The Gilbert & Sullivan Soprano Arias
Rebecca Hains, soprano
William J. Gatens, piano
This, to my knowledge, is the first G&S solo recital disc featuring the female voice. One can certainly understand why the genre has been dominated by comic baritones, as their patter songs are the ones audiences most often wish to hear outside the context of a complete opera. But there is much lovely music for the soprano, so it is surprising that no one has undertaken to put it all on one disc before now.
Rebecca Hains is an amateur, but her voice is practically perfect for this material. She sings with a lovely, clear tone, and with a bright, forward sound that is ideal for making the words heard. She sings securely and without apparent effort throughout her entire range. Her sense of phrasing is nearly always spot-on. She is at her best in the arias that exploit her skill at fioritura, though there is really not a bad number on the hour-long disc.
The CD contains all of the Gilbert & Sullivan (plus one Hood & Sullivan) arias for soprano solo, plus a few where chorus could easily be omitted. Thus there are no numbers from Iolanthe, for though Hains makes an excellent Phyllis, the character has no solos that are readily extractable from the score. There are four numbers from The Grand Duke—the most of any opera—simply because it happens to have many arias that can stand alone.
Though Hains is American, she assumes an English accent that, to my American ears, is successful most of the time. The word "heart" (and others that rhyme with it) gives her particular difficulty, enough so that I cringe when I hear it, but fortunately those moments go by quickly.
A lot of Gilbert's soprano characters are unhappy when they sing their solo numbers, which means there is not as much emotional variety on this disc as one would like. This is obviously not Hains's fault, as she must take the material as she finds it. Still, I would have liked to hear more saucy fun in "A lady fair of lineage high," and to have found more bite in "’Tis done! I am a bride!" These are minor objections to a very pleasurable disc. The last two items, "So ends my dream" and "’Neath my lattice," are delivered with gusto.
William J. Gatens accompanies beautifully. This is a CD that any G&S fan will enjoy.
Review by Tyson Vick
The other day I received Rebecca Hain's Gilbert and Sullivan Soprano arias CD in the mail.
I enjoy listening to clips of various Savoynetters singing whenever the chance arises, and having met and worked with Rebecca I was excited to listen to her CD because I find her voice very attractive.
The first thing I noticed when opening the CD was that every Gilbert and Sullivan fan alive must be able to list the operas in the order they were written, because that is how the songs are presented on the CD.
After browsing the attractive packaging, I put the CD in and skipped to Gianetta's "Kind Sir You Cannot Have the Heart," because I have never been pleased with a recorded version of this song, and Rebecca's voice is of the tone and quality that I'd always wanted to hear perform the song.
She does not dissapoint, and chooses a good tempo at which to perform — something that is consistent throughout.
Her voice is youthful, with a bright tone and a fairly rapid vibrato that never threatens her pitch.
If anyone is familiar with John Elliot Gardiner's albums, Ms. Hains can be said to have a similar sound to his regular performers Sylvia McNair and Cyndia Sieden.
Only a piano accompanies the songs, which might dissapoint some listeners, but it is always played accurately and with spirit. The pianist (whose name I don't have available at the moment) doesn't make any distracting errors and is consistently good, though he seems to struggle during a run in "Poor Wandering One."
During certain songs where the chorus or another voice would normally come in, the piano covers the vocal part. I felt that this could have been improved with a little bit of embellishment on the accompanist's part. The play-over sounds awkward — as if something is missing — which it is, but it shouldn't sound that way. This is noticed most in "Take Care of Him" from The Grand Duke.
Throughout the album Ms. Hains performs with good characterization, bringing many of the songs to life through performance. She is particularly successful as Patience and Psyche, where the humor suits her personality and the music keeps her voice in a comfortable and well suited range.
That isn't to say she struggles with the coloratura demands of the songs. In fact, in "So Ends My Dream," she sings the piece with such ease that you begin to wish she would have taken more liberties with embellishment and cadenzas — to me the song is asking for it, anyway.
Rebecca Hains has very distinct diction, and I found myself understanding certain passages for the first time. Something about her voice sounds distinctly American, even though she always sings with open and "Britishy" vowels. (It's the same with Sylvia McNair.)
Nearly all the G&S operas are represented by selections on the CD. There are no pieces from Iolanthe (which made me realize Phylis never actually has an aria), Trial By Jury or Utopia, Limited.
The Grand Duke, however, is represented by four seperate songs!
There are two wonderful arias for Princess Ida. Generally the role is sung by a dramatic soprano, but Ms. Hains' light voice sails over the heavy accompaniment, making me believe hers was the type of voice the role was written for. It sounds like a breeze sailing over the solid walls of Castle Adament, rather than becoming a rock in the wall, like other interpreters of the role on recording.
As a bonus, Rebecca sings a selection from The Rose of Persia called "’Neath My Lattice Through the Night". She sings it very well, and the aria is the only piece on the CD that really "shows off" her voice. While the others have cadenzas or runs, this song is comprised entirely of cadenzas and runs.
Ms. Hains shows great restraint in her cadenzas, each running very briefly and moving the song along without stopping for indulgence. I believe this is because of the limited number of takes provided. I wouldn't have minded more indulgent cadenzas — I recently heard one by Lella Cuberli in Mozart's "Ah, se il Crudel" that made me realize that done correctly and creatively a cadenza can take the piece to a different level — but I also realize that a soprano would want to do things tastefully and within the bounds of the composer's material, which Rebecca manages wonderfully.
At the end of the album I realized that the soprano Arias from Gilbert and Sullivan are mostly a somber and serious affair, with only an occasional humerous and sprightly song to add to the mix. Until taken out of context, I never really noticed how much of the emotional weight of the operas weighs on the lead Soprano.
I can reccomend this album to anyone who is a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan selections. Rebecca Hains gives a tasteful, accurate and energetic interpretation of the arias. There is no pinching or strain in the voice, no trying to sing beyond her abilities. There is vibrant characterization, and she gives a wide selection of pieces, though they are mostly somber in tone.
The only real drawbacks are matters of taste: a lack of orchestra and vocal ornamentation.
Track ListingContents are as follows:
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