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Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, December 2005

Martinez, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Michaela in "Carmen," has a flexible lyric soprano voice that's like caramel - it's that dark and sweet. Listeners just discovering opera will enjoy the disc's focus on hits, like "Vilja" from "The Merry Widow" and Puccini's "O mio babbino caro." Connoisseurs will thrill to the Latin dash Martinez brings to the music, such as the extravagantly long high notes that conclude Delibes' "Les filles de Cadix" and "Je veux vivre," from Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet." You could almost call her a show-off, but I love the joy she takes in her art. The haunting "Bailero" from Cantaloube's haunting "Songs of the Auvergne" is a delight.



Robert Baxter
Courier-Post, December 2005

Ana Maria Martinez is leaving her mark on lyric soprano roles in opera houses around the world. To celebrate her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, Naxos is issuing a collection of songs and arias recorded in Prague five years ago (8.557827).

Martinez's pure soprano swirls through Delibes' "Les Filles de Cadix." Deftly accompanied by Steven Mercurio and the Prague Philharmonia, the Puerto Rican soprano sings with a blend of musical precision and interpretive refinement.

Martinez shapes lovely accounts of Luna's "De Espana vengo" and Lopez's "Violetas imperiales." She also trips lightly through the roulades in Juliette's waltz from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette.

Martinez can sing softly as she proves in selections by Canteloube and Villa-Lobos. She spins out a ravishing line in Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, but her voice does not float in the arching phrases of Magda's aria from Puccini's La Rondine and sounds tight in the climax of "Un bel di."



Robert Everett-Green
The Globe and Mail, December 2005

We think of pop recording as a kingdom of stars, but the classical-music industry has been star-struck ever since Enrico Caruso became the first smash-hit singer on disc a century ago. So when a German businessman based in Hong Kong decided to launch a new classical label in 1987 with no star performers at all, the major labels thought they had good reason to sneer, assuming they even noticed.

Eighteen years later, Klaus Heymann runs a lean global empire that in some countries has gobbled up half the retail market for classical CDs in numbers of discs sold. The catalogue for his Naxos label now lists about 3,000 recordings, many of unusual repertoire, all still available at prices well below those charged by classical labels at EMI, Sony/BMG and Universal.

Naxos also seems to have outrun its rivals on the Internet. Last month, Naxos's entire recorded output of 75,000 tracks went on sale on eMusic, a U.S. subscription service that claims to shift 2.4 million downloads per month. Naxos's own on-line music library gives streamed access to 130,000 tracks from its own catalogue or those of affiliated labels for $15 (U.S.) a month or less (naxos.com runs a similar streaming service, for a puzzlingly higher monthly rate, along with a free podcast schedule of music from recent releases).

Most surprisingly, perhaps, Naxos in the past year or so has overcome the bargain-basement stigma of its early days. Its recording of American composer William Bolcom's massive song-cycle Songs of Innocence and of Experience made many critics' lists of the best recordings of 2004, and a few months ago Gramophone magazine named Naxos its label of the year. A recent Boston Globe feature by veteran critic Richard Dyer about EMI's $1-million studio recording of Tristan und Isolde with star tenor Placido Domingo gave almost equal space to a Naxos recording from the Royal Swedish Opera, and Naxos didn't suffer much from the comparison, least of all from the news that its Tristan cost about half as much as EMI's.

"We now routinely announce ourselves to be the world's leading classical label and nobody has complained so far," says Heymann on his website. A look through his catalogue and at where the records are coming from makes his claim even more extensive than it appears. While the majors have concentrated on international stars doing mostly standard repertoire (or crossover projects), Naxos has insinuated itself into the classical scene in many of the countries where its discs are sold. Orchestras and opera houses that have something to offer but that were ignored by the big multinationals have found that they can have a recording career, often while playing music written by their compatriots.

Naxos's American Classics line, for instance, has produced dozens of albums devoted to music by the likes of Samuel Barber, Edward McDowell and Ned Rorem, many of them recorded by solid mid-level orchestras such as the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. U.S. critics have been lavish in their praise, in part because Naxos is perceived to have stepped into the gap left when Warner's Nonesuch label shifted its focus away from American composition and toward world music and alt-pop figures such as David Byrne, Youssou N'Dour and Wilco.

One of every four classical discs sold in Canada is a Naxos CD, and the company has recorded more Canadian musicians than any other international label. Guitarist Norbert Kraft and harpsichordist Bonnie Silver, Naxos's A&R team in Canada, have produced over 200 albums during the past dozen years. That includes 30 discs made by conductor Kevin Mallon with Toronto Camerata and the Aradia Ensemble, one of which (an album of Lully ballet music) has sold nearly 40,000 copies. The late Georg Tintner, who spent the last years of his career conducting Symphony Nova Scotia, recorded an entire Bruckner symphony cycle for Naxos that has sold over 490,000 copies worldwide.

Canadian repertoire is still scarce on Naxos discs, but in 1997 the company produced a double-disc Introduction to Canadian Music that includes works by 33 Canadians -- something you won't find on Deutsche Grammophon. The set, and 274 titles from CBC Records, are also available on Naxos's on-line music library.

Naxos sells none of its albums from its website, for fear of alienating retailers, some of whom have set up Naxos-only boutiques in their gift shops and used-book stores. But the company's policy of never deleting any title from its catalogue seems in tune with the on-demand delivery model coming into view for Internet music sales.

"About 10 per cent of our business currently comes from downloads and digital streaming," says Raymond Bisha, promotions manager for Naxos Canada. "We expect this percentage will almost double by next year."

Part of that income comes from institutional subscriptions to the on-line library, which universities and some public libraries see as a relatively cheap way (at $3,750 for a year's unlimited use) to gain access to a large music archive without the bother of buying and maintaining the physical discs. Some, such as the University of Toronto and the Calgary Public Library, are running the service through their own websites, so cardholders can hear the music at home.

None of these changes have affected Naxos's stripped-down business model, which relies on modest creative expenses, low production costs, minimal promotion and global distribution. The label flaunts its no-frills philosophy with each disc, sticking to a cover-design template that is unvaryingly dowdy but also instantly recognizable. A custom paper over-sleeve for a Brahms symphony cycle with Marin Alsop and the London Philharmonic Orchestra was a rare departure from the norm. But with Alsop, Naxos has happened on a star in the making, as well as a figure of controversy, following her contentious appointment as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last summer.

Stars, however, will neither make nor break Naxos, which began as an attempt to exploit a vacant price niche but which has evolved into much more. When other, larger companies have done budget classical discs, they've tended to stick to the tried and true: Mozart, Beethoven and more Mozart, often in recordings that have been released many times before. Naxos, by contrast, has puts out hundreds of recordings of music by lesser-known composers, and has even prompted new repertoire to be written. In Britain, Naxos commissioned Sir Peter Maxwell Davies to write the Naxos Quartets, a cycle of 10 string quartets, six of which have already been recorded by the Maggini Quartet.

In that context, the most intriguing thing about the Naxos story is the way it has plucked the feathers of the toughest canard in the classical trade: That only the so-called core classics can withstand the ups and downs of the business. At a time when many symphony orchestras are retreating from new and unfamiliar repertoire, Naxos is taking chances, and thriving.



John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune, December 2005

. . . a growing number of classical music purveyors are looking to the new digital technology for solutions to some of their most vexing problems.

Just as it makes sense for recording companies with declining CD sales to jump aboard the download bandwagon, so too does it make sense for classical groups seeking new audiences to break ground in cyberspace. . . .

The budget classical record label Naxos has joined with the digital music service eMusic to make its entire catalog of roughly 4,500 CDs and 75,000 tracks of classical music available for downloading by eMusic subscribers.

The label has a separate deal with iTunes in which individuals can download a track longer than five minutes, or an entire CD, for $5.99; anything less than five minutes costs 99 cents.

Naxos also offers streaming versions of its educational podcasts on its Web site, www.naxos.com, with downloadable versions at the iTunes Music Store. Five such podcasts have already been created and more are on the way.



Marion Lignana Rosenberg
Time Out New York, November 2005

Her new CD of soprano chestnuts, recorded in 2000, showcases her feisty personality and beguiling timbre—dark but with a pearly sheen and gleaming top notes, sometimes reminiscent of Angela Gheorghiu.

Martinez is at her best in contrasting selections: “Baïlèro” from Canteloube’s Change d’Auvergne, all languor and come-hither dreaminess; and “De España vengo” from Pablo Luna’s zarzuela El niño judio, whose roulades sparkle and whose soulful central section is breathtakingly seductive. Arias from La rondine, Madama Butterfly and Gianni Schicchi show an artist remarkably attuned to Puccini’s voluptuous, melancholy muse. Steven Mercurio and the Prague Philharmonia spin a glamorous halo around the up-and-coming diva.



Gary Hoffman
Opera Today, November 2005

If you missed Ana María Martinez singing at the Santa Fe Opera— in "The Barber of Seville" last summer and "Cosi fan tutte" in 2003 - here's your chance to hear the wondrous, clear tones of this lyric soprano.

Though she doesn't do any Mozart or Rossini on this recording (Naxos), Martinez offers a nice mix of familiar and unfamiliar songs and arias.

For example, there's "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi," "Un bel di vedremo" from the same composer's opera "Madama Butterfly." The latter precedes a hauntingly sad interpretation of Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.

Among the nonoperatic pieces on the CD that are no less challenging for her are "De España vengo" from Pablo Luna's zarzuela "El Niño Judío" and Francis López's swinging waltz "Violetas imperiales."

Martinez, a native of Puerto Rico, grew up in New York City.

The great thing about a CD is you can listen to the music over and over. And with Martinez's recording, you will want to.



Gary Hoffman
Opera Today, November 2005

Martínez possesses an instrument of astonishing range, flexibility and ringing top that is ideally suited to the Romantic and Post-Romantic musical literature presented here. There is no doubt, moreover, that her precise phrasing, intonation and dynamics all contribute to a most satisfactory musical result. In many respects, her voice is reminiscent of that of Bidú Sayão, albeit with a tad more weight, power and opacity. There are no mannerisms apparent in this recording. At times her slurs border on portamento, but always with the requisite dramatic effect. . . .

Steven Mercurio conducts the Prague Philharmonia with aplomb. The engineers have done well to achieve optimal balance between the soloist and the orchestra.

This recording is highly recommended. Let us hope that many more are forthcoming.



Robert Levine
Amazon.com, November 2005

Ana Maria Martinez is a young Puerto Rican soprano with a natural Mediterranean warmth to her tone and an easy upper extension that is suitably bright but does not lose the color and texture of the rest of her voice. Hers is a true lyric which will probably grow darker soon; at the moment, vocally, there's little she has trouble with. . . . Her version of Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 is lovely, including the difficult hummed part at the end of the Aria. . . . her "Vilja-Lied" is ravishingly sung. As soon as she begins to delve a bit into the characters she's portraying, she'll be quite something; now, however, Martinez is already a fine singer, with a beautiful voice, and should be heard. Stephen Mercurio is the sympathetic conductor.



Scott Morrison

Rating:

A Rising Star

Rising fast in the world of opera is the Puerto Rican soprano, Ana María Martínez. . . . And this CD of a varied program of soprano arias and songs tells us why she is becoming such a hot commodity. The voice is perfectly produced, top to bottom, loud to soft. There is an attractive and distinctive spinning core to the voice that is always present, even at pianissimo. There is also enough squillo to cut through moderately heavy orchestra - she's even sung Butterfly - to the last row of a large auditorium. Add to that she is a beautiful woman."



Joseph K. So
La Scena Musicale

Puerto Rican soprano Ana María Martínez has a stunning voice and she is in glorious form on this disc, recorded in 2000 and only now released in conjunction with her Met debut as Micaëla. Having seen her Fiordiligi and Donna Elvira in Santa Fe, I dare say she rivals the best today. Here she sings some of the chestnuts of the lyric soprano repertoire, from Puccini and Gounod to Canteloube and Villa-Lobos, all sung with gleaming tone and unfailing musicality. Perhaps one could ask for more temperament and personality – she is a bit placid and I miss the smile in the voice - but on a purely vocal level she is terrific. Baïlèro from Songs of the Auvergne and Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 are particularly lovely. Like most Latins singing in German (Vilja Lied), she tends to suppress her consonants. Steven Mercurio offers solid support, even if the Prague Philharmonia isn't terribly idiomatic in the Spanish pieces. At 53 minutes the disc is a bit short but her beautiful singing makes up for it. Highly recommended for soprano buffs.

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2:46:42 AM, 19 December 2014
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