Patricia Petibon: Amoureuses

Mozart, Haydn and Gluck

19 December 2008 3 stars

Patricia Petibon

This new disc of eighteenth-century opera arias by the French soprano Patricia Petibon is a bit of a mixed bag. Under the title 'Amoureueses' she presents a 'portrait gallery of women in love', featuring arias by Mozart, Haydn and Gluck, and although none of the material is recorded here for the first time, it's a pleasure to hear extracts from Haydn's underrated operatic output in particular.

Nevertheless, there are some odd choices in the recital, and Petibon's execution just isn't up to scratch in places. The strangest aspect is the decision to include the Queen of the Night aria, Susanna's aria and Barbarina's aria, all in quick succession. To be frank, the Queen of the Night is not in Petibon's comfort zone, so although she sings it respectably, her performance does not warrant the track space (which might better have been allotted to another Haydn aria). One would not have thought that Barbarina's aria was especially worthy of inclusion on a survey like this, and Petibon tends to overegg the words and thereby lose the innocent simplicity of the piece. Susanna is more natural territory for her, and the performance is finely shaped, but there is no ignoring the fact that she does not match great interpretors such as Freni and Moffo in this role.

Giunia's arias from Mozart's Lucio Silla have flashes of brilliance in them, in terms of Petibon's renditions. The first part of 'Ah! se il crudel periglio' is particularly attractive, because the baroque temperament is something Petibon finds easy to create, but the fast coloratura passages push her to her limits and occasionally beyond. The same goes for 'Fra i pensier', where she gets the fieriness but sometimes loses control. The best of the Mozart items is 'Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen' from Zaide, a vengeance aria with a contrasting middle section that finds Petibon blending expression and technique in ideal measures.

The Haydn excerpts are of more interest to me. As we approach the composer's anniversary year, it's salutary to think that even now, none of his major operas is in the repertoire, so it's good to find Petibon including arias from five of them. The disc opens with Flaminia's 'Ragion nell'alma siede' from Il mondo della luna, one of Haydn's most appealing pieces, and Petibon is immediately into the character, though her almost constant vibrato undermines the tonal variety. She scores much higher in Volpino's 'Salamelica, Semprugna cara' from Lo speziale (The Apothecary), a brief comical aria written for a trouser role; the performance is winning. Similarly, Petibon revels in the title character's 'Odio, furor dispetto' from Armida and really controls her performance of Euridice's 'Del mio core il voto estremo' from L'anima del filosofo; a shame that this kind of beautiful understatement isn't found elsewhere on the disc. By comparison, Silvia's 'Fra un dolce deliro' from L'isola disabitata is on the dull side, but the singing is still very pretty.

Petibon's finest performances come from Gluck's operas Armide and Iphigénie en Tauride. Feisty in Iphigénie's fourth-act aria, controlled in Armide's third-act piece and white-hot in the same character's Act II 'Venez, secondez mes désirs', there are glimpses here of how the recital might have been more consistently impressive had Petibon pursued this repertoire all the way along. The disc ends with Armide's big scene from Act V; Petibon wrings every ounce of agony out of it, and it proves to be the highlight of the disc. It ought not to be the case that the orchestra is more impressive on a vocal recital than the solo singer, but there's no denying it here: Concerto Köln and Daniel Harding give an impeccable accompaniment, whether in the stormy Queen of the Night aria or in the more lyrical arias. Still, I think this is one for fans of Petibon only.

By Dominic McHugh