Wednesday, September 8, 1999

Opera Cameos

Posted By on Wed, Sep 8, 1999 at 12:00 AM

The title of this maddeningly uneven collection of French arias – most of them coloratura showpieces – translates to "The Jewels," but despite some spectacular singing, not everything sparkles like gems.

Jo, the South Korean soprano who lit up the Detroit Opera House stage as Gilda in Rigoletto and as Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, opens the disc with a pallid "Je veux vivre" from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. All the notes are in place, including a gleaming top D at the aria’s conclusion, but Jo doesn’t project Juliette’s ecstasy at all. Ditto for the "Jewel Song" from Faust. Marguerite’s flighty aria on self-beauty should coruscate vocally and dramatically, but this version barely glimmers. Oh, what ineffable joy Joan Sutherland and Bidu Sayao brought to this aria. Jo seems at sea in Leila’s aria from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers as well; her grasp of these texts is tenuous at best.

However, Jo redeems herself in spades with a thrilling version of Ophelia’s Mad Scene from Thomas’ Hamlet. She projects the mental frailty of Ophelia convincingly, all the while making the cruelly demanding music sound like child’s play. Jo turns out an entirely beguiling "Waltz Song" from Gounod’s Mireille and turns on the coloratura fireworks in Edwige’s "Waltz Song" from Offenbach’s Robinson Crusoe, conducted, as all the pieces on this album are, with a light, supple touch by Giuliano Carella.

The biggest surprise is how passionately Jo performs "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier’s Louise. This aria is usually sung by sopranos with weightier voices, but Jo carries it off gorgeously.

So what accounts for the disparity in the emotional involvement in this collection? The CD was recorded on two days, and the simple but persuasive explanation is probably that Jo felt tired one day and refreshed on the other. Whatever the reason, there’s more to admire than to disparage on this recording.

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