Jewels of the Bel Canto


Rising star-soprano Elena Xanthoudakis is joined by the Royal Northern Sinfonia under Richard Bonynge in these exhilarating performances of some true Jewels of the Bel Canto aria tradition by Bellini, Verdi, Rossini and Donizetti.


What people are saying

"This an outstanding debut album from a young singer who will hopefully attract a new generation of bel canto fans." 4.5 Stars, Limelight Magazine, July 2014

" It’s a programme that has been thoughtfully put together, and Xanthoudakis demonstrates considerable mettle in delivering it so skilfully." Opera, August 2014

Elena Xanthoudakis soprano
Catherine Carby mezzo-soprano
Royal Northern Sinfonia
Richard Bonynge conductor

Release date:10th Mar 2014
Order code:SIGCD374
Barcode: 635212037423

Combining a Greek background with an Australian upbringing, Elena Xanthoudakis pays tribute in her personal IntroductIon to this wide-ranging bel canto selection to two illustrious predecessors Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. She also highlights her collaboration on this disc with Richard Bonynge, whose stylistically apposite conducting is one of its most notable features. Under his baton the Royal Northern Sinfonia offers first-rate accompaniments, while the recorded sound is close to ideal, allowing the characteristic scoring of individual pieces to register with clarity.

Philip Gossett’s notes point up the expectations of early-19th-century Italian composers that their vocal lines would invariably be sympathetically decorated by performers, noting the surviving evidence detailing the kinds of options they envisaged. Xanthoudakis herself scores on many fronts, but especialIy in selecting appropriate ornaments that bring repeated sections to unusually vivid lIfe; her extracts from La sonnambula, for instance, perfectly exemplify the split personality of Amina, the soul-searching melancholy of ‘Ah! non credea mirarti’, sustained on a gently luminous finely inflected tone, eventually giving way to the overwhelming joy (and not mere technical display) that erupts in ‘Ah! non giunge’.

Xanthoudakis also offers a good trill – something perfectly displayed in Norina’s aria from Don Pasquale, where the soprano negotiates her top register with consistent confidence and fluency.

Style and personality mark her Marie in La Fille du regiment, and though the size of her soprano cannot match that of either Callas or Sutherland in Lucia’s entrance scene, its ethereality does

suggest an intensely vulnerable individual. By her side, Catherine Carby counsels mezzo caution as Alisa.

Another of the disc’s highlights is Giulietta’s ‘Oh! quante volte’ from Bellini’s Capuleti, where the youthful innocence of Xanthoudakis’s characterization is artfully conveyed in her dreamy line and fragrant tone. She brings a moving sense of melancholy to the latest item here Medora’s ‘Non so le tetre immagini’ from Verdi’s Il corsaro (1848) and both precision and charm to Adele’s tender ‘En proie ala tristesse’ from Le Comte Ory. Among rarer items, Fanny’s ‘Vorrei spiegarvi il giubilo’ from Rossini’s early La cambiale di matrimonio looks ahead to Rosina’s ‘Una voce poco fa’ from the composer’s subsequent and best-known opera. It’s a programme that has been thoughtfully put together, and Xanthoudakis demonstrates considerable mettle in delivering it so skilfully. 

Opera Magazine, George Gall, August 2014

Young Aussie diva makes a stunning entrance with an old Maestro

As a Greek-Australian soprano it’s only natural that Elena Xanthoudakis should have as her twin idols Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. And when the opportunity came along to record arias from the bet canto repertoire with that master of the craft Richard Bonynge, she must have thought all her Christmases had come at once. After a few days of run-throughs and discussions at the maestro’s Swiss home, the resulting 10 tracks recorded in England with the Royal Northern Sifonia share that palpable sense of freshness and excitement that a major new talent often brings to familiar material.

Xanthoudakis was born in Victoria and as a youngster she trained as an elite gymnast. Her athleticism clearly extends to her voice, which has a light timbre and gives the impression of effortlessness in the rapid runs and wild vocal leaps. 

After a slightly pallid opening to ‘Quel guardo, il Cavaliere’, from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Xanthoudakis soon hits her straps and shows she has a gift for the impish playfulness which makes up much of Norina’s character. There’s also plenty of dramatic depth, as in her beautiful handling of the recitative and aria ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ from Lucia di Lammermoor (featuring Catherine Carby as the maid Alisa), or the famous sleepwalking scene from Bellini’s La Sonnambula.

We get three Rossini arias – two without the added cadential top notes he disapproved of, and one with, namely ‘Tace la tromba altera’ from Matilde di Shabran. An unexpected but welcome inclusion is a bit of Verdi, a composer not usually associated with the bel canto genre, but ‘Egli non riede ancora!’ from Il Corsaro is perhaps the closest he got.

Bonynge is effusive in his praise of Xanthoudakis, describing her as "really cluey" with a lovely technique. "She’s a very accurate singer and she takes the trouble to learn… Elena has beautiful high notes but she’s not wanting to sing them all the time," he says. "She thinks of the whole voice and it’s a very even voice from top to bottom and that’s wonderful, you don’t find that too often." She also researches her subject, as her highly readable cover notes show. 

It’s hard to argue with Maestro Bonynge’s summation that if she sticks to the roles that most suit her – Mozart, Handel and, of course, the bel canto repertoire heard here – she will have a terrific career. This an outstanding debut album from a young singer who will hopefully attract a new generation of bel canto fans. 

4.5 Stars, Limelight Magazine, Steve Moffatt

The programme of bel canto operatic arias is not the regimented slow-slow-quick-slow that the bandleader Victor Silvester used to describe a certain dance step but it does contain a fine mixture of those tempos, from elegant cavatinas, like Giulietta’s ‘Oh! Quante volte’, to sparkling cabalettas such as Matilde’s ‘Tace la tromba altera’, with which the recital ends, and the more well-known ‘Ah! non giunge’ of Amina.

In a note in the booklet, Elena Xanthoudakis writes that her love of bel canto repertoire ‘has been inspired by years of listening to both my idols – the Greek Maria Callas and the Australian Joan Sutherland’. (Obviously of Greek descent, Xanthoudakis was born in the state of Victoria.) She does not possess the colours of the former or the size of voice of the latter, but her tone is well formed, focused and supported, and she can cover a wide vocal ranger. The top of her voices does not become thin, which is just as well, for there is no shortage of high notes, which are steady in their production. Add to all that her flexibility and one has a singer who is worth hearing. 

An essay by Philip Gossett on the singing of bel canto should perhaps be read before one listens to the CD. He makes some interesting points. Of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini he writes that ‘these composers would have been appalled that there are still singers who want to perform their operas as written, yet introducing high notes at the very end’, also saying that their arias are not meant to be sung without change night after night. Xanthoudakis and her conductor Richard Bonynge do use variations and embellishments, which are successfully negotiated. 

One of the liveliest of the arias here is ‘Vorrei spiegarvi il giubilo’ from La cambiale di matrimonio, especially in the later stages during a turn which Rossini resurrected for ‘Una voce poco fa’ in Il barbiere di Siviglia. Xanthoudakis is nimble up and down the scales: I shan’t say ‘like child’s play’, for few children would be able to do it. She invests Marie’s ‘Chacun le sait’ with a frolicsomeness that one expects from this merry and frisky daughter of the regiment. (I first heard this aria when I was a boy. It was sung, perhaps surprisingly, by Jane Powell, in a film whose name I cannot recall.)

The other piece in French is Adele’s solo from another sparkling opera, Le Comte Ory. Longer than ‘Chacun le sait’, it covers a wide of spectrum of emotions. In the recitative, ‘En proie a la tristesse’, Xanthoudakis sings with a touch of sadness, neatly phrased, before launching into an expression of love for Comte Ory’s page Isolier (remember that Adele’s husband is away fighting in the cursades) that reawakens ‘the burning fire of youth’, and here our soprano makes one feel Adele’s joy. Another scene in a which a woman’s thoughts change during its course is that from Lucia di Lammermoor. The recitative, with firm support from fellow Australian Catherine Carby as Alisa, and the cavatina ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ find Lucia telling how upset she was on seeing the spirit of a murdered woman by the fountain. Xanthoudakis expresses it on a smooth line before the cabaletta, ‘Quando rapito in estasi’, finds Lucia happier mood as she thinks of her lover Edgardo, to which Xanthoudakis brings a fleetness of voice.

The excerpt from La sonnambula is similarly constructed (both should have been given more than a single track). The recitative is thoughtfully shaped here and ‘Ah! non credea mirarti’ reinforces the pleasure in Xanthoudakis’s flowing line in slower music, before it gives way to the jaunty opening bars of ‘Ah! non giunge’. This is a reqarding track from many angles. Three arias that contain little or no quick music, those from Il Corsaro, L’elisir d’amore and I Capuleti respectively, also earn respect for the singing. It is right, however, that it is Matilde’s cabaletta which brings the show to a close, with trills and visits to realms above the stave, to which one sits back and relaxes, knowing that this particular soprano will not fail. 

Over the winter, British cricket lovers will have contemplated (and cursed) many good partnerships by Australian batsmen. In a different form, here is another creditable Australian pairing. Bonynge, so experienced in Bel canto operas, draws from the Royal Northern Sinfonia fitting playing, including that of harpist Sharron Griffiths and horn player Peter Francomb. 

Everything is well recorded, and Signum, as always, think of the customers and provides texts and English translations. 

International Record Review, John T. Hughes, June 2014

  1. Don Pasquale: Recit and Aria “Quel guardo, il Cavaliere … So anch’io la virt? magica” – Gaetano Donizetti – 5.45
  2. Il Corsaro: Recit and Aria, “Egli non riede ancora! … Non so le tetre immagini” – Giuseppe Verdi – 5.37
  3. La Fille du R?giment: Aria, – Gaetano Donizetti – 3.43
  4. Lucia di Lammermoor: Recitative, “Ancor non giunse!” – Aria, “Regnava nel silenzio” – Cabaletta, “Quando rapito in estasi” – Gaetano Donizetti – 12.22
  5. La Cambiale di Matrimonio: Aria “Vorrei spiegarvi il giubilo” – Gioachino Rossini – 3.59
  6. I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Recit and Aria, “Eccomi in lieta vesta … Oh! Quante Volte” – Vincenzo Bellini – 8.18
  7. Le Comte Ory: Aria and Cabaletta, “En proie ? la Tristesse … Celeste providence” – Gioachino Rossini – 9.05
  8. La Sonnambula: Scene, “Oh!… se una volta sola rivederlo potessi” – Aria, “Ah! Non credea mirati” – Cabaletta, “Ah! non giunge uman pensiero” – Vincenzo Bellini – 12.22
  9. L’elisir d’amore: Aria, “Prendi, per me sei libero” – Gaetano Donizetti – 3.27
  10. Matilde di Shabran: Scene and Aria, “Son tua per sempre … Ami alfine?” – Finale, “Tace la tromba altera” – Gioachino Rossini – 7.53