After building a career in the former U.S.S.R., the Azeri soprano Dinara Alieva has had engagements at major European houses in Berlin, Vienna, Munich and Dresden. Her voice offers warmth, vibrancy (occasionally too much) and a fundamentally handsome tone color. (Alieva has upped her game since her last Delos disc.) The beefy-voiced Latvian dramatic tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko rose to international prominence when Riccardo Muti chose him to sing Otello at Salzburg in 2008. The Met secured him the next year for Rusalka; striking successes in new Met productions of Il Tabarro and Boris Godunov followed, along with strong work in revivals of Norma and Carmen, plus Otello with the Chicago Symphony. Antonenko opens the 2015–16 Met season as Verdi’s Moor in a new production directed by Bartlett Sher and conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
This often exciting joint recital was recorded in Kaunas, Lithuania, in July 2014. The track order is a bit bizarre — Aida, Tosca, Trovatore, Queen of Spades, with the Tosca Act I love duet following the opera’s three most famous arias. Perhaps, as CDs yield to downloads, such factors matter less. As Radamès, Antonenko is certainly better than solid, though his voice in midrange at middle volume can take on a tonal bluntness and undue tremolo; the warrior’s testing aria more than passes muster, but it’s not exactly the desired “romanza.” Alieva gets more character and dynamic variety into a warmly sung “Ritorna vincitor!”; she deploys her characteristic tremolo to good effect here. Besides these Act I arias, the program includes the entire final scene, which is very accomplished by contemporary standards. Antonenko starts sensitively, and Alieva follows his lead in honoring soft dynamic markings. We hear a good chorus and a capable and, unbelievably, unidentified Amneris. One would welcome hearing these artists paired in this opera.
The competence and (relative) nuance of Antonenko’s “Recondita armonia” reflects his experience as Cavaradossi in London, Milan, Frankfurt and elsewhere; the hushed Act III aria occasions too much unsteadiness. The soprano’s B-flat at “Le voci delle cose” doesn’t quite cut it, and while feeling is plentiful — even generous — her words could be more sharply articulated. But Alieva sounds like she might develop into a sonorous, charged Tosca. Il Trovatore has already figured in her repertory, and she presents a very creditable Act IV scena, including a verse of “Tu vedrai.”
Antonenko’s power singing sounds better suited to Gherman than to Manrico. The Tchaikovsky excerpts unsurprisingly bring forth more detailed verbal commitment from both artists: this is another joint casting one would welcome. Conductor Constantine Orbelian knows his métier, offering considerate support, if occasionally rhythmical indulgence. He cuts several bars off the beautiful “Celeste Aida” postlude. Delos supplies neither Sacristan for Tosca nor Ruiz for Il Trovatore. The booklet presents Cyrillic transliterated (not a problem) but misstates the title of the final Aida duet as well as that of Gherman’s arioso. (David Shengold)