This week I’d like to share two new opera releases—one by stunning newcomer Pretty Yende and a second by the renowned veteran Luciano Pavarotti. Both CDs are highly recommended for devotees as well as opera neophytes.
Pretty Yende is a young South African singer who has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom. She fell in love with opera after hearing the famous “Flower Duet” from Léo Delibes’ opera Lakmé on a British Airways TV commercial. She was just 16 and lived in the small town of Piet Retief, 200 miles from Johannesburg. Although she knew nothing about opera, Yende was determined to become an opera singer. She studied with Virginia Davids at the South African College of Music in Cape Town, and later joined the young artists’ program at La Scala in Milan, graduating in 2011. By the time she was 27, Yende had starred at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She makes her Carnegie Hall debut in June.
Yende’s new Sony Classical release Dreams is only her second album. I was immediately struck, quite simply, by the beauty of her soprano. Her pitch was spot on, the timbre of her voice gorgeous, and her command of difficult areas impressive. Critics in Europe and the U.S. have praised the beauty and power of her singing, as well as her acting ability. She was called “the miracle soprano” by Germany’s Die Zeit. On Dreams she performs arias by Gounod, Donizetti, Bellini, and Meyerbeer.
Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) is considered one of the greatest—if not the greatest—operatic tenors of all time. Decca has just released a lovely two-CD collection called The People’s Tenor with a nice balance of material and which provides a great introduction to this magnificent artist.
This new set features the operatic side of the famous tenor as well as his embrace of Italian popular song. On the album’s first CD we hear 25 famous arias tracks by Puccini, Bizet, Donizetti, and others. On the other hand, the second CD features 25 Italian popular song favorites. It’s a wonderful selection that shows both sides of his musical personality. Pavarotti, along with singing great operas on the world stage, also worked and recorded with pop icons James Brown, Sting, Bono, and Elton John.
Pavarotti was quintessentially Italian—a lover of music, food and wine, and all forms of pleasure. He once said, “One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever we are doing and devote ourselves to eating.” It reminds me of something I once heard when the 1996 film Big Night came out: “Whereas other people eat to live, Italians live to eat.” This might as well have applied to the great Pavarotti.
Here is the maestro singing Gounod’s “Ave Maria” in Los Angeles:
And then on stage with James Brown singing “It’s a Man’s World”:
Banner image of Pretty Yende courtesy of Sony Classical.