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Handel Operatic Arias - Emma Bell & SCO - International Record Review


01 November 2005
International Record Review
Hugh Canning

Emma Bell, undoubtedly one of the most exciting young sopranos of her generation, made her name in Handel opera. I vividly recall noting her name, but I can't remember in which opera or role, as a student participant in one of Denys Darlow's London Handel Festival productions at the Royal College of Music's Britten Theatre in the late 1990s. In 1998 she sang the title role in the LHF/RCM Production of Radamisto - which I missed - and two years later she had not only replaced Lisa Milne in the title-role of Glyndebourne Touring Opera's production of Rodelinda - to critical and public acclaim - but sang Tigrane in Opera North's production of Radamisto and a handful of Rodelindas in her own right at the main Glyndebourne summer event. At the festival's most recent revival of this production in 2004 she sang the entire run. Between 2000 and 2004 she had fulfilled a three years contract at Berlin's Komische Oper - where her roles included Pamina, Mimi and Handel's Alcina - and earlier this year she triumphed in the wide ranging, almost dramatic, coloratura role of Vitellia in English National Opera's new production of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito. Her success in that part undoubtedly led her casting as Electra in La Scala Milan's new Idomeneo, the opening production of the 2005/06 season.as a recipient of a generous award for the Borletti-Buitoni Trust, Bell, with remarkable enterprise for so young a singer, decided to invest the money in her first recordings. Linn issued a well-received song recital in 2004, adventurously programming Richard Strauss alongside his lesser-known contemporary Joseph Marx and songs by the conductor Bruno Walter (reviewed in October 2004). This Handel album marks her operatic debut on record. If it is not the complete success that might have been expected, that is because Bell's voice is clearly outgrowing most of the Handel roles from which she sings excerpts on this disc. Already in 2000, reviewing her Glyndebourne Rodelinda in Opera magazine, Rodney Milnes suggested that this was the case and that her future would lie in more dramatic repertoire (she will sing Verdi's Violetta for ENO in 2006)This is a big colourful, vibrant, even ‘plummy' voice (as Milnes noticed) with a steely cutting edge, fine, say for the angry sorceresses Melissa (in Amadigi), Armida (in Rinaldo), one each of whose arias she tackles here, and possibly also for Alcina, which is surprisingly avoids. Bell clearly responds to the emotional dilemmas of the characters she presents, so even though her basic timbre is less conventionally beautiful, she is more involving and rewarding Handel interpreter than the lush-toned but narcissistic Renee Fleming on her Decca selection. She is touching in Rodelinda's two Arias and the Polissena's exquisite arioso ‘Sommi Dei', with its aching, dissonant oboe obligato. The accompaniment of Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Richard Egarr is lively and stylish for a modern instrument orchestra, but inevitably old fashioned sounding by the side of Piau's Les Talens Lyrics of Fleming's Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the acoustic of Edinburgh's Usher Hall does no one any favours. Bell is clearly a star-in-the making- and I look forward to hearing her in the heavier repertoire in the near future.


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