Richard Leech In Performance
Selections from
Les contes d'Hoffmann, Martha, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Boh╦me, Faust, Les Huguenots, Rigoletto, and Madama Butterfly.
Richard Leech, tenor, with Pilar Lorengar, soprano (Les Huguenots).
Premiere Opera, Ltd
.  (B) (AAD?) TT: 76:19

At his best Richard Leech is a thrilling singer. The American tenor's attractive, lyric voice ascends to a free and brilliant upper register. His vocal strengths, fine musicianship, sense of style, and obvious enthusiasm for singing have produced many glorious performances, among the best to be heard by tenors in the past decade or so. Fortunately this release from Premiere Opera, Ltd. of in-performance recordings (ca. 1985-95) for the most part captures Leech at the top of his form.

Several of the selections are from operas that he has also recorded commercially, either complete or excerpts (including La Boh╦me, Faust, Les Huguenots and Rigoletto). Even if you have those recordings I would urge you investigate this release. For me Richard Leech's voice is one that has always fared best in the opera house. His quick vibrato, which can be somewhat obtrusive when closely miked, spins attractively throughout the expanse of a theater. The more distant microphone placements of the 'live' recordings on this disc offer a more realistic and flattering perspective than do many of Leech's commercial discs.

This release is also of great value for documenting Leech in operas that he has not recorded. For example, the collection opens with one of his finest roles, Jacques Offenbach's Hoffmann. The three arias contained here are wonderful souvenirs of an artist who has always excelled in French repertoire. Likewise, an English-language version of Lyonel's aria from Flotow's Martha is a lovely example of poised vocalism.

The Lucia Tomb Scene is somewhat less exemplary, with the tenor experiencing a bit of vocal fatigue toward its conclusion. Still there is much to enjoy in a performance of another Leech signature role that he has not recorded commercially. Both the Boh╦me and Faust arias benefit from passionate and stylish renditions, capped by ringing high Cs (a hint of raspiness invades the final phrases of the Boh╦me).

Richard Leech's performances of the incredibly demanding role of Raoul in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots were among the first to gain him international attention. The tenor's 1988 Montpelier recording in French, issued by Erato, is one of his finest. Here, his Raoul is ably represented in German-language versions of the first-act aria and the electrifying duet with Valentine, the latter featuring the wonderful Pilar Lorengar (another artist whose timbre was best appreciated in the opera house). The disc concludes with excellent versions of solos from Rigoletto (including a tour-de-force rendition of the Duke's cabaletta, "Possente amor") and Madama Butterfly.

The recorded sound is never less than acceptable, quite often of excellent quality. As is Premiere Opera's custom, the disc is accompanied only by a computer print-out listing the various selections. I believe that these in-performance recordings do greater justice to the artistry of Richard Leech than do many of his commercial efforts. Given the disc's budget price, I recommend it without hesitation.

K.M. (April 2002)