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Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, July 2011

One of a great line of Italian sopranos, Mirella Freni at the Metropolitan Opera, New York announced her farewell to a long and distinguished career in May 2005. The event was cause for triple celebration as it marked her seventieth birthday, her fiftieth anniversary on the operatic stage and forty years with the Metropolitan Opera Company.

The present BR Klassik release is taken from recordings made at a series of ‘Sunday Concerts’ in Munich. Initiated in 1952 by Alfred Schröter head of light classics at Bavarian Broadcasting these live radio concerts were first broadcast in 1952 the same year as the Munich RSO was founded.

The disc starts and concludes with performances of Cilea’s act I aria Io son l'umile ancella from Adriana Lecouvreur. This was catches Freni in 1971 with a noticeably strong projection to her singing. Her expressive tone supplements the astonishingly heady atmosphere of Cilea’s writing. The extended note at the aria’s conclusion was quite breathtaking. The same Cilea aria is also heard around fifteen years later with Freni now in her fifties sounding equally sensational. Freni’s voice has noticeably mellowed but with additional hues. The climax at the conclusion is once again quite wonderful.

I especially Freni’s Puccini. Mimi from La Bohème was a signature role for Freni. From act I Si, mi chiamano Mimi is delivered with rapt tenderness and smooth control. I felt the hairs lift on the back of my neck such was the effect. As the singer Musetta in act II Quando me'n vo also known as ‘Musetta's Waltz’ one immediately notices the impressive weight of Freni’s colourful timbre and her wonderfully even vibrato. A fine example of Freni’s exceptional diction and even vibrato is the much loved Vissi d'arte from act II of Tosca where she soars gloriously to the heavens. From 1971 in Tu, che di gel sei cinta from act III of Turandot I was struck by the girlish sound to her voice and her ability to build a stupendous climax.

From act III of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) in the role of Countess Almaviva singing E Susanna non vien! - Dove sono…Freni conveys a heartfelt and often reverential quality. As Tatyana in the celebrated ‘letter scene’ from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin Freni’s durability was clear managing to vary her tone as the scene progressed. In this aria Tchaikovsky writes deliciously for woodwind instruments. I found the timbre and phrasing of the oboist quite exceptional and the playing of the principal flute also took the ear.

The Munich Radio Symphony are on splendid form. It is hard to fault this first rate orchestra who provide sensitive and committed accompaniment throughout. The sound quality is to a consistently high standard with an especially impressive balance. Also provided are interesting if rather concise booklet notes. Sadly there are no texts.

I just couldn’t stop playing this disc which is not surprising given that Freni has one of the finest soprano voices I have ever heard.

Barry Bassis
The Epoch Times, June 2011

Mirella Freni was born in Modena, Italy, in 1935, the same town and the same year as Luciano Pavarotti, with whom she often performed. In fact, they shared the same wet nurse.

Freni became a star before he did, creating a sensation as Mimi in “La Boheme.” A film of her in that role brought her to the attention of American audiences. She later made an acclaimed recording of the opera with Pavarotti. She was an accomplished actress as well as a superb singer.

Freni had a phenomenal 50-year career; she appeared at the Metropolitan Opera over a span of 40 years. According to the CD liner notes by Thomas Vogt, she was amused to read after her last performance as Joan of Arc in Tchaikovsky’s “The Maid of Orleans” that “[s]he concluded her stage career at the age of 70 as the Virgin of Orleans.”

“Great Singers Live: Mirella Freni” (BR-Klassik/Naxos) is a collection of previously unreleased recordings of three Sunday concerts with the Münchner Rundfunkorchester between 1971 and 1987. The arias present her in “La Boheme” as both Mimi (one of her signature roles) and the flirtatious Musetta. Also from Puccini is an emotional “Vissi d’arte” from “Tosca” and “Tu, che di gel sei cinta” from “Turandot.”

The CD shows her development into heavier roles with a stunning performance of Tatyana in “The Letter Scene” from Tchaikovsky’s “Evgeny Onegin” as well as “Ritorna vincitor” from “Aida” and a heartfelt “Dove sono” from “La Nozze di Figaro.” The CD begins and ends with “Io son l’umile ancella” from “Adriana Lecouvreur” (in 1971 and 1987, respectively). If anything, the passage of time deepened her art.

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