Surrender: Voices of Persephone
Ilona Domnich/ Signum Classics (SIGCD419)
One of the greatest frustrations in my line of work comes when you hear an artist for the first time who absolutely bowls you over… and you’re not in a position to review the performance. Thus was the case when I heard Ilona Domnich’s Mimì in English Touring Opera’s La bohème the other week (I had reviewed Donizetti’s Il furioso the night before and had farmed out Bohème to another of my review team). C’est la vie! With a Rodolfo (David Butt Philip) and Mimì both assuredly better than the last leading couple I saw in that opera at Covent Garden, it was a tremendous evening. I fell in love with Domnich’s silvery soprano from the first off-stage notes and few sopranos have convinced me so soon in Act III that Mimì’s health is in rapid decline.
Happily, the chance to wax lyrical arose more or less immediately with the release of this album on Signum Classics, in which the Russian soprano offers a series of portraits of her favourite operatic roles. And this does seem a personal selection: Domnich herself has written intelligent liner notes in which she links theirs fates – particularly abduction – to that of the mythic Persephone (hence the title) and writes about the journeys they goes on and why each role appeals to her. So themes of “pure innocence” (the Snowmaiden), “tasting life, passion, playing with fire” (Manon, Elle from La voix humaine) and the “wiser woman who has lived” (Mozart’s Countess, Magda) are identified as different stages on that journey. The running order of the programme, however, doesn’t reflect this: a missed opportunity.
The heroine represented on all three stages of this journey, however, is Gilda, a role that Domnich admits is her favourite. Wowed as I was by the silvery, silken quality in Domnich’s Mimì, I was a little surprised to see so many coloratura warbling roles in this programme… but Domnich has got the firepower to do them justice and I could completely see her as Rigoletto’s daughter. Here we get “Caro nome”, of course, with an easy, bell-like clarity to her coloratura. But we also get two of the opera’s three father-daughter duets with no less than Leo Nucci as Rigoletto. Having seen him very naughtily undercut his soprano in the Act II “Vendetta” duet, Nucci is on his best behaviour here, remembering that he’s a guest on someone else’s recital disc. His baritone is dry and a bit raddled at the top now, but at least he is a baritone and still has a superb sense of Verdi style. Domnich’s Gilda is especially touching in death, bringing tender fragility to her tone as Nucci’s Rigoletto grieves.
Domnich shines in a couple of Parisian temptresses. Her Magda, from Puccini’s La rondine, is represented not by “Doretta’s dream song” (on Domnich’s previous disc) but her nostalgic “Ore dolci e divine”, bursting with charm. Her Manon (Massenet’s), however, is utterly delicious and a huge tease, represented here by her Act III Gavotte. Steady support comes from the Southbank Sinfonia and Simon Over.
I’m not convinced that Domnich might not be better to suited to Susanna rather than the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro, but the programming might have been responsible here, pairing her “Dove sono” with a sparkling account of Rosina’s “Una voce poco fa” from the “prequel” Il barbiere di Siviglia. I normally much prefer mezzos for my Rossini Rosinas, but Domnich vocal pyrotechnics could turn me…
Scenes from Linda di Chamounix, La voix humaine and Messager’s rarity Fortunio are all accomplished, but some of the loveliest singing on the disc comes in Snegurochka’s aria from the prologue of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snowmaiden. Here, Domnich displays lightness of tone, sensitive phrasing and charm. Whose heart would not melt for this Snowmaiden?