Ermonela Jaho/ Steven Maughan review – unsparing veracity, wonderfully done

Ermonela Jaho´s Wigmore Hall debut recital with pianist Steven Maughan marked the 50th anniversary of the founding ofOpera Rara  with whom Jaho has done some of her finest work to date. Her programme, combining French and Italian songs with operatic arias, paid tribute to the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), as famed in her lifetime for singing Violetta in La Traviata as Jaho is now, and creator of both Leoncavallo’s Zazà and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly  roles that the Albanian soprano has also made her own in recent years.

Jaho’s artistry is rooted in a deep identification with her chosen repertoire that results in performances uf unsparing veracity  and tremendous emotional honesty. In recital, as on stage, her ability to expose a character’s psyche in seconds is utterly remarkable. We really sensed the desperation behind the seductive pianissimos with which Massenet’s Sapho attempts to reclaim her errant lover, and the sheer terror of Mascagni’s Iris as she recounts her dream of a sea monster consuming her. Tears, meanwhile, poured down Jaho’s face during the death scene from Mascagni’s Lodoletta, with its harrowing climactic cries of “Io t’amo” before hope and life ebb away.

The mood, however, was by no means pervasively tragic, and elsewhere there was joy in Bizet’s Chanson d’Avril and a gentle sensuality in Gounod’s lovely Sérénade, its melismatic coloratura exquisitely negotiated. For once, meanwhile, the operatic extracts didn’t lose their impact when performed with piano. Maughan was a fine, forthright accompanist and gave us some appealingly elegant salon waltzes by Leoncavallo and Giordano when Jaho was away from the platform. A most distinguished recital, wonderfully done.

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