. Whilst Spontini’s La Vestale has become known through its 20th century revivals in Italian (notably with Callas as Julia), here we have the original French, sung with some care by Rebeka. She changes her style to suit the music, and we have a lovely supple line, long and flexible, yet with thrilling intensity too. After listening to this, I was very much reminded that Bellini admired Spontini greatly. 

The four singers provide a nice element of drama in the recitatives and Marina Rebeka is well supported Jader Bignamini and the Teatro Massimo forces. The chorus sings lustily in the excerpt from Norma, and Bignamini and the orchestra provide dramatic and supple support. 

I enjoyed this disc immensely, and it shows that this type of disc can be about far more than simply the personality of the singer. Here Marina Rebeka gives us some real drama.

Full review