Review: In a Flat World, a Soprano Conjures Italy

Rosa Feola, a fast-rising young singer, presented herself as the exponent of a rich national heritage at the Park Avenue Armory.

The soprano Rosa Feola and the pianist Iain Burnside in recital at the Park Avenue Armory on Monday.
The soprano Rosa Feola and the pianist Iain Burnside in recital at the Park Avenue Armory on Monday.Credit...Richard Termine for The New York Times
Anthony Tommasini
Rosa Feola
NYT Critic's Pick

There was a time when it really meant something to be a Russian singer, or a French or Scandinavian one. But as the world has gotten — or seemed to get — smaller and flatter, national cultural traditions have lost some of their distinctiveness.

At least that’s the perception of many old-time opera devotees, who would have been heartened to hear the recital the young Italian soprano Rosa Feola performed on Monday at the Park Avenue Armory.

Ms. Feola, who has been championed by the conductor Riccardo Muti, presented herself as the exponent of a rich national heritage. Joined by the elegant pianist Iain Burnside, she gave splendid renditions of seldom-heard Italian songs by Giuseppe Martucci, Respighi and Rossini. Even Liszt’s “Tre Sonetti del Petrarca” — to the texts of three sonnets by Petrarch — seemed essentially Italian in this company, less like songs than like dramatic scenes, with urgent recitative and aria-like episodes.

Ms. Feola’s artistry is grounded in the bel canto style that has been a hallmark of her country’s vocalism for centuries. Her sound was warm and full without any sense of effort and, even throughout its range, with ornaments emerging as natural extensions of the line. These qualities, which distinguished her performance as Gilda in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” when Ms. Feola made her Metropolitan Opera debut last spring, came through with wonderful immediacy in the intimate Board of Officers Room at the Armory.

She naturally combined tonal richness with clear delivery of the texts. The Italian language, in which words flow together, is made to order for vocal music. Ms. Feola sang with glowing lyricism, while bringing nuances of the texts to life.

Martucci is best known for his instrumental works. (Mr. Muti has tried to expose them to a broader audience in America.) Ms. Feola sang his “Tre Pezzi,” settings of poems by Giosuè Carducci — composed in 1906, three years before Martucci’s death at 53. “Maggiolata” was harmonically milky and rhapsodic, like late Fauré or early Debussy with an Italianate cast. “Nevicata” was riveting: Images of snowflakes falling from an ashen heaven are conveyed in the piano through numbing, repeated midrange tones, surrounded by elusive chords and, at the end, skittish, almost jazzy flourishes. All the while, a searching vocal line unfolds, sung here by Ms. Feola with subdued intensity.

There are surface charms galore in Respighi’s four “rispetti” (traditional Tuscan songs). But Ms. Feola and Mr. Burnside also brought out melancholic depths and intricacies in the music. Rossini’s wonderful “La Regata Veneziana” sets a three-part text by Francesco Maria Piave, best known for his librettos for Verdi, in which a young Venetian woman insistently urges on her boyfriend, who is competing in a regatta. The middle song, in which muscular rowing is conveyed through rippling piano passages and breathless vocal lines, was especially captivating here.

As an encore, Ms. Feola sang a poignant account of “Signore, ascolta,” Liù’s aria from Puccini’s “Turandot.” As in her performances of the songs, she made every word matter — true to the Italian heritage she exemplifies so beautifully.

Rosa Feola

This program repeats on Wednesday at the Park Avenue Armory, Manhattan;