Two Spanish mezzo-sopranos stand out in the distant and not so distant past: Conchita Supervia and Teresa Berganza. Each was a legendary Rossini singer—Supervia was the one who restored roles like Rosina and Angelina to the mezzo range. Each was also a prominent Carmen interpreter.
Here now comes Valencia-born Silvia Tro Santafé. She excels as both Rosina and—natural choices since this is a concept album entitled 'Spanish Heroines'. One might have expected her to include at least one ‘genuine’ Spanish role, for instance Salud in de Falla’s La vida breve, which should be within her reach. However someone has played safe with better known arias, even though neither of the Massenet offerings is exactly standard fare.
Rosina’s Una voce poco fa is an excellent calling card, revealing a dark mezzo—almost contralto—but with impressive upper reach and fluent coloratura. She is even more impressive in Contro un cor where her dark tones are truly magnificent, reminding me of Kerstin Thorborg, the ‘Caruso of Contraltos’ as she was soubriqueted during her years at the Met in the 1930s and 1940s. Her build-up of the Rossinian crescendo is stunning.
As Donna Elvira she is initially a little hard in tone in the recitative but then makes a finely nuanced reading, though the tessitura of the aria proper may be too high for total comfort.
Leonora’s aria from La Favorite (sung in the original French) is one of the best things here. There is real gusto in the cabaletta and the top note at the end has a superb ring.
Eboli also sings her two songs in French. In the lyrical Chanson de voile she is excellently assisted by Susanna Puig I Ferrés in the duet. O don fatale is powerful and majestic, and then ’Adieu, Reine’ is inward and warm. She is a thrilling singer with a wide expressive range.
From Carmen we get the whole Habanera, including the opening male chorus. I wouldn’t have objected to also having the concluding duet with Don José from the Seguidilla. That would have involved hiring an able tenor and I am grateful for what we do get. Silvia Tro Santafé is probably a fine Carmen on stage, even though she doesn’t have the raw animal intensity of a Marilyn Horne.
Chimène’s Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux is a fine aria that is too seldom heard. I still treasure the complete opera in a recording from the 1970s—originally on CBS—with Grace Bumbry a strong Chimène opposite Domingo. Santafé has little to fear from a comparison with her predecessor. The final number is an even rarer acquaintance: Dulcinée’s Alza! Alza!, where she enters on a balcony and sings of her effect on all men. Tim Coleman in his liner-notes draws a parallel with Carmen’s first appearance, and with fiery rhythms, an incisive chorus and clattering castanets. This is as enticing an entrance as any for a good mezzo—and it is certainly the most overtly Spanish of all the items in this highly appealing recital.
The Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra, the oldest of the Spanish orchestras, accompany well. There is a good chorus and Julian Reynolds conducts with obvious relish. The recorded sound cannot be faulted and besides the sung texts—though no translations—there are quite extensive notes on all the numbers. These are written with a nice helping of tongue-in-cheek.
Though Silvia Tro Santafé is no newcomer in the recording stakes this was my first encounter with her and this recital has definitely whetted the appetite for more.