Coloratura – the colouring of a note, a phrase, an entire aria with trills, ornaments, death-defying leaps and dynamic shadings of infinite variety. For more than two centuries, the art of coloratura was a central aspect of the vocal art, and especially of opera, developed largely by the castrato singers at first, and later by generations of star performers and their vocal coaches.
In the mid-nineteenth century this great tradition was all but broken – neither Wagner nor Verdi were prepared to accommodate it in their different brands of music drama, and as both the opera houses and their orchestras grew larger, a different, heavier and more powerful style of singing was favoured. But the fascination and awe inspired by this almost supernatural phenomenon has never died, among audiences, singers or composers.
Anu Komsi, Finland’s ‘coloratura assoluta’, here presents a selection almost as wide-ranging as her own vocal technique, with mad scenes and rage arias from 18th- and 19th-century operas, Alyabyev’s ever-soaring Nightingale and the silvery tinkling of Lakmé’s Bell Song. Later examples of the lengths a singer may be expected to go to are Glière’s glittering (and strikingly anachronistic) Concerto for coloratura and orchestra from 1943, and La Machine de l’être by the composer John Zorn (b. 1953). Described by Zorn as a monodrama, this 11 minute-long work in three parts received its scenic première in 2011, by Anu Komsi at the New York City Opera. Throughout the programme, Anu Komsi is supported by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo, and in the closing work all involved find themselves on familiar ground in a thoroughly idiomatic performance of Sibelius’ Luonnotar, with its text from the Finnish national epos Kalevala, and a vocal part which is among the most challenging in the literature.
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