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A graceful art

To commemorate the 80th birthday of the American diva Grace Bumbry in January, Deutsche Grammophon reissued hard-to-find recordings and greatest hits. Benjamin Ivry assesses the singer’s varied career from its beginnings in the 1950s to her prime as a star of the opera stage and a notable interpreter of lieder
Serious glamour: Grace Bumbry

In 1957, a young mezzo called Grace Bumbry featured in a musty recording of Israel in Egypt led by Maurice Abravanel, the first of a series of Handel oratorios which marked her early career in the studio. Aged just 20, the singer already had glamorous timbre and admirably homogeneous vocal technique. She displayed a natural gravity, even in ‘Their Land Brought Frogs’, where harpsichord leaps evoking a batrachian plague can provoke giggles. Bumbry gives us the minimal agility required without showing much potential for coloratura. Overall, the performance lacks zing due to complacent orchestra, soloists, and choir.

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About Opera Now

Christophe Rousset celebrates a quarter century at the forefront of the Early Music scene with Les Talens Lyriques; Sir John Eliot Gardiner takes Monteverdi’s three surviving operas on tour around the world; and our guide to the brightest and best opera festivals of 2017. Plus, remembering the velvet voice of Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda; individuality and imagination in the songs of Arthur Sullivan; Debussy’s ravishing Pelléas lets down its hair at Garsington; American baritone Scott Hendricks shares his love of playing bad boys; the art of the librettist; British conductor Nicholas Chalmers; and an 80th birthday tribute to Grace Bumbry.