South African soprano Pretty Yende's rise from total obscurity to international stardom is one of those classic Cinderella stories: as a vocally untrained sixteen-year-old, whose only association with music was through her church choir singing, she was watching television at her home in the small town of Piet Retief and heard Delibes' Flower Duet from Lakmé in a British Airways commercial. She was so struck by its beauty that she became determined to become an opera singer. Prior to hearing the Flower Duet she had not even known what opera was. She studied music at the Cape Town-based South African College of Music. In 2009 she captured first prize in the Belvedere Competition and the following year won the prestigious Placido Domingo Operalia Competition. Engagements soon followed at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, Teatro alla scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin and other major operatic venues.
Ms. Yende has both a powerful and beautiful voice – a voice that can comfortably reach high E (try Rossini's Céleste providence from Comte Ory). The lower end of her voice is potent and firm, and her trills are utterly stunning. (More about this below.) This is her first solo album and, not surprisingly, it contains a performance of the Flower Duet: here she is joined by mezzo, Kate Aldrich and the two combine for one of the more beautiful accounts on record. Yende's "Poison aria" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette is full of passion and commitment, and just listen to the utterly arresting trills at the end and also in Donizetti's Regnava nel silenzio from Lucia.
I've already mentioned her stunning high notes, but I can't resist raising the issue again: try the close of Quando rapito in estasi, also from Lucia, to hear another impressive example. Yende's I Puritani numbers are also splendid. Here she is joined by bass Gianluca Buratto and baritone Nicola Alaimo, who also turn in fine work.
Everything on the disc is well sung, though Ms. Yende at times may strike you as being on auto-pilot, but even in those relatively few moments when she is just "good" and not quite "spectacular", her singing is still impressive and her technique seemingly flawless. Conductor Marco Armiliato draws fine performances from the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI and from the Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piacenza. Sony Classical's sound reproduction is excellent. An impressive debut CD!
Copyright © 2016, Robert Cummings