Screaming Viva for the Loveliest of Divas – Pretty Yende in Recital

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Various composers: Pretty Yende (soprano), Michele D’Elia (piano), Zurich Opera, Zurich, 25.9.2017. (RP)

Pretty Yende © Gregor Hohenberg. Courtesy-of-Sony-Music-Entertainment
Pretty Yende © Gregor Hohenberg

Rossini – ‘La promessa’ from Les soirées musicales
Bellini – ‘Vanne, o rosa fortunata’; ‘Oh! se una volta sola… Ah! non credea mirarti… Ah! non giunge uman pensiero’ from La sonnambula
Donizetti – ‘Me voglio fa’na casa, L’amor funesto’
Debussy – ‘Beau soir’, ‘Fleur des blés’, ‘Clair de lune’, ‘Mandoline’, ‘Apparition’
Meyerbeer – ‘O beau pays de la Touraine’ from Les Huguenots
Liszt – Tre sonetti di Petrarca
Giménez – ‘Sierras de Granada’ and ‘La tarántula e un bicho mu malo’ from La tempranica; ‘Me
Ilaman la primorosa’ from El barbero de Sevilla

It has been just over a year since Pretty Yende first appeared at the Zurich Opera as Elvira in Bellini’s I puritani, in a performance that ’sparkled and wowed the audience’. (For John Rhodes’ review, click here.) She is now universally acclaimed as one of opera’s rising young stars and is charming and dazzling audiences everywhere she appears. Her specialty is the bel canto, those operas by the nineteenth-century composers Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti typified by beautiful voices singing highly ornamented vocal lines. She returned to Zurich for a recital that not only justified the hype but indicated where her voice and temperament may lead her.

The first half of the recital was delicate and beautiful. Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti’s songs are all of a type, what is generally deemed salon music. They are a perfect fit for Yende’s naturalness and ease as a singer, to say nothing of her refined musicianship. Debussy’s songs may not be as tuneful as those of the Italian romantics, but like them his chief aim in composing music was to give pleasure. Yende’s silvery soprano floated dreamily over the varied textures of Debussy’s shimmering accompaniments.

Passion was the controlling emotion of the second half of the recital. The three sonnets relate the story of Petrarch’s first sighting of Laura, and the poet’s emotional outbursts inspired Liszt to compose music that demands virtuosity from both singer and pianist. Gone were the delicate shadings and controlled emotions of the first half as Yende gave full voice to ecstatic expressions of love, which range from the poet’s dramatic outbursts to Laura’s tears. The high Ds in the first sonnet were glorious. Far earthier were three zarzuela arias by Spanish composer Gerónimo Giménez.

Yende closed both parts of the recital with big arias. First came ‘O beau pays de la Touraine’ from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, which she performs frequently. The first half of the aria was bland and boring, but in the second section she was back in form. The recital concluded with Amina’s last aria from Bellini’s La sonnambula, affording Yende a final opportunity to show off her fabulous technique. It was emotionally charged bel canto singing at its best, topped off by vocal pyrotechnics that brought many in the audience to their feet.

Her four encores showed a singer eager to spread her wings and strut her stuff. It was a first for me, but she sang the two Tosti songs reading from her iPad. You sort of had to scratch your head and wonder why, but it’s the twenty-first century, and Yende managed to make even that seen natural and unaffected. She let down her hair and had some fun with ‘Art is Calling for Me’ by Victor Herbert. In it she sang ‘I know I’d win fame if I sang in Bohème, that opera by Signor Puccini’. I’m not sure if Mimi is in the cards, but her ‘O mio babbino caro’ was ravishing. You can’t help but think that Yende has a verismo heart yearning to break free.

Michele D’Elia, a freelance vocal coach who works with the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala, did what is to be expected from an accompanist: sit unobtrusively at the piano and occasionally gaze rapturously at the singer. That isn’t, however, why Yende pushed him to the front of the stage for a solo bow. It was because D’Elia is a truly exciting musician who can make the piano sound like a full orchestra. He has so much fun at the keyboard, and is as at home in the rarefied atmosphere of Liszt and Debussy as he is on Herbert’s Broadway. Yende has great taste in pianists.

Lovely best describes Yende’s voice, appearance and stage presence. I marveled at the ease of her vocal production. Many a voice teacher advises that diction should be done with the lips, teeth and the tip of the tongue. Yende could be the poster child for that school of vocal pedagogy. Her singing is just so natural, and she also has beautiful hands that are almost as expressive as her voice. Yende may appear demure, but the heart of a prima donna beats inside her. The two dresses that she wore – the first bright turquoise and the second deep pink in a rose pattern – leave no doubt that she wants them ‘screaming viva for the diva’. And so they did.

Rick Perdian

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