The Perfect Lyric Soprano: Ermonela Jaho

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

One approaches a CD of arias by a soprano with something akin to trepidation as soon as one spots that the opening and closing arias are from Madama Butterfly. Does Ermonela Jaho really have something new to add? The CD is (more-or-less) devoted to the work of soprano Rosina Storchio, who created the role of Butterfly, so okay. Even better is that she also created, or was well known for a bunch of other, not-so-familiar heroines of the verismo and near-verismo school, by Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Catalani, Massenet, Giordano–and so one is surprised between the Puccinian “chestnuts”.

And yes–it turns out she has something to add to “Un bel di”. She manages to sound girlish without ever turning coy, and since her tone is womanly–lush and throbbing–this is even more challenging than it sounds. The throb adds to the longing brilliantly so that ”che sara, che sara” is not a game of hide-and-seek as it is often portrayed, but a deep yearning. It’s an aria that starts as a quiet, inward thought, and while it may end on a note of wild hope, the aria is not light-hearted. Jaho seems to feel it all, including and primarily the fact that something is very wrong. Butterfly’s death scene is impressive as well–stunningly sad, and rising gloriously to the climax–though it may come up short compared to Scotto or Callas or Tebaldi.

Speaking of odious comparisons, it’s hard to hear Iris’ aria without recalling Magda Olivero’s frantically effective reading, but Jaho builds and builds, with perfect diction, to the aria’s almost hysterical finale. No soprano owns Marguerite’s “L’altra notte”, but many knock us out, and Jaho is one of them; of course the bleakness of the aria is prepared in the low strings that introduce it, but Jaho sustains it. No trill, I’m afraid.

An unknown aria (to me) from Massenet’s Sapho–“Ces gens que je connais”–is a fervent plea for a lover to return; Jaho’s use of pianissimo is unforgettable. Another sob story is “Flammen, perdonami” from Lodoletta, mostly known from a recording by Mafalda Favero. A Dutch girl, Lodoletta, has fallen in love with Flammen, a Frenchman. She follows him to Paris with hope, but believing he has fallen in love with another, begins to hallucinate and dies in the snow. Jaho wrings every ounce of sadness and madness from its 12-minute length, never resorting to melodrama or distorting the composer’s line.

Well known–almost presumed–is Violetta’s “Addio del passato” (one might argue that it’s the link between bel canto and verismo), and both stanzas are sung here, stunningly inflected and devoid of hope. But what tone! What elegance of line! Manon’s “Adieu! Notre petite table” is offered with a tear in the voice that dares not erupt. Wally’s “Ebben! ne andro…” is bleak and beautifully sung, but Callas nails its desolate quality like nobody else. Jaho’s voice is remarkably rich, but she is not a chest-voiced diva.

There are a few other selections, all divinely sung and text driven. Conductor Andrea Battistoni, a name new to me, accompanies and supports, allowing the gong to be heard in the Iris aria, for example, but never overpowering. In case you haven’t guessed, I love this recital and hope you will too. It practically defines “gorgeous lyric soprano singing” reminiscent of Tebaldi and Freni at their best.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Anima Rara

Arias by Puccini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Catalani, Boito, Verdi, Massenet, Giordano

  • Ermonela Jaho (soprano)
  • Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana, Andrea Battistoni

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