Opera singers tackling rare project of arias recordings. Some include songs from celebrated roles

Given the stiff costs of recording anything operatic today, it is not surprising that the arias recital disc has become a rarity. Where once the major companies were eagerly signing on new artists and presenting them in at least one recording of their most acclaimed arias, today, with precious few exceptions, only the tried and true singers get a crack at such projects. And nowadays the selections have to be either out of the ordinary or mostly outside of the singer's normal repertoire.

Thus, Eva Marton makes her CBS Masterworks arias album debut with Puccini Arias (CBS, digital, CD, MK 42167; LP, IM 42167), an all-Puccini program that runs the range from the fiery and blazing Turandot, one of her great parts, down to the fragile and innocent Lauretta, who sings the immortal aria ``O mio babbino caro.''

Miss Marton's is the sort of big voice that is often tricky to record, yet here the engineers have managed to control the sound and let us hear just how she solves the challenges of singing 14 arias - seven of which are completely out of her voice type. Giuseppe Patan'e, who conducts the Munich Radio Orchestra, is her vigilant musical guide.

Ghena Dimitrova, whose extraordinary Angel debut album, ``Opera Arias,'' was a model of the genre (and, inexplicably, is still not available on CD), has recorded the identical array of Puccini arias (substituting one ``Butterfly'' selection for Marton's ``Rondine'' selection) for her newest album, Puccini Arias (EMI/Angel, digital, DS-38283, LP only). It sounds as if EMI/Angel rushed this one through, and though Miss Dimitrova sings each offering very well, she does not do much to bring any single selection to life, with the arguable exception of the big ``Turandot'' aria. (She is, after all, an internationally acclaimed Turandot.) If she had a conductor more responsive than Anton Guadagno, this surely would have been a more interesting occasion.

Jos'e Carreras's vocal deterioration continues to be distressing, and his recent French Opera Arias (EMI/Angel DS-38103) album does nothing to settle one's qualms. In a splendid array of familiar and lesser-known arias, Mr. Carreras forces his pretty but fraying timbre beyond its means. He seems incapable of the elegant phrasing so many of these arias demand. He receives able support, however, from Jacques Delac^ote at the helm of the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Edita Gruberova has become the darling of Europe for a broad variety of stratospheric coloratura roles. Her new album, aptly entitled Virtuoso Arias (EMI/Angel DS-38217), is a cross section of roles she has made her own, and few she would not qualify for on stage. In the latter category is Bellini's ``Norma,'' from which she sings the celebrated ``Casta Diva.'' That part goes well enough in its diminutive way, but the closing half - known as a cabaletta - finds her overtaxed to the point of making some downright unattractive sounds and unmusical phrasings.

Miss Gruberova's ``Sonnambula'' is especially impressive, and her digressions into such too-heavy roles as Donna Anna in Mozart's ``Don Giovanni'' (a role she has already done on stage) and Agathe in Weber's ``Der Freisch"utz'' are not as problematic as one might have expected.

In all, an interesting, generally magnificent recording from the leading coloratura of the day, ably accompanied by Kurt Eichorn and the Munich Radio Orchestra.

Hildegard Behrens made her Met debut as Giorgetta in Puccini's ``Il Tabarro'' and went on to become an impressive ``Fidelio'' Leonore and ``Wozzeck'' Marie. Other roles she flirted with were the more lyric Wagnerian soprano parts like Elsa and Senta.

Now, because voices that cut over orchestras are rare, she has come to believe that she is a full dramatic Wagnerian singer and has assumed the roles of Isolde and the ``Ring'' Br"unnhildes.

Her new album, Hildegard Behrens Sings Wagner (EMI/Angel, digital, LP, DS-38292), gives a sample of what we've lost (the lyrical roles are beyond her vocal control now) and what we haven't gained (the dramatic roles never were hers to perform with the requisite majesty, given the essential weight and lightish sheen of the timbre). Peter Schneider conducts a clearly off-form Munich Radio Orchestra.

The only newcomer in all this is a young Georgian (USSR) bass named Paate Burchuladze, who stole the show as Ramfis in a new production of ``A"ida'' at Covent Garden in '84. The voice is clearly impressive, but his debut recording, Paate Burchuladze (London, CD, 414 335-2), affirms that he is not yet the complete master of his instrument. The top, in particular, thins out noticeably, and he seems to pick at those notes rather than land on them securely.

The repertoire includes the big scenes from ``Boris'' (in the Rimsky-Korsakov version) and the best-known Verdi bass arias.

It is an interesting and valuable recording, because he is clearly growing and should become the great bass voice of the next few decades.

The sound on the CD is excellent; Edward Downes, a seasoned opera man, conducts the English Concert Orchestra commendably well.

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