Stepping in for an indisposed Carmen Giannattasio, Romanian mezzo Ruxandra Donose opened (and closed) her Rosenblatt Recital with… Carmen. “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”, with its intoxicating habanera rhythm, is one of opera’s most instantly recognisable numbers, the gypsy provocatively declaring that love is wild and cannot be tamed. In the opera, it immediately establishes Carmen’s character, but here it also set out Donose’s vocal wares: a rich, firm lower register and great care taken over textual nuance. These were in evidence throughout much of the evening as an array of operatic characters was presented, interspersed with three sets of songs.

Ruxandra Donose © Nicole Alexa
Ruxandra Donose
© Nicole Alexa

In putting together her programme at short notice, Donose disarmingly explained that she had simply chosen a few of her favourite arias and songs, which strikes me as a pretty good basis for recital building. The operatic arias encompassed a wide emotional range – Carmen smouldered, Eboli cursed her fatal pride, Charlotte agonised over Werther’s love letters, Dalila seduced – all well within Donose’s dramatic scope. Hélène’s ‘Invocation to Venus’ (from Offenbach’s La belle Hélène) also allowed her to display a sure comic touch, wittily matched by Roger Vignoles at the piano.

Donose had full measure of Wigmore Hall’s size and acoustic, so that – even at full pelt – she never overwhelmed the space. She also has an engaging platform manner, which quickly won the audience over. However, a few niggles persisted through much of the evening. Intonation, especially in her upper range, wavered, particularly noticeable in a trio of Fauré chansons. The long lines of Dalila’s “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” also exposed an inability to support the breath through to the very ends of phrases, even when the aria was taken at a decent flowing pace.

At the end of a first half which had been entirely in French, the switch to Italian for the firebrand that is Princess Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo found Donose really hitting her stride. “O don fatale” was full of torment, giving way to remorse at betraying the queen, then fierce resolve to save Carlos from the Inquisition. All three sections were well characterized, with stronger intonation and well-shaped phrasing. It’s a difficult aria to give in recital – full costume and full orchestra are ideally required… as well as some scenery to chew. Yet given the constraints of the format, Donose delivered a convincing portrayal.

Turning to her homeland in the middle of the second half, Donose sang three songs each by George Enescu (in French) and Nicolae Bretan (in Romanian). The latter set, in particular, was delightful. Her late substitution for this recital meant that the usual full texts and translations weren’t available in the programme, yet a brief description of each song and Donose’s expert delivery communicated much. Şi dacă ramuri bat în geam, in which poplar branches beat against the window as a young man thinks of his lover, was darkly evocative, typically soulful of eastern Europe and not a million miles away from Rachmaninov. Vignoles’ contributions were sensitive throughout the evening, especially winning in Fauré’s Après un rêve.

Arbace’s “Ah! quel giorno” from Rossini’s Semiramide seemed a less than wise choice with which to end the recital proper, given that Donose’s coloratura was laboured and the aria sits quite low for her. Happily, she returned to Carmen for an encore, the Seguidilla in which she tempts her captor, Don José, to become her new lover, smoky promises delivered in luscious tones. In opera, the devil may get the best tunes, but the mezzos get the sultriest ones.

***11