A true discovery for many western ears: Valentina Levko, star contralto of the Bolshoi!
“In a career of 50 years, I have rarely encountered such a voice, rounded, youthful, with an uncommon timbre and astonishing warmth” , thus said the legendary Sol Hurok, one of the most famous American Impresarios, who introduced Valentina Levko in the New York Met.
Although she frequently toured the world, her real home was Russia, where she reigned for more than 40 years, and 25 years as the star contralto of the Bolshoi Theatre.
This set features Levko in a wide variety of repertoire, ranging from moving Baroque arias by Bach and Handel, through the art songs of Schubert and Brahms, towards great opera scenes from Prince Igor, Ruslan & Ludmilla, Ivan Susanin, Queen of Spades, Rossini, Verdi, the songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, and a superb collection of Russian folk songs.
An unrivalled breadth of recordings.
Valentina Levko was another in the glorious line of Russian 20th‐century contraltos who in some ways defined the sound of Russian opera for ears, both Eastern and Western, which were often discovering the rich tradition of Russian opera for the first time through recordings. Levko's name, however, unlike compatriots such as Elena Obratzova, never travelled as far or as well. Committed to her contract at the Bolshoi, she spurned several opportunities to make a name for herself in the West, with the lucrative recording contracts that would surely have followed.
And yet hers was, as this important set reveals, a voice and dramatic presence firmly in the mould of greats of the past such as Zara Dolukhanova. The set is carefully curated by themes, thereby revealing Levko's remarkable versatility. Arias from Bolshoi classics by Glinka, Rimsky‐Korsakov and Tchaikovsky sit alongside Western operas by Ponchielli, Verdi and others; her ability to scale her voice to an intimate environment results in warmly idiomatic recordings of art song by Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. The pleasure she took in the popular song of her own country also resulted in many recordings with the Ossipov Folk Orchestra, but her facility extended to folk songs of many languages, as the last CD reveals. Perhaps most remarkably of all, the first CD reveals a natural interpreter of Bach and Handel. An extensive booklet note discusses her life and career; for anyone interested in Russian voices, this set will be essential.