RUSSIAN SOPRANO SOARS IN VOCAL STRATASPHERE
By Lawrence Budmen
For much of the last five decades, opera has been dominated by great voices from the Mediterranean countries (principally Italy and Spain) and the United States. In the 1990's Russia suddenly loomed large on the vocal radar screen. In recent years many of the opera world's brightest lights and most interesting voices have come from the former Soviet Union - Dimitri Hvorostovsky, Maria Guleghina, Galina Gorshakova, Sergei Larin, Vladimir Chernov, Vladimir Galouzine. Soprano Lyubov Petrova must be added to that list. Under the auspices of the Friends of Chamber Music of Miami, this gleaming soprano gave a memorable recital on April 14. 2003 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach.
Ms. Petrova is an authentic lyric-coloratura with a richly beautiful midrange that extends with ease to the highest notes of the soprano voice's upper register. She dominates the stage and commands the listener's attention with every note and vocal utterance. Her beautiful attire and stage decorum were models of recital presentation. Ms. Petrova is a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. She made her Met debut in 2001 in one of opera's most demanding soprano roles- Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss's "Ariadne Auf Naxos." Her substitution for soprano Natalie Dessay attracted national attention and set the opera world ablaze! She has since been heard in Met productions of "Die Fledermaus," "The Abduction from the Seraglio," "Falstaff," and "L"Enfant et les Sortileges." In Russia Ms. Petrova has been heard in operatic repertoire by Mozart, Verdi, Catalani, Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Moussorgsky. Recent 2002 debuts included the title role in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" at the Washington Opera and Despina in Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte" at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina. Her wide ranging program mixed Italian and French arias with less familiar Russian operatic excerpts.
The Russian arias proved to be the concert's most interesting musical discoveries. The operas of Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov are too little known in the United States. They are filled with exotic musical effects, inspired melodies, and idiomatic vocal writing. In many ways these scores are much more "operatic" (in the Italian and French sense) than the more austere works of Moussorgsky which have been produced in America with some frequency. With singers like Ms. Petrova, the time is ripe for American productions of these beautiful scores. The highlight of her Rimsky-Korsakov group was the heroine Marfa's haunting aria from "The Tsar's Bride." This richly colored, expressive music was sung with exquisite beauty by Ms. Petrova. Two arias from "The Snow Maiden" were wildly imaginative - sudden changes of meter and wide ranging leaps in the vocal line. The lovely aria from "The Tale of Tsar Saltan" was a beautiful gem. Ms. Petrova sang all of these pieces with vocal beauty, intense utterance, and dramatic nuance.
In familiar Italian arias Ms. Petrova sent listeners into ecstasy. Her quicksilver voice and coloratura facility made the Mad Scene from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" unforgettable. She made the drama of Lucia's madness very real. Even without a flute soloist, her dazzling coloratura ornamentation and vocal freedom were memorable. This was great singing! In the Bell Song from "Lakme" by Leo Delibes her rapid fire delivery of the trills and high lying pyrotechnics brought memories of Lily Pons to mind. A poignant aria from Bellini's "I Capuletti Ed I Montecchi" displayed Ms. Petrova's smooth legato line. Throughout the concert, her breath support was flawless. Her vocal technique is a paragon for young singers to emulate. Violetta's final scene from Act 1 of Verdi's "La Traviata" was tossed off with vocal ease, tonal beauty, and dramatic flair. What a Violetta Ms. Petrova will be on stage! As an encore she offered Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise"- finely spun vocal velvet to cap an evening of great singing!
Ms. Petrova was supported at every turn by pianist Ken Noda. Mr. Noda is no mere accompanist. He has had a distinguished solo career. Among the conductors he has played concertos with are Claudio Abbado, James Levine, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, and Andre Previn. He is presently Music Assistant to Maestro Levine in the Metropolitan Opera's Artistic Administration. Noda's pianism was always musical, sensitive, and flexible. He seemed to breathe every phrase along with Ms. Petrova. Together they produced that rare combination - exquisite playing and beautiful singing.
In a season of less than memorable singing in Florida Grand Opera productions, Lyubov Petrova was a balm to the ears. How about a FGO production of "Lucia" or "I Puritani" or a Rimsky-Korsakov opera with Ms. Petrova? We must see this young soprano again soon. She possesses one of the great voices of this new century!