CD Review: Beware the deceptive charms of England’s Opera Babes


OPERA BABES
Silent Noon (Warner Classics)

There are so many amazing artists putting out great albums every month that I usually cast aside the mediocre stuff and focus on the music that is most worth sharing.

But I’m making an exception with the Opera Babes’ latest release, which is more about sappy sentimentality and clever marketing than about fine music.

The album gets its title from one of the pieces of music I would insist on having with me on the proverbial desert island: “Silent Noon,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ magical setting of a sonnet by Dante Gabriel Rosetti.

Soprano Rebecca Knight and mezzo Karen England made my blood boil within the first few notes.

There are some songs on the disc that are true duets, but most of them are re-arrangements for two voices. In the case of Vaughan Williams’ ineffable melody, the arrangement places it for the mezzo, adding a continual soprano descant that virtually obscures the original song and spoils its natural simplicity.

I couldn’t help thinking of Lady Bracknell speaking to Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest: “Ignorance is like a delicate, exotic fruit; touch it once and the bloom is gone.”

The Babes, with Janet Haney’s occasionally inelegant accompaniment at the piano, cast the same pall on chestnuts by Roger Quilter, John Ireland and Benjamin Britten.

The duet “Let us wander not unseen” from The Indian Queen by Henry Purcell would fare better if it were sung at a brisker pace. But George Frideric Handel’s “Come to me soothing sleep” from Ottone is done nicely enough to qualify as the standout track on this disc.

The rest of the 14-track lot is a soggy mess that includes Old Time tearjerkers by Ivor Novello (“We’ll Gather Lilacs”), Alan Robert Murray (“I’ll Walk Beside You”) and Albert Ketèlbey (“Bells Across the Meadow”).

Yes, Knight and England have put a lot of work into their interpretations. They have nice voices. But the result is more worthy of a tipsy evening at the cottage fireside than serious listening.

The Opera Babes were, in pre-YouTube times, discovered busking in London’s Covent Garden and gained fame across the U.K. for singing at big sporting events. They ran afoul of Sony, their initial big label, after their bestelling first album came out 10 years ago.

They tried an indie release in 2006, and are now back with another big label.

“This album is without doubt the truest reflection of what we do,” the singers write in the CD booklet.

To that, I say, “Oh, dear.”

You can find further details here.

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In case you need an introduction, here they are back in their initial heyday with the Emperor of Schlock, André Rieu:

John Terauds

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One thought on “CD Review: Beware the deceptive charms of England’s Opera Babes

  1. Perhaps it’s the see-through top? And further bastardization: “Let US wander not unseen” …it is gorgeous and one of my favourite Handel melodies..”Let Me wander not unseen”.

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