This was one recital that confused me from the outset. The programme was a very strange mix of songs and arias. Making Gounod, Rossini, Fauré, Berlioz, Schubert and Rachmaninov sit together is a balancing act beyond most recitalists and I am afraid this was the case with Marina Rebeka. The voice is impressively well projected but in the first half left me very cold. Technically correct singing and clear projection is a fantastic starting point, but somehow that very impressive technique was the main fault. She sang for most of the recital simply too loudly to be truly enjoyable. The Fauré songs were efficiently delivered but with a tone too strident and at a volume that robbed their intimacy and elegance.
The two arias from Faust were brilliantly detailed and sang but it was disappointing to see her sight reading passages. I wish she had dropped the French art songs and instead have the time to rehearse enough so as not to need the score as reference that was consulted all too frequently.
The choice to excise three songs from Les nuits d’été was another strange gamble. And having heard them a few weeks back beautifully delivered with panache and sweetness by Joyce DiDonato it was a slight disappointment due to the strident tone and the too loud delivery for the venue, especially for the first two songs. For L’île inconnue she did find an appropriately softer delivery and more rounded expression maybe not as dreamy as Joyce but surely a more appropriate feel to it.
Then instead of getting the scheduled Bel raggio lusinghier we got instead a little more Gounod, which actually made sense with the francophone first half of the recital. The fourth Act aria from Roméo et Juliette was delivered with impressive ease, despite the slightly too sharp attacks. It was an impressive display that clearly enthused the audience, I just wished for a bit more depth and warmth.
After the interval we were treated to a change of dress (from dark purple to a dark grey and gold lamé number) and also songs by Schubert and Rachmaninov which were a bit of a mixed bag. The Schubert songs brought forward some of the charm and panache the first half was missing, she delivered Die Forelle with thoughtful reflection and spark. She continued with a melancholic Gretchen which it was a touch too hard driven by the tempo adopted by the accompanist. The concluding song was again delivered with lightness that was rather amusing and not as loudly as most items up to that point.
The programme made far too many apologies for the quality of Rachmaninov’s songs, some were written as a quick earner, some were unfinished. Overall they allowed Rebeka to colour her singing and to find a rounder tone and at the lower volume it was almost like listening to a different singer. The dramatic melodies fitted her voice very well. The material was indeed slight but delivered with much more winning attitude (despite the melodramatic overacting during Kak mne bol’no). The second half collectively made it clear what the first half could have been if scaled down a notch.
After thunderous applause, she treated us to Bel raggio as an encore. And it was rather beautiful, if again over projected and lacking a bit in colour. Marina Rebeka is a great talent, but she needs to know when to scale down her performance in more intimate surroundings. I love a really bold, accurately projected voice, as long as it does not impair characterisation or the shading and phrasing.
She will be singing Lucia di Lammermoor in a new production at the Latvian National Opera and can imagine over a big orchestra and in costume she will be a unmissable spectacle. Just somehow in recital she was not as engaging and enthralling as someone so richly talented should have been.