The program on this 2000 Delos release consists of well over an hour of live music-making from soprano Alessandra Marc and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton. The orchestra by itself performs several Verdi overtures, La forza del destino and Luisa Miller, and Puccini's Preludio sinfonico. Ms. Marc sings arias from Bellini's Norma, "Casta Diva" and "Guerra, guerra"; Donizetti's Anna Bolena, "Al dolce guidami"; Richard Strauss's The Egyptian Helen, "Zweite Brauchtnacht"; Barber's Anthony & Cleopatra, "Give Me My Robe"; and Puccini's Tosca, "Vissi d'arte," and Turandot, "In questa reggia." Ms. Marc has a lovely dark-toned voice that especially complements the several less well-known selections, and the Dallas Symphony Chorus do an outstandingly beautiful job in their brief appearances.
I had only a couple of misgivings about the disc. First, I would have preferred hearing from both a soprano and a tenor and maybe others at a "gala," putting a little more variety into the show. "Gala" suggests a festive event featuring, I would have hoped, more than a single star. Ms. Marc performs a recital. Maybe it's a gala recital.
Nor did I care to play the session as loudly as I found necessary to experience Delos's "Virtual Reality." Alas, nothing is perfect. Some recordings sound wonderful at low gain and get raucous, bright, or shrill as they are played louder; this one, though, sounds boring at low levels but comes to life at higher volume. In fairness, it sounded fine played back on my 5.1-channel home-theater system in another room, where the rear speakers handled some of the ambient informaton, and the sound is brighter and leaner to begin with. In any case, close all the doors and windows before listening, unless your neighbors are opera lovers.
So, as I say, played loudly, this album of live opera extracts can sound excitingly alive. Played back at a normal-to-soft level, and it will sound dull and indistinct, fading well back from the speakers, veiled and soft. I'm mentioning this because the first impression some listeners may get is that the disc is too distant and clouded. In fact, it was recording engineer John Eargle's usual way of miking, using Delos's "Virtual Reality" process, a technique that picks up a good deal of side and rear-wall ambiance for the sake of multi-channel, surround-sound playback. Ordinary two-channel reproduction may suffer, however, in that the reflective sounds can overpower the direct sound unless the volume is tweaked up a notch.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: