Before raising an eyebrow at Chandos's Opera in English series, we should remember that until not so long ago, the greatest European opera houses regularly performed in the language of their country. Doing so undoubtedly made opera more accessible and enjoyable to the audience, so sacrificing the unity and homogeneity of words and music seemed well worthwhile. Today, we are not so sure, and the knotty question remains unanswered. This record illustrates several of its problems. Making a good "singing" translation is a difficult, treacherous undertaking, especially if rhyming is involved. Some languages are more compatible than others, and sung words are so difficult to understand, particularly in ensemble and choral sections, that it often hardly matters what language is being used. This can leave listeners trying to understand the text (which is often best ignored) when they should be concentrating on the music.
On this record, highest marks for clear diction go to Thomas Hampson, who is also vocally much the best and makes Onegin a convincing, not unsympathetic character. Kiri Te Kanawa sounds deliberately girlish at first, then matures, perhaps too quickly, during the Letter Scene, which she sings beautifully. Rosenhein is a properly romantic poet, but his top is pinched and wobbly. Connell sounds sonorous but rough, and the three mezzo-sopranos are good. The weakest link is the orchestra: bland, uninvolved, rhythmically stiff, and lackluster in sound. --Edith Eisler