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Gerald Finley in English

available at Amazon
Great Operatic Arias, G. Finley, London Philharmonic Orchestra, E. Gardner

(released on February 23, 2010)
Chandos CHAN 3167 | 68'41"
Gerald Finley's recital for the Vocal Arts Society this evening (March 17, 7:30 pm), at the Austrian Embassy with pianist Julius Drake, figures in the calendar of the organization's American Music Festival. As I had hoped in my preview of the festival, Finley's program will include some Ives songs, as well as a set by one of this year's anniversary composers, Samuel Barber (b. March 9, 1910). The non-American parts of the recital include a great set of songs from Finley's Ravel disc and a first half of Schumann's settings of the poetry of Heinrich Heine, drawn from Finley's recent CD of Schumann's Dichterliebe and other Heine songs. (Finley made the Ives, Ravel, and Schumann discs with the excellent accompanist Julius Drake, who will be his associate artist at this evening's recital.) While all of Finley's recent recordings, including of songs that will figure in his recital this evening, are worth listening to, the latest one to cross my disc is this selection of opera arias and duets in English.

As noted before, the Opera in English label at Chandos is a quixotic project, not for championing operas actually written in English but for apparently finding enough collectors who want to own foreign-language operas in English translation. To be sure, Finley's recital includes selections from English-language operas worth knowing, including "Batter My Heart" from Finley's memorable turn as Oppenheimer in John Adams's Doctor Atomic and Harry's "Oh bring to me a pint of wine" from Mark-Anthony Turnage's The Silver Tassie (2000). Whether or not you find the translated selections compelling depends on if you do not mind hearing phrases like "So I am evil because I'm human, / primeval slime has left its vileness in me" (Iago's creed aria in Otello), "There will my arms enfold you, / there will you say I do: / and if you let me hold you, / your dreams will come true" ("Là ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni), or "Ah, but to quell the dark imperious eyes of Tosca, / see her grow faint and languish in my arms, / feel her surrender languishing in my arms" (Scarpia's "Va, Tosca" from Tosca).

It is a shame that the selection of arias does not include anything by Benjamin Britten, another composer at whose works Finley excels, as shown in his various recordings of the operas, including Owen Wingrave among others. Finley's rarely sounds anything but smooth and puissant, with only slight tendencies to the underside of the pitch and overly nasal placement. For anyone other than enthusiasts of Finley's voice or for opera translated into English, however, this disc is not likely to be a high priority. The translations are not terrible, to be sure, carefully considered so that they match the original melodic scansion as much as possible, but to ears accustomed to familiar operas in their original languages, it can be jarring.

Gerald Finley sings for the Vocal Arts Society this evening, starting at 7:30 pm, at the Embassy of Austria.

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