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Amanda Forsythe has been no stranger to Fanfare’s pages, with roughly 20 reviews, some of them by multiple reviewers, of various past albums on which she performs a significant role. Nearly all of these have been heavy with praise. Ron Salemi, for instance, while expressing major concerns with the Messiah under Jeannette Sorrell’s baton (Fanfare 35:5), wrote of Forsythe that “her vibrant, beautiful voice and impressive technique make her a joy to hear,” and Colin Clarke described her as “heart-meltingly lyrical and touching” in an aria excerpted on a Teseo highlights album (Fanfare 38:1). My own review of her Minerva and Grand Priestess in Lully’s Thésée (Fanfare 31:2) noted that “she offers a brightly forward, almost heroic tone … vocal dexterity of a fine order,” while in Venus and Adonis (Fanfare 35:2), Forsythe supplied “a radiantly focused soprano with excellent enunciation, and a dramatic coloration of the text.” Here, in her first solo disc, it’s fair to say that she lives up to the praise, but with reservations.
The first cut on the album, “Amore è qual vento” from Orlando, could almost serve as a demonstration piece for her strengths. It’s a moderate aria di bravura, more challenging than some that are entirely fireworks because it exposes the quality of tone on lengthier notes throughout the range in between runs and figurations. Forsythe displays excellent agility, good enunciation, and a complete ease and consistency of production save in the lowest notes of its roughly two-octave range.
The secco recitative “E pur così in un giorno” from Giulio Cesare and more so, the accompanied recitative from Rinaldo, “Dunque i lacci,” exhibit another of Forsythe’s virtues: the ability to characterize a series of passing emotions vividly but musically, using expressive devices appropriate to the music’s time and place. This is put to equally good effect in some of the slower or moderately paced arias, such as the Rinaldo recitative’s succeeding aria, “Ah crudel,” but not when Sorrell takes the tempo too quickly—as I think she does in “Il primo ardor” from Ariodante. The reason to do so is obvious, since it gives Forsythe another chance to display her pyrotechnics to advantage, though with very few, brief exceptions, Dalinda’s personality gets no chance to emerge at all. That’s not the case in the central section of the same aria as sung by Sabina Puértolas under Alan Curtis’s more moderate tempo (Virgin 50999). (It’s only fair to note that Sorrell isn’t alone in her approach. Marc Minkowski, currently on Archiv 457271, does as much to show off Veronica Cangemi’s equally impressive agility, with attendant loss to expressiveness.)
Where I’ve found Forsythe highly expressive in a number of roles in complete opera recordings (Steffani’s Niobe, Lully’s Thésée, Blow’s Venus and Adonis, Charpentier’s Actéon and La descente d’Orphée), here she comes across regularly as more distanced, interpretatively cooler than some of her contemporaries. In “Piangerò” from Giulio Cesare, both Magdalena Kožená (Minkowski) and Danielle de Niese (Christie) bow the voice more frequently and to greater effect, as does Patricia Petibon (DG 477 8763), if with a few technical issues. The central, raging section of Forsythe’s rendition has all the focus and power one could wish, but once again all three of the other versions mentioned, each in its own way, uses accenting, consonants, vowels, and shifting dynamics to a more extensive degree.
Character is still more of an issue in Partenope’s “Qual farfalletta.” The opera’s eponymous heroine loves one man, but doesn’t wish to dismiss another suitor—so she flirts, by behavior, music, and words in a simile aria that portrays a masterful manipulator. The liner notes appropriately take this approach as well. Reference is made to Queen Partenope’s “flirty and imperious nature,” and to a “flirting butterfly who is irresistibly drawn to the lamp, as lovers are drawn to Partenope.” But you wouldn’t know that any of this is occurring in Forsythe’s version. The figurations on the da capo repeat are both lighthearted and handled beautifully (indeed, they are well chosen everywhere on this disc), as one would expect from this artist. But the dynamics are restrained, the voice doesn’t warm to the words, nor are any consonants emphasized for point save in “m’alletta” (attract me). Whether because Forsythe hasn’t performed the role on stage, or lacked sufficient time to get inside the aria, her Partenope lacks charisma. The words and music do indeed flirt, but the soprano, for all her considerable gifts, doesn’t.
Texts and translations are supplied, but I have a bone to pick with the album’s packaging. The larger print title on its cover announces its subject as The Power of Love, which presumably means 90 percent of all the operatic arias Handel ever wrote are up for grabs: rather over-inclusive, as themes go. Nor am I sure what to make of the angled close-up of come-hither eyes and smile on the album’s cover, unless they’re meant to signal that its producers didn’t think the Baroque opera community would buy a disc online entitled “Amanda Forsythe Sings Handel” with a standard artist photo. If so, I think it safe to say they’re wrong. Relying for sales upon the reputations of Forsythe and Apollo’s Fire would seem a more focused marketing tactic, and more respectful of all involved.
The sound balance between
soloist and orchestra is excellent, and everything is miked well: neither
too dryly, nor with plenty of reverb to cover for a singer whose naturally
beautiful tone hardly requires excuse. Texts and translations are supplied.
The singing on Forsythe’s first solo album, then, is fully characteristic of
her fine talents. But whatever the cause, it certainly seems as though the
range of characters and emotions she means to convey are treated less
vibrantly than I’ve come to expect from this artist, in studio operatic
recordings derived from live performance settings. If I were recommending a
first exposure to Forsythe’s art, it wouldn’t be here, but in Blow’s Venus
and Adonis (CPO 777 614-2) or the BEMF version of Steffani’s Niobe (Erato