Combining a Greek background with an Australian upbringing, Elena Xanthoudakis pays tribute in her personal introduction to this wide-ranging bel canto selection to two illustrious predecessors Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. She also highlights her collaboration on this disc with Richard Bonynge, whose stylistically apposite conducting is one of its most notable features. Under his baton the Royal Northern Sinfonia offers first-rate accompaniments, while the recorded sound is close to ideal, allowing the characteristic scoring of individual pieces to register with clarity.
Philip Gossett's notes point up the expectations of early-nineteenth-century Italian composers that their vocal lines would invariably be sympathetically decorated by performers, noting the surviving evidence detailing the kinds of options they envisaged. Xanthoudakis herself scores on many fronts, but especialIy in selecting appropriate ornaments that bring repeated sections to unusually vivid life; her extracts from La sonnambula, for instance, perfectly exemplify the split personality of Amina, the soul-searching melancholy of 'Ah! Non credea mirarti', sustained on a gently luminous finely inflected tone, eventually giving way to the overwhelming joy (and not mere technical display) that erupts in 'Ah! Non giunge'.
Xanthoudakis also offers a good trill—something perfectly displayed in Norina's aria from Don Pasquale, where the soprano negotiates her top register with consistent confidence and fluency. Style and personality mark her Marie in La Fille du régiment, and though the size of her soprano cannot match that of either Callas or Sutherland in Lucia's entrance scene, its ethereality does suggest an intensely vulnerable individual. By her side, Catherine Carby counsels mezzo caution as Alisa.
Another of the disc's highlights is Giulietta's 'Oh! Quante volte' from Bellini's Capuleti, where the youthful innocence of Xanthoudakis's characterization is artfully conveyed in her dreamy line and fragrant tone. She brings a moving sense of melancholy to the latest item here Medora's 'Non so le tetre immagini' from Verdi's Il corsaro (1848) and both precision and charm to Adele's tender 'En proie à la tristesse' from Le Comte Ory. Among rarer items, Fanny's 'Vorrei spiegarvi il giubilo' from Rossini's early La cambiale di matrimonio looks ahead to Rosina's 'Una voce poco fa' from the composer's subsequent and best-known opera. It's a programme that has been thoughtfully put together, and Xanthoudakis demonstrates considerable mettle in delivering it so skilfully.