International Record Review
Apart from those in Il barbiere di Siviglia, included in her ‘Spanish Heroines’ recital, Silvia Tro Santafe’s selection of Rossini arias is virtually what any interested collector would expect. although the second from La Donna del Lago is rarely excerpted. What a pity one or two less obvious choices were not made. It is a small quibble about an enjoyable issue, like the 14 incorrect spellings in the singer’s short biography in the booklet (for example, ‘developped’, commedienne’ and ‘Placida Domingo’). In my review of Santafe’s earlier CD in February, I referred to typographical errors. Such often escape notice, but 15 are too many. Signum has released some interesting discs, so why spoil them for want of a literate proof-reader?
The performances are more reliable and noteworthy. The voice is in excellent condition, both as regard sound and flexibility. The recital balances arias from comic operas with more serious ones. It may be rather fanciful on my part, but the latter seem to have drawn a slightly stronger, heavier tone, suiting the pieces from La Donna del Lago and Semiramide admirably.
The range of the voice is wide, with no apparent strain on the topmost notes in cabalettas and with the dark bottom register solid, yet it is not just in the three trouser roles (Tancredi, Malcolm and Arsace) that the rich, dark-tinged vibrancy is rewarding. As both Isabella and Cenerentola, Santafe uses it to humorous effect. I should very much like to hear her in a complete performance as the former especially. Is there perhaps room for a touch more glitter in Cenerentola’s rondo? If there is, it may be only when comparison is made with a Supervia, Horna or Valentini Terrani. In the 1950s, Rossini was often served by mezzos who were more suited to Verdi, like Simionato and Barbieri: fine singers but without the dazzling dexterity of many of today’s Rossini mezzos.
Santafe is one such, attacking the myriad notes with accuracy, producing them cleanly and with no suggestion of cheating by insertion of aspirates. To these strengths can be added her breath control. What would ice the cake even more maybe would be a readiness to sing quietly in some phrases. What we hear, however, is impressive. Her singing of recitatives is as telling as that of the arias. Often, longish orchestral introductions are played in full, giving the whole scene, as with that from Semiramide.
We are really well supplied with mezzo-sopranos of high quality today, and Silvia Tro Santafe is definitely in that group. Rossini lovers should put this CD near the top of their wants list. The Navarra musicians under Julian Reynolds provide their own brio in these tuneful extracts. Both Santafe and the orchestra are well recorded too. The booklet prints only the Italian texts, which is regrettable. I liked Santafe’s ‘Spanish Heroines’; I like this even more.
From the first notes she sings in ‘Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno!’ from Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, Spanish mezzo-soprano Silvia Tro Santafé presents a strong vocal profile. While her sound may be unconventional, it lends a precision to her characterizations, and will surely help this promising young singer stand out in today’s crowded opera world, where accomplished, coloratura mezzo-sopranos have never been more plentiful. On this new disc from the Signum label, Tro Santafé presents a collection of the most well known Rossini arias for mezzo-soprano, with a mixture of selections from both comic (L’Italiana and La Cenerentola) and serious operas (Tancredi, La donna del lago, and Semiramide). Since all of these arias have been recorded many times, it is beneficial that Tro Santafé’s unique vocal qualities illuminate the music with fresh colors and interpretive accents to go with the novelty of her ornaments and freedom of expression.
A little research into Ms. Tro Santafé’s biography yields a repertoire that ranges from Handel and Mozart to the giants of bel canto, Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. Though she has earned some of her most significant career successes in Handel, it seems that Rossini roles comprise the bulk of her current and future engagements. In specific, she spends a lot of time with the lighter Rossini in his ‘big three’ comedies: L’Italiana, Cenerentola, and Il barbiere di Siviglia. This is not uncommon for coloratura mezzos, since these are – by far – the most often produced operas from Rossini’s canon. Still, as well as Tro Santafé sings these comedic roles, surely she is destined for the great Rossini ‘male’ roles en travesti, as she reveals with striking vocal confidence on this disc. Her basic sound is not feminine in the traditional, soft-edged, dolce sense. Rather, it is a strong, columnar sound that is ideal for the warrior roles of Tancredi, Malcom, and Arsace. One can easily imagine her tackling further Rossini ‘heroes’ like Calbo (Maometto II) and Falliero (Bianca e Falliero) as well.
Tro Santafé offers all the athleticism and courage one could wish for in this music. She certainly doesn’t hold anything in reserve. As mentioned above, her timbre is unusual: dark, but with an edgy vibrato that can turn the tone brighter in her high range or when the voice is moving quickly. One of the most impressive aspects of her technique is the seamless integration of her vocal registers. She moves in and out of her very impressive chest register with absolute ease, mixing the chest and middle voices perfectly. The same can be said of her (frequent) ascents into her high register, where she fearlessly attacks high Bs and Cs with total assurance (e.g., Malcom’s two arias). Her implementation of legato is also superb, and remarkably, she carries this skill through her coloratura roulades, singing incredibly fast divisions without any aspiration. Frankly, the legato of her high-speed singing puts other singers who employ aspirates (e.g., Bartoli) to shame. It is also very pleasing to note that she displays excellent diction, even if she doesn’t always make the most of the meanings behind the texts.
To go along with her youthful enthusiasm, she does present a few – not too damaging – flaws. The tone itself can turn rather foggy at times, obscuring the specificity of her Italian vowels. And for all the gusto she brings to her coloratura, she does manage to lose rhythmic solidity here and there – sounding a bit close to coming off the rails. There are no major errors in this regard, but the thrills inherent in Rossini’s roulades rely on rock-solid rhythm and precise musical phrasing. Ms. Tro Santafé copes admirably, but loses the bigger phrase amongst the smaller notes on a few occasions (e.g., Isabella’s ‘Pensa alla patria’). Lastly, the singer tends to lean a little too heavily on her chest resonance, creating a somewhat curdled sound. This is most obvious during a couple of phrases in Arsace’s ‘Ah, quel giorno’ from Semiramide, in which she gets carried away with the bravado somewhat at the expense of bel canto. It is important to emphasize that these are relatively minor flaws in otherwise terrific performances. Tro Santafé’s gifts far outweigh the minor imperfections I have mentioned here.
Conductor Julian Reynolds holds things together beautifully, including good quality performances from the Orquesta Sinfonica de Navarra and the Lluis Vich Vocalis. It is vital, in this music, to allow the singer all the space she needs to cope with the difficult vocal lines, and Reynolds succeeds on all counts. In the purely orchestral sections (the long, atmospheric introductory sections in the selections from Tancredi and Semiramide), Reynolds successfully illuminates Rossini’s masterful scene-setting skill, providing the singer with the perfect ‘mood’ for her arias. In all, this is an excellent disc that more than stands up to the competition. One can never have too many ‘Rossini discs’ in the collection, and here, Tro Santafé stakes a solid claim to several of his greatest roles.
‘… this recital has definitely whetted the appetite for more’. It was with these words that I finished my review of Silvia Tro Santafé’s previous recital. That was just half a year ago (April 2009) and here is the sequel. The forerunner was entitled ‘Spanish Heroines’ which opened with Rosina’s two arias from Il barbiere di Sevilla. This explains why Rosina is absent from this all-Rossini disc.
The recital starts with substantial excerpts from Rossini’s first two real successes, Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri, which having been premiered within a few months in 1813 catapulted the young composer to the forefront among Italian opera writers. He turned 21 between the two premieres. For some reason they are presented here in reverse order, so the first character we encounter is the amiable but clever Isabella, a role that Teresa Berganza recorded complete back in 1963. Stylistically Silvia Tro Santafé reminds me a lot of Berganza: lyrical, elegant, light and fluent – and there is a generous helping of warmth as well in both voices – more so than in that of Marilyn Horne, who otherwise is an Isabella to reckon with. With springy accompaniments and theatrical contributions from the chorus these readings are worthy to set alongside any of the many excellent mezzos who have recorded this music.
The trouser role of Tancredi is a quite different character to Isabella, but listening to Di tanti palpiti without referring to the text, the two seem fairly alike. This is, to be honest, Rossini’s fault as much as Ms Tro Santafé’s, and she sings impressively. Even more impressive is her Angelina in the great final aria from La Cenerentola. This is one of the most demanding arias in Rossini’s production, but it is sung with all the requisite virtuosity and security.
Malcolm in La Donna del Lago is another trouser role. The opera, premiered in Naples in 1819, was the first to be based on a story by Sir Walter Scott. During the next twenty years there were twenty-five Italian operas based on his works, and a number in other languages as well. Here Santafé deploys her brilliant top to good effect.
Finally there is a third trouser role, Arsace in Semiramide, and his cavatina only confirms the good impressions from the earlier numbers. I would say that in the latest generation of Rossini mezzos, Silvia Tro Santafé is now at the top, rubbing shoulders with Joyce DiDonato, and she is a worthy heir to Teresa Berganza. More discs from her, please Signum!
Opera Magazine, March 2010
Here’s a conundrum. Visit silviatrosantafe.com and you will promptly be greeted by selections from Spanish Heroines, wherein Signum first paired the conductor Julian Reynolds and the Orquestra Sinfónica de Navarra with this Valencia-born singer: a meltingly heartfelt ‘Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux’ (Le Cid), and impassioned, nuanced ‘Mi Tradi’, and a simply ripping ‘O don fatal’, put across con slancio. Their new recital of classic Rossini showpieces for mezzo, in trousers and out, is enhanced by able supplementary singers, the spirited Lluís vich Vocalis (also from Valencia), and Tim Coleman’s informed contextual notes, providing every promise of pleasure.
For this voice is one fine instrument, at times as luxuriant as rippling grey silk, at others glinting like flexible metal, always thoroughly enjoyable as pure sound. The technique features solid pitch, apt phrasing, good legato, brave fioriture, and a hairpin ‘shake’. Thanks to clear-cut diction, you could transcribe the texts. So why does this able and seasoned performed sing all these selections with so little dramatic involvement? Sorte, in the Italian Girl’s introductory aria, does not sound at all cruda; were Isabella depending on ‘Pensa al apatria’ to rouse her countryman to her rescue, she had best resign herself to life with Mustafa. The accompaniments are supportive, the men’s chorus enthusiastic, the recording quite lifelike. Yet every character, female or make, sounds as detached and placid as every other – especially when contrasted against the considerable competition. This Cenerentola’s infections revelry, ‘Non piú mesta’, sounds stoical; think (though each listener will cite different benchmarks) of Bartoli, or DiDonata. As for Tancredi, or Malcolm from La donna del lago, Marilyn Horne at once comes unfairly to mind, insisting that these are living, suffering individuals. By the final number, the sole rarity – Arsace greeting the Babylon ruled by Semiramide, whom he does not know is his mother – vocal decorum triumphed expressiveness.
Where’s the verbal pointing and emotional coloration that inspirits her Eboli, her Donna Elvira, her Chiméme? Production photos show that this versatile mezzo possesses physical presence, strong features, sparkling hazel eyes, and a mischievous mouth; why don’t we hear those properties in her Rossini, recording in January 2009? Is she more a stage animal, whose instincts spring to life best before an audience? That’s the sizzling impression left by her bravura Handel – whether as Amastre in Les Arts Florissant’s live Serse or, again on her website, as Ruggiero in ‘Sta nell’ Ircana piestrosa tana’ from Alcina with Las Talens Lyriques? Her distinctive timbre is memorable and engaging, as is her temperament, once unleashed. Seek out her earlier disc (I intend to), or watch for Silvia Tro Santafé’s debut in a leading role on DVD. That should solve the conundrum.
The Gramophone, January 2010
Rossini’s heroines, and in this case a few heroes as well, are notoriously demanding roles. Silvia Tro Santafe began her professional career at the Rossini festival at Pesaro, and has made something of a specialty of the three main comic roles in his operas (Rosina, Cenerentola, Isabella). She begins with two extracts from L’italiana in Algeri, and although there are only a couple of moments here where she can demonstrate her comic skills there is a definite twinkle in “Cruda sorte!”. Where necessary all the other characters are present for their brief interjections, and the Lluis Vich Vocalis chorus provide the essential support in the big moments from the final scenes of L’italiana and La Cenerentola. Of course, one cannot help comparing Santafe in these with their illustrious predecessors, Supervia and Berganza. As yet she hasn’t quite their facility at investing the lyrics, or the coloratura, with a completely individual quality. Her diction is exemplary, and she negotiates all the rapid runs, trills and leaps without any apparent difficulty. The other inevitable name for comparison is that of Marilyn Horne, and the trouser roles of Malcolm in La donna del lago and Arsace in Semiramide seemed almost Horne’s exclusive property 30 years ago. It is in these parts that Santafe provies her most confident singing. The jaunty cabaletta to “Mura felice” has an engaging swagger to it, especially at the words “Tutto e impreffetto, tutto detesto”. As for “Ah, quell giorno”, if a suitable Semiramide could be found to partner Santafe’s Arsace, this opera might prove viable again. The Navarra Symphony Orchestra under Julian Reynolds provide sensitive accompaniments throughout. This is a most impressive recital.