Pretty Yende, "A Journey" (Sony Classical)
What's not to love about Pretty Yende? Her voice is delightful, her personality sparkles, and her story is inspiring.
Just 31, Yende has gone from life in a South African township to stardom on the world's opera stages. Now her first album, titled "A Journey," documents her impressive lyric abilities, her lustrous tone and especially her mastery of coloratura. Runs and trills are tossed off with seeming ease, and she can soar to a high E natural without sounding strained.
The seven selections, mostly bel canto arias by Rossini, Donizetti or Bellini, reflect stages of her story, triumphs in vocal competitions or important debuts. She sounds lovely, with one reservation: There's a slightly generic quality to her singing, a lack of interpretive depth beyond mastery of the notes.
In keeping with her personal narrative, she includes the "Flower Duet" from Delibes' "Lakme," with mezzo Kate Aldrich as partner. It's by now part of Pretty Yende lore that her interest in opera was sparked by hearing the tune in a British Airways TV commercial when she was 16.
The most interesting choice in the album is the "Poison Aria" from Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette," which requires a heavier lyric voice than bel canto. Yende does a good job of capturing Juliette's fearfulness and determination, and her voice is surprisingly robust in the climaxes.
Marco Armiliato conducts the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI.
This story has been corrected to show the record company is Sony Classical.