When choosing an appropriately honorable dedicateé of your new album, few would do wrong in dedicating it to Pope Francis – props to the Russian soprano Svetlana Kasyan for doing just that with her debut record “Fratelli Tutti”.
Those of you who have spent some time around opera houses in Rome, Venice, Moscow, or Verona in the pre-pandemic years might be familiar with the name – Kasyan’s interpretations of Verdi’s knife-wielding Tosca or Puccini’s ultimate tragic heroines Cio-Ci-San and Mimi have garnered her plenty of positive attention from critics, who have repeatedly highlighted the strength of her voice as well as confidence on stage.
Both of these qualities are, literally and figuratively, on full display in “Fratelli Tutti”.
Just in time for the holidays, Kasyan’s upcoming debut album focuses on suitably broad themes of peace, love, and unity – representing these ideas through a markedly diverse choice of repertoire.
This, the central tagline of “Fratelli Tutti” – 14 songs in 14 different languages – will certainly raise a few eyebrows. After all, a challenging task like that is difficult to ignore – a display of performing bravado that seems almost like a provocation. To her credit, Kasyan follows through and admirably tackles the material, jumping into each of the selected songs on the tracklist with a full-throated assertiveness that demands attention.
What’s more, the soprano manages to push through the tricky tongue twisters and traps each language might pose – fluidly moving from Italian, English, and Czech to Yiddish, Mandarin, and Japanese, amongst others.
The result is a colorful, mildly chaotic potpourri of folk songs (“Sakura”, “Mo Li Hua”) contemporary traditionals (like “La Cumparsita” and “Torna a Surriento”), and classical standards (such as Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” from Dido and Aeneas, Antonin Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me”, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Do Not Sing, My Beauty”).
The arrangements of the songs are zipped uptight, discrete, and never showy – there’s a certain glossy, plastic quality to the accompaniment that instantly calls into mind a well-oiled mechanism. At times, it veers toward the sound of karaoke machines – yet it is primarily reminiscent of huge arena symphony orchestras and concert spectacles. The sweeping strings, the sentimental piano introductions, the sudden flashes of percussion for dramatic effect, or the inclusion of select wind instruments to highlight the folk origins of certain songs, all indicate that this album would work amazingly on stage, preferably performed beneath a large screen and a lively light show.
But let’s put discussions of the arrangements aside. Because Svetlana Kasyan’s voice is the central point of “Fratelli Tutti”, as the album itself continuously stresses in no uncertain terms.
Somewhat surprisingly for a soprano, however, the allure and power of Kasyan’s voice are not to be found in her upper register, but instead lie ‘hidden’ in her chest voice: a place in which the singer sounds most at comfort.
This is precisely the reason why one of the best tracks of the album is the Kasyan’s rendition of the famous Chinese folk song “Yasmine Flower” – “Mo Li Hua”. Languishing in her mid-register, within the comfy confines of the pentatonic scale, the artist interprets the song without any excessive flourish that characterizes many of the other tracks on the album; her voice is warm, flexible, well-rounded, and self-assured.
Similar qualities can be found on track no. 8, “Viglied”, which is set to a lush interplay of playful flute chirps, sustained harp chords, and strings alternating between soft pizzicato and slick legato. Kasyan’s vocals are at their most beautiful here: the vibrato sustained, the dynamics appropriately softened, the supple melismas neatly packaged.
Perhaps the biggest issue we have with this album is that the artist does not allow herself to embody this particular, gentle space, in which she has plenty of room to flourish, some more.
Similar to that evergreen holiday gift, a confectionery chocolate box, which will in its plenty invariably hold some tasty, tasty treats (marzipan, yay) and some less pleasant surprises (strawberry filling, ugh), “Fratelli Tutti” treads familiar ground with ease, and in doing so, is sure to bring joy to many.