The South African Soprano Pretty Yende opened the 70th ABAO Bilbao Opera season with a solo recital accompanied by Italian pianist Michele d’Elia. She presented a balanced program that included chamber arias from Bellini, Donizetti, and the Rossini as well as Liszt’s “Tre sonetti di Petrarca,” which was a beautiful and unexpected addition to the evening. There were also a few traditional opera arias. The result was a recital in which the soprano was at her best, not only vocally but deeply committed to the music and her audience. She was so expressive and moving to the point that you got so involved in her artistry and forgot how technically demanding the pieces she was singing were.
An Impeccable Opening
The soprano opened the recital with Bellini’s chamber aria “Vanne o rosa fortunata.” She easily navigated Bellini’s long expansive melody, written mostly in the middle register. She delivered her first whispering mezzavoce as she ascended the melody during the repetition on the line, “bella rosa lè dobiam trovar la morte” and held a soaring high A pianissimo.
She continued with two Donizetti chamber arias, “La Conocchia” where she gave a charming interpretation that contrasted with the more melancholic, “L’amor funesto.” The second aria was full of drama and abandonment and as she ascended into the higher tessitura, she sang an ethereal high B natural. These three pieces were wise choices for the opening of the recital as the middle register was on full display and was a great warmup for the soprano’s lyrical voice. You could hear her instrument reverberate freely in the auditorium and the lyrical timbre shined especially in the middle register and the passagio. Yende has a dark velvet quality to her sound that rings in your ears, especially in her most vibrant and penetrating G and A.
Donizetti’s “O luce di quest’anima” from “Linda di Chamonix” was the first opera aria of the night. Yende’s voice shined particularly well in the middle register as she displayed a dense darker round sound during the piece. Yende sang all the staccato notes and scales in the first half and then added her own subtle variations. Here she interpolated a trill on the second high C in “vieni, viene” alternating between a high C and D. She finished with her own cadenza going up to a high D, before resolving in a very long sustained high C till the last bar of the piece.
She left the stage for a few minutes before coming back to Rossini’s song “La promessa.” The piece is written in a long expansive melody with no vocal ornamentation and the line mostly inside the stave. Yende sang the piece with a nostalgic feel that filled the venue with her dark full sound.
She ended the first part with the aria “Partir o Cielo desio,” from “Il viaggio a Reims.” This Rossini aria is filled with flourishes and Yende sang multiple roulades and scales with precision. She added some staccato variations on the last verse showing her flexibility and coloratura technique. She ended the slow section with what sounded like the first part of Lucia’s flute cadenza. The cabaletta was then sung at an incredibly quick tempo showcasing Yende’s virtuosic ability to sing roulades. She interpolated the first E flat of the night during the repetition of the cabaletta, a ringing secure note. That was followed by several difficult variations with lots of staccato high notes that reached several high Cs and E flats. She ended the piece with an E flat that was a bit timid for the climax.
An Expressive Second Half
After a 10 minute interval, the soprano sang the most lyrical and expressive pieces of the program, “Tre soneti di Petraca” by Franz Liszt. She performed Liszt’s music with tender emotion, floating mezza voce lines and long legato phrases. After Elia’s “Meditation of Thais,” Yende entered the stage to sing the recitative, ”Oh, se una volta sola…” from Amina’s sleepwalking scene from “La Sonambula.” She acted throughout the recitative creating a dreamlike state that led into “Ah non credea,” one of the most beautiful melodies that Bellini composed. Yende acquiesced to the sadness and abandonment of the piece by using her immaculate mezzavoce and long fiato. She contrasted the aria with an explosion of joy in the cabaletta “Ah non giunge.” The soprano sang with secure attacks on the B flat and high C. She also interpolated a high E flat during the cadenza but it was timidly short. During the repetition, she added her own variations but there was a tendency to keep the voice inside the first two octaves, rather than the stratospheric variations she used to perform.
After warm applause, the soprano offered three distinct encores. She began with Rosina’s aria, “Una voce poco fa” from “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” Yende chose to sing the mezzo-soprano version in the key of E major rather than the higher soprano version. She hit several E naturals singing them staccato and also kept the aria lively singing smooth coloratura lines. In all, it was a strong and joyful interpretation.
Her second encore was the romanza, ”Me llaman la primorosa” from the Zarzuela “El barbero de Lavapies.” It was not the best choice as she lacked clear Spanish diction. However, stylistically she performed it with a cunning sound and created a vibrant interpretation that avoided the traditional interpolated high E natural.
After a short speech where she greeted the audience, she sang her third encore “I want to be a Prima Donna” from Victor Herbert’s “The Enchantress.” She was overjoyed with this final piece and received a loud final ovation.
The pianist Michele d’Elia was a great counterpart for Yende as he joined her in several jokes which added comic levity to the atmosphere. As noted, he played one solo piece, the “Meditation of Thais,” in a piano transcription that showcased long fluid beautiful lines.
All in all, this was a recital where expression and emotion were above vocal virtuosity. It was also a moment in which Yende displayed how even though her voice has expanded and obtained a lyrical quality, there was room for beautiful coloratura and striking high notes.