La Scena Musicale

Monday, 27 April 2015

Canadian Soprano Joyce El Khoury Shines in Donizetti's Les Martyrs

Canadian soprano Joyce El Khoury as Pauline in Donizetti's Les Martyrs

~ Joseph So


Soprano Joyce El Khoury

In the very crowded field of operatic sopranos, Canadian Joyce El Khoury stands out as someone special. If you've seen her on stage, you'll know what I mean. El Khoury combines a superb lirico-spinto voice of beauty and flexibility - not to mention a pianissimo that rivals Monserrat Caballe's - with dramatic flair and alluring stage presence, all ingredients that have made her into one of the most exciting young sopranos today. When I interviewed her back in the fall of 2013 for Opera Canada, she had just recorded her first complete opera, Donizetti's Belisario, under the baton of Sir Mark Elder, for Opera Rara, an independent British recording label with a focus on forgotten operas. El Khoury's singing of Antonina in that recording was a vocal and dramatic tour de force, with all the tricks of the trade in place - lovely legato, full throttle fortissimo and exquisite piano, all delivered with dramatic intensity and beauty of tone. 

Now we have a new recording, another Donizetti rarity from Opera Rara, Les Martyrs, to be released in May. This is billed as the first complete performance of this opera since 1840. For political reasons, this work was banned in Italy at the time, and Donizetti reworked it into a French grand opera for the Parisian audience, complete with the obligatory ballet. It was well received in its premiere but was soon forgotten. The few attempts at revival saw the work severely cut and sung in its original Italian. This Opera Rara project under Sir Mark Elder restores it to the full French version. After the recording, a concert performance was given to critical acclaim at Royal Festival Hall in London.  

I haven't yet received my review disc, but listening to snippets of the recording in the short video documentary, it clearly shows this is an important addition to the discography of Donizetti. Given the sorry state of the classical recording industry these days, it is nice to see such a major studio recording is still possible. In the documentary, El Khoury gives her thoughts on the character of Pauline and the vocal challenges of singing this difficult role.  With these two Donizetti rarities, it's clear that in Joyce El Khoury we have a new dramatic coloratura in the opera world. In Canada, we are blessed with the presence of American-born soprano Sondra Radvanovsky who calls Canada her adopted home.  Radvanovsky is clearly the reigning bel canto queen of our time.  Incredibly we now have a second soprano in Canada, ready willing and able to conquer this most challenging of repertoires. Talk about embarrassment of riches!  Toronto opera fans will get a chance to see El Khoury in person as she sings Violetta at the Canadian Opera Company in fall 2015.  

To view the documentary, go to  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfanCa_YsEw

For more information on Opera Rara and Les Martyrs, go to https://www.facebook.com/OperaRaraOfficial/videos?fref=photo











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