Complete Songs for Soprano and Piano
Maria Prinz, piano
Krassimira Stoyanova’s recording of Giacomo Puccini’s Complete Songs for Soprano and Piano can be considered an addition to the Verismo album she recorded shortly before it. If the latter was centred on operatic arias written by Puccini and other Verismo composers as Mascagni and Cilea, the former focuses only on Puccini’s production – and on the less known part of it, the songs he wrote for soprano and piano, presented in the arrangement edited by Michael Kaye.
The tradition to write songs was common among the Italian composers, but if those written by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi are usually included in recital programmes and performed with regularity, the Puccini songs are somehow neglected. It is very likely that their light character is what makes them less valuable and interesting, especially in comparison with Puccini’s operatic music.
The songs are based on texts that mirror the taste of the upper class between the 19th and the 20th century, when the favourite themes were love, death, nature and religious faith. The tunes are gentle and lyrical and nothing reminds of the dramatic tension and of the sharp introspection of Tosca, Madama Butterfly or Turandot. The songs were written in different stages of Puccini’s life and for different purposes: some of them date to his early years, some are salon pieces and some others, written in the years of the great operas, are composed for friends.
Krassimira Stoyanova, accompanied from the piano by Maria Prinz, does not underestimate the value and opportunities offered by Puccini’s songs. Despite their simplicity, Stoyanova performs them with the same attention, precision and sentiment she would have reserved to more complex works. She is particularly attentive to the direct expression of the emotions, fundamental to give meaning to compositions as La Primavera (“spring”), where the text describes the idyllic season that is easy to expect and in which Stoyanova emphasizes the charming atmosphere, or the lovely Casa mia (“my little house”), a very short song lasting merely thirty seconds but to which Stoyanova gives prominence with her loving accents, or Sogno d’or (“sweet dream”), where Stoyanova gives voice to the cares of a mother with tenderness and affection.
The songs do not have only profane settings and many of them where commissioned for religious purposes: there are for example a Salve Regina, written by Puccini when he was still a student, Beata Viscera, probably composed for the religious profession of the composer’s sister, and Vexilla Regis prodeunt, commissioned by the church of Bagni di Lucca.
Vexilla Regis is definitely the most interesting, not only because, as in Beata Viscera, Stoyanova sings at the same time the soprano and the mezzosoprano parts, but also because the text is that of the hymn written in the sixth century by Venantius Fortunatus and so important to be quoted also by Dante Alighieri at the beginning of the last canto of his Inferno. If there is a song from this recording that is worth listening to, Vexilla Regis is definitely that one. In the soprano part, Stoyanova sings with brightness and joyous solemnity, features stressed by the silvery colour of her voice, but in the mezzosoprano part she sings with a dark colour and gives to the song a far more thoughtful character. The two parts are therefore the two sides of the same coin – an achievement that can be easy to reach also with a singer for each part, but that in this case is far more immediate and offers a hint of reflection on the different attitude towards the same event that otherwise would not have been so obvious.
Although Giacomo Puccini’s songs are not the works on which his genius is measured, Krassimira Stoyanova proves in this recording that it is possible to perform the most simple work giving unexpected deepness to it and that a talented singer can find something to express even in those compositions that at first sight seem only the less significant part of a great composer’s catalogue.