Pavel Baleff, conductor
Vesselina Kasarova’s Russian Arias includes the most famous opera arias for mezzo-soprano written by outstanding Russian composers and two orchestral pieces, the prelude of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades and the Dance of the Tumblers from The Snow Maiden by Rimsky-Korsakov. The Bulgarian singer is still in good form after many years of career, and I think that this recording represents a good performance, despite some weaknesses.
Kasarova’s voice still owns its beautiful dark timbre and, especially in the middle register, she is perfectly master of her instrument, while the low register is not impeccable and the long notes often tremble. Other times it happens that the mezzosoprano seems in trouble: in the most vivacious part of Polina’s aria from The Queen of Spades she have labored breathing as never anywhere else and if this piece manages to be discreet is thanks to her joy and spirit.
The fact that Kasarova interprets well the characters is one of the best qualities of Russian Arias and in fact we find a fresh and pretty Olga (Eugene Onegin), a very sad Lyubasha (The tsar’s bride) and a more than never ambitious Marina (Boris Godunov), just to mention the most impressive arias. What I consider the most beautiful surprise is the Countess’s aria from The Queen of Spades, immediately next to Polina’s one and perhaps this proximity makes it even more impressive, because the part fits to Kasarova like a glove.
As to the direction, which in general I found good, I was not entirely satisfied of the prelude to The Queen of Spades, which tends to be a bit too “swollen” towards the end.