London likes to think it lies at the centre of the musical universe, but many great singers had relatively small careers here and most of today’s up-and-coming stars make their names elsewhere. No one fits that description better than the Italian lyric soprano Rosa Feola. Her recital in the Rosenblatt series, eloquently accompanied by Iain Burnside, was far from sold out but she is a classic Rosenblatt find – scarcely known on this side of the Channel but with a potential that impresarios elsewhere have been quick to spot.
There was nothing predictable about her programme of love songs, evenly divided between canzonettas and opera arias. It played to her strengths, which are many – one of them being a gift for making an audience want more. Before she even sings a note, Feola wins my vote: she has a pleasing presence, unfussy in a damsel-like way, with enough self-confidence to hold the stage on her own – without a score – while steering clear of prima donna mannerism. The timbre is natural – not obviously schooled or over-produced – and the technique flawless.
This was clear not only from an open-hearted “Caro nome” (Rigoletto), showcasing her stylish bel canto, but also from her clean, radiant upper register. Every top note rings out with lustre, giving “Je veux vivre” (Roméo et Juliette) and “E strano” (La traviata) the wherewithal to bring the house down. Her stage debut as Violetta surely can’t be far away, for Feola gives every impression of having a big-time temperament.
Her French diction let her down a bit in “Sombre forêt” (Guillaume Tell), but the aria, one of Rossini’s loveliest, proved that Feola could be equally persuasive in a gentler musical atmosphere. Her encore, Lauretta’s song from Gianni Schicchi, made a similar point: the emotion she expresses is touching, not overwrought.
As for her non-operatic choices, Tosti’s “Sogno” and “Non t’amo più” demonstrated her ability to respect the simplicity of the song, while Villa-Lobos’s “Tarde uma nuvem rósea” showcased her seductive vocalise. But the key to Feola’s artistic personality is not just her vocal prowess: what counts is that she never gives less than a performance.
Andrew Clark, Financial Times, 12 January 2014