Souvenir of a Golden Era: The Sisters Garcia

Now Decca re-releases Marilyn Horneís ìSouvenir of a Golden Era,î which does Bartoli one better by also honoring Malibranís younger sister, Pauline Viardot.
No direct comparisons can be made between Bartoliís ìMariaî and the first disc of Horneís ìSouvenir,î as the discs covers different selections. Bartoli tends to focus on more obscure repertory (with the exception of ìCasta Divaî), especially pieces that play to her strengths in speed and agility. Horne chose selections that primarily highlight Malibranís key roles in Rossini, from Rosinaís ìUna voce poco fa,î to Tancrediís ìDi tanti palpiti.î She also sings as Belliniís Romeo, and most surprisingly, delivers the ìAbscheulicher!î of Beethovenís Leonore.
Horne sings impeccably on each of three tracks, her lows weighty, the highs with a sopranoís confidence and security. Your reviewer found her Rosina curiously flat, as Horne earned a reputation as a woman of great humor and vivacity in roles that required those attributes (and offstage as well). Perhaps the uninspired direction of Henry Lewis (with the Suisse Romande orchestra) deserves the blame. However, even in the ostensibly dramatic scenarios of Tancredi and Semiramide, Horneís seamless production can give a sensation of disassociation from the text. As pure vocalizing the singing canít be criticized, and yet these pieces should scintillate more than they do. Again, Lewis might be the culprit here.
The second disc, dedicated to Pauline Viardotís roles, covers a wider range of repertory, resulting in a more entertaining listening experience. The disc starts with more Rossini, then moves to French opera – Gluck, Gounod, Meyerbeer ó before a wild swing back to Italy and Verdiís Azucena. In the lusher French pieces, Horneís gorgeous tone pays big dividends, although she canít save ìJíai perdu mon Eurydiceî from the risible effect produced by Lewisís frantic, ìpopî-like pacing. As for that final track from Il Trovatore, with the mad gypsy womanís two big arias jammed together, surely there are scarier Azucenas. In the context of this recital, however, Horneís version has such musicality that the familiar music rings out with a welcome freshness.
With more inspired musical leadership, ìSouvenirs of a Golden Eraî would be an indisputably great recording. And for listeners who only care about voice, that qualification need not apply. For others, the best of the selections here, especially on the second disc, earn the recording a strong recommendation.
Chris Mullins

image_description=Souvenir of a Golden Era: The Sisters Garcia
product_title=Souvenir of a Golden Era: The Sisters Garcia
product_by=Marilyn Horne, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Henry Lewis
product_id=Decca 475 8493 [2CDs]