In his recent interview, Rachel Willis-Sørensen confided to us his inextinguishable thirst for repertoires. Listening to his first solo album, this versatility does appear to be a major asset. It’s because there aren’t many present-day singers who can credibly string together the first act of La TraviataDonna Anna, Mimi and the Merry Widow. If we add The Sicilian Vespers (in French, please), Desdemona, Rusalka and the fearsome Leonora of the found, we can really speak of an achievement.
The first secret of this vocal encyclopaedism is foolproof technique. Matured in Dresden for three years, Rachel Willis-Sørensen took the time to build her voice wisely. The fact that she made her recording debut by giving a simple reply to Jonas Kaufmann is already a sign of modesty and a desire to do things in order. The second key to success is that the American soprano does not confuse curiosity with bulimia. Despite the incessant proposals, she had the courage to say no to the agents and directors who offered her Brünhillde, Senta or Sieglinde, even though she had both the physique and the means. She preferred to concentrate on the polishing of an instrument which allows her today to deliver a song where one does not know what to praise the most; the ethereal beauty of pianissimi à la Caballé? The roundness of a timbre that never becomes indurated? The power which, if it is never given to the full, overhangs all the tracks of the disc like a tutelary shadow? The very thorough characterization of each of the roles? Everything is good in this disc, which we feel produced with infinite care and patience, and which also owes a lot to Frederic Chaslin, Pygmalion, both delighted with his statue and attentive to guiding it, with an orchestra from Carlo Felice Theater in Genoa with a fleshy sound, magnified by a reference sound recording.
As we have said, everything is admirable in this disc-calling card which will undoubtedly give many ideas to chefs, fellow singers or casting directors. However, since this is how the exercise of criticism should be, we will nevertheless risk a brief hierarchy within the successes. A Violetta of rage and fire, crowned by a superb treble, leaves a little in the shadows a Hélène des Vêpres certainly very singing and impeccably vocalized, but whose French can still be improved. Donna Anna is pure sublime, provided you accept an old-fashioned style of singing, which hardly takes into account musicological knowledge, and where the silhouette of Birgit Nilsson passes more than once. Desdemona touches the heart, but we bet the characterization will gain in intensity over time. Mimi is already that of an accomplished artist, and it’s hard to see what could be added, especially when Rodolfo is a Jonas Kaufman in levitation who returns the courtesy to his partner 5 years after their joint album. As we said, the Leonora of found is dreadful. How long has it been since we heard her sung like that, with this mixture of precision and conviction? Probably since a certain Sondra Radvanovski one evening in 2010 at the Met in New York. We know the career she made afterwards.
Finally, with its very wide range, its musical success, its generous timing and its neat packaging, this CD is ideal for introducing the uninitiated to the beauties of the female voice in opera. If you have a friend who is still a neophyte, do not hesitate. Rachel Willis-Sørensen will be the best guide. The compliment is not small.