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Norman Lebrecht’s Album of the Week – El-Khoury and Spyres in Concert

By (August 11, 2017) No Comment

Joyce El-Khoury, Michael Spyres (Opera Rara)

****/**** (4 of 5, 4 of 5)
Now here’s a surprise. A new release from Opera Rara usually consists of some bel canto work that has languished forgotten in a vault since its premiere 160 years ago, and usually for good reason (as becomes apparent when you’re halfway through the unreviewable second disc). This package, though, is different: a pair of debut releases by two fast-rising singers, soprano and tenor, mingling well-known arias with the fairly obscure.

El-Khoury, a Lebanese-Canadian, sticks mostly to well-trodden tracks, albeit with interesting variations. The Berlioz setting of a Freischütz piece is new to me, as is anything from Hérold’s Le Pré aux clercs, which turns out to be as overblown as I’d always expected though charmingly sung.

Three arias from Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable is at least one too many, but El-Khoury makes full amends with a compelling nine-minute extract from Halévy’s La Juive, followed by an absolute heartbreaker from Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini. Thrilling dynamic control allows a really satisfying exposure of micro-emotions, the mark of a singer who’s on top of her game.

The American Michael Spyres, more adventurous, gives us three arias from two Halévy unseens, a shot at Verdi’s Jerusalem and a chunk of Auber’s Le Lac des fees, along with bites of Rossini, Donizetti and Berlioz, emphatically well sung with a scintillating top and rich warmth at all levels. There is one exquisite duet on each disc that makes you want to book immediately to see these singers.

Carlo Rizzi conducts the Halle Orchestra which, now and then, betrays its operatic inexperience with unsupple solo lines. On the whole, though, it’s a summer’s delight.

Norman Lebrecht has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc, writes a monthly essay for Standpoint magazine and is writing two more books.