Verdict: 'Canadian baritone goes for communication card in eclectic operatic choices'
If you were swept away by the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera La Boheme, courtesy of Radio New Zealand Concert's cultural lifeline, then Gerald Finley's Marcello may have been one reason for the intensity of your pleasure.
The Canadian baritone has now come up with his first arias collection as part of Chandos label's Opera in English series, justifying the use of his native tongue as part of an Anglo-Saxon desire to bridge the communication gap between singer and audience.
Although English does bring advantages in tracking the emotional narrative of a song, language is more than a matter of mere meaning. Even with Finley's formidable delivery, English vowels and consonants can sound curiously tame in Iago's Credo from Otello, especially when Edward Gardner has the London Philharmonic Orchestra spectacularly storming and snarling around the singer.
In Escamillo's Toreador's Song, despite Finley's winning bravado, the libretto labours under such horrors as the convolution of "Les spectateurs perdent la tete" into "And through the crowd madness is raging".
Yet, on the plus side, one feels a real frustration when Robert's protestations of ardour in Tchaikovsky's Iolanta (My only beloved Mathilde I claim) are over in a just a few minutes. And, when Finley tackles Lysiart's big moment from Weber's Euryanthe (What refuge here?) such is the singer's conviction that even clangers like "What black dismay to find the girl no easy prey" pass unnoticed.
Three tracks feature English as their first language, two from operas less than a decade old.
Just last year, in local MetOpera screenings, Finley made Batter my heart, the cri de coeur of the conscience-stricken Robert Oppenheimer, the undisputed highlight of John Adams' Doctor Atomic. Revisited for this recording, in a rendition that lives up to the aria's title, this is the standout track of the disc.
Finley also catches the raw emotion of Harry's Oh bring to me a pint of wine from Mark-Anthony Turnage's The Silver Tassie, guiding a Robert Burns song through a mysterious and exciting orchestral forest.
And, finally, who could resist Rodgers and Hammerstein's Some Enchanted Evening in a performance that bypasses baritonal bluster in favour of the easy, natural lyricism that this song cries out for.