Yesterday at noon Ileana Montalbetti, currently appearing in the COC’s Götterdämmerung and pianist Rachel Andrist gave a recital in the RBA. It was five years to the day since they last performed together in that space. Then she was a promising young singer, now she comes over as a considerable interpretative artist. The voice is even bigger (and for a piano recital in the small and not very friendly to dramatic sopranos RBA(*) that was a bit of a challenge) but what’s notable is how much more drama and meaning there is in each number.
First up was Mozart’s concert aria Bella mia fiamma, addio! It was pretty intense and Mozart like we don’t often hear it but true I think to the spirit of the text. Next was a set of four Strauss songs. These were sung with appropriate feeling and very good German diction. They just felt a bit overwhelming in that space. I’d love to hear her do these with an orchestra though.
Three Shakespeare sonnet settings by Saskatchewan composer Robert Ursan came next. I really liked his setting of Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind which was quite sardonic and had an interesting piano part. Once again, Ileana was spot on with the mood and every word was clearly articulated. I wasn’t so impressed with his settings of Sonnet 57 and the very well known Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…). The music seemed formulaic, almost Broadwayish, but the interpretation of the text was spot on.
Probably the highlight of the recital was the Abscheulicher from Beethoven’s Fidelio. I think the role of Leonora is just about Ileana’s sweet spot right now. She has the right size voice for the role and she is really good in German. Her ability to convey emotion is tangible and this one had the hairs on my neck standing up.
Finally, we got Britten’s arrangement of Sweet Polly Oliver. It was her encore on that day five years ago and the first thing, she claims, she ever performed in a competition. Sweet!
Ileana’s maturation as an artist and interpreter is palpable. I hope we get to see more of her in a context that shows off her voice to better advantage.
(*) The RBA is a fantastic asset but it wasn’t designed primarily for its acoustics. In particular it seems to emphasise the steely side of slicey voices in a way that isn’t always especially attractive, especially close up. This seems to impact dramatic sopranos more than most and it’s really frustrating sometimes when one knows the voice and how it can sound in a different acoustic.
Photos when I get them.