with Ilaria Sicignano: mezzosoprano; Piero Pretti: tenor; Mattia Olivieri: baritone; Carlo Lepore: bass
Coro Sinfonico e Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano “Giuseppe Verdi”
Giacomo Sagripanti, conductor
After her debut album A Journey has been released in 2016, soprano Pretty Yende goes back to the recording studio for her second project, this time entitled Dreams and dedicated to heroines «who long for escape, or who find escape in their dream lives. All the characters I sing here have a dream: for some it is positive, for others it is a kind of nightmare». Yende’s purpose is «to explore what dreams and madness mean for each character», beginning with the mad scene par excellence, that from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor which reminds us of the aria Yende has recorded from what seems to be one of her favourite operas.
Next to Lucia di Lammermoor, the South African soprano offers a selection of arias and scenes from some of the most famous operas of the Italian and French repertoires, including Je veux vivre from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Ombre légère from Meyerbeer’s Dinorah and the long finale from Bellini’s La sonnambula, together with other arias and even a rarity, the scene from one of Bellini’s most neglected operas, La straniera. The works are very well chosen not only from the musical point of view, but also for the coherency with the theme as all of them reveal one of the most secret and deeply affecting dreams and hopes of the character, but Pretty Yende’s performance, though not unpleasant, does not entirely reach the goal she aims to achieve.
This is not due to a vocal or technical flaw. Yende sings all the notes and even adds her own. She offers a new cadenza for the mad scene from Lucia which was written for her and that reveals her intention not to show off her «speed or high notes» but «to give respect and honour to the role». With the exception of few high notes which are not particularly beautiful (as the one at the end of the Lucia scene), Yende’s singing is accurate, elegant, , and her technique is sound too, but her overall charming personality lacks a bit of charisma that prevents her roles from being different from each other and from impressing those who listen to her with the discovery of something new or “personal”.
Juliette, Lucia, Alaide, Dinorah and Amina are not really different from one another. All of them are portrayed with the same, placid but overall colourless personality and even within the role itself, it seems that Yende is resting on the laurels of her warm, velvety voice, without adding a nuance, an accent, an expression to enliven what is without question a fine performance, but where there is nothing more to appreciate apart from the umpteen beautiful voice without actual temperament. This is a problem that I had noticed already in Yende’s A Journey, but if at that time she had the excuse to be a rising star, this time a more original achievement would have been desirable – if not in La straniera, at least in a role as Lucia di Lammermoor, with which Yende is incontestably familiar.
Pretty Yende is a very good singer, but she is still far from being a really great artist. Dreams is not really a memorable album, just a fine one. It deserves a listening, but it is definitely not a milestone in the performance of these soprano roles.