Aida Garifullina is quickly rising to stardom in the operatic world. Her career has surged in the past year as she has taken leading roles in the world’s greatest houses and has now become an exclusive recording artist for Decca Classics.
For her debut album, Garifullina has chosen a program of classic Russian pieces that are meaningful to her and her career. And the outcome is a CD that shows promise for her as both a recording artist and a star in the operatic world.
Many of the pieces in the album are unknown to mainstream audiences and that is what makes this recording a gem. From her “Song of India” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sadko” to her “How Beautiful it is Here” by Rachmaninov, Garfullina spins the lines with passionate and clean phrasing. Each time she is asked to go to a high note, the voice gleams with vibrant colors. In these aforementioned pieces, there is a melancholic tone that can also be heard in Maria’s Aria from Tchaikovsky’s “Mazeppa.” That piece is performed with warmth and the voice carefully dwells on the text expressing each emotion with care.
The last two selections in the album, the “Cossack Lullaby” and “Midnight in Moscow,” showcase a lighter tone that captures the soprano’s joy of performing these songs. Never does she use her full operatic tone but instead maintains a mezzo piano throughout. It’s subtle but it does capture the right tone for these traditional pieces.
“Vocalise” by Rachmaninov is a staple for most sopranos and in this recording, it captures the full range of dynamics that Garifullina possesses. Her voice flows through the swirling lines, the tone full and suave.
The “Oriental Song: The Nightingale and the Rose” is given a shimmering color that captures the eerie and darker qualities of the famed selection. Ascensions into the soprano stratosphere are met with a brighter vocal timbre, giving the feel an openness and emotional contrast with earlier sections. The final notes are hummed instead of sung in the lowest parts of the voice, but still, capture the darkness of the piece.
“Ah! Je Veux Vivre” from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” is sung with precise coloratura and brightness. The voice captures the delight and youth of Juliette and it is evident why she considers this her signature aria, her voice clearly comfortable in this repertoire.
The “Alluki, a Tatar Folk song” has some magical qualities that allow Garifullina to emphasize her clear coloratura runs. They are sung delicately and less intense vibrato that allows the mystical orchestration to come through.
The Tchaikovsky “Serenada” is playful as the soprano plays with dynamics and text. She opens in a pianissimo tone before moving swiftly to a forte. Each phrase starts with similar phrasing, but each time the rhythm is repeated and the music grows in intensity, the voice grows in power.
The ORF Radio-Symphony Orchestra from Vienna is conducted by Cornelius Meister with great precision, allowing for sturdy canvas which Garifullina can color over. He captures the alluring mysticism and the oriental tones in the music, never overpowering the singer.
While the album is superb, there are two selections that seem out of place. Délibes’ “Bell Song” has an oriental style and texture but it is inherently French and that is hard to ignore when the rest of the music is so clearly Russian. But the musical style itself is not the only thing out of place about this selection. Vocally, this does not suit the soprano quite as well as anything else. The piece was brought down to a more suitable key and even then her voice sounds pushed and uncomfortable at the climactic note that concludes the piece.
If the Délibes’ musical style is a stranger on an album full of Russian flavor, then what do we consider the Gounod aria? While it is understandable that Garifullina would put her signature aria on her first album, it upsets the overall sense of cohesion from the remainder of the selections.
Moreover, the placement of the two pieces does not help matters. Being the first two tracks, their bright and bubbly musical qualities create an expectation that the balance of the album never delivers on. The Russian works are pregnant with melancholy and a sense of mysticism that is simply nowhere to be found in the two French pieces.
Aida Garifullina is a star that is still at the beginning of her career and her voice still has a lot of developing. However, this album shows true promise and a sign that there is more wonderful music still to come from her.