Recital Debut Album:
Soprano Review (1)
The Cardiff Singer of the World competition has been a springboard to fame for many present day stars. One need only mention names like Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Bryn Terfel and Lisa Gasteen. Last time, in 2005, the winner was California-born soprano Nicole Cabell, who was immediately signed up by Decca and recorded her debut recital in December that year. With the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis backing her the conditions of the project are the best possible. The playing is certainly superb, further enhanced by the excellent recording.
As for the singer, her first phrases of the well-known waltz aria from La Bohème made me sit up. Here was a voice with a personal timbre: bright, vibrant and with a ring that one more associates with heavier repertoire. It soon turned out that it was not just a voice: her phrasing was so natural, carefully judged no doubt but not in that calculated way that cries out: Listen! How good I am! This was something that came from within, from conviction rather than complacency. What I also felt though was a certain coldness. True, Musetta is a calculating woman but she is also warm and flirtatious, which didn’t quite come through in this reading. The tempo was certainly on the slow side but the singing wasn’t alluring enough. The next aria, also in ¾ time, the quick and virtuoso waltz from Roméo et Juliette, revealed that Ms Cabell’s trill and coloratura technique is in perfect shape. It was a true pleasure to hear this music sung with such full tone yet with elegance and lightness, but even here I missed some warmth.
Recitals of this kind tend to centre upon roughly the same hackneyed standard arias. This is natural enough, but Cabell was bold enough to include several rare numbers. The beautiful aria from the late lamented Gian-Carlo Menotti’s The Old Man and the Thief was an inspired choice and here, singing in her mother tongue, she appeared as warmer while retaining some steel in the voice. Indeed this was great singing, expressive and with well judged pianissimos. The dramatic act 4 aria from Roméo et Juliette also suited her better than the fairly empty waltz and here she created a character with face. She delivered a beautiful O mio babbino caro but, as with the Musetta aria, a little short on charm. For Les filles de Cadix she lightened the tone, it was lively and bouncy, impeccable singing but again that last ounce of charm, of caressing the phrases, was missing.
As Clara in Porgy and Bess she sang the famous lullaby with exquisite shadings, elegant portamenti and a slightly laid back, jazzy feeling. The same can be said of her excellent reading of How can I cherish my man in such days from Michael Tippett’s A Child of our Time, where she demonstrated her fine breath control. I haven’t seen the aria from Benvenuto Cellini included in a recital for ages, so this was another good choice. This three-part piece sets the soprano to severe test, especially the fast cabaletta-like third part. She came out of it with flying colours, showing off a perfect trill in the cadenza. It’s a far cry to the inward Louise aria, which she sang in long phrases and scaled down towards the end to a near whisper. Impressive!
The long aria from I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Bellini’s “Romeo and Juliet” opera, though not based on Shakespeare, opened with Timothy Brown playing the beautiful horn solo delivering an exquisite round tone. Ms Cabell’s opening phrase presented us with a nervously trembling Juliet. Then when the horn came back for a duet with the soprano there was a nice contrast between the mellow instrument and the bright voice. Helen Tunstall’s harp accompaniment to the aria proper should also be mentioned. Overall this aria was one of the most successful in the whole recital.
She may not have the creamy tones one ideally wants in Doretta’s dream but it was still a well considered reading with sensitive phrasing. The concluding aria, Norina’s entrance piece from Don Pasquale, was lively and up to the demands on nearly all accounts. Vocally it couldn’t be bettered, but I missed a smile in the voice – it was too straight-faced. But she is at the very beginning of her career and more stage experience will certainly add to her already well endowed armoury of expressive means. For pure singing she is full-fledged already. Indeed it is a remarkable voice and I am already longing to hear more from her – why not a complete opera? There is for example some Menotti to be recorded.
Recording of the Month MusicWeb April 2007