BENITA Valente, who will sing Friday in the Terrace Theater, is one of the most talented and versatile sopranos in the United States. If she has a problem, it may be that she is too good for some audiences. Not so much in opera; she specializes in Mozart and Handel, but she also sings some of the most popular roles created by Verdi, Puccini and even Offenbach. It is her recital singing, including part of the Terrace program, that is essentially for connoisseurs.
For hardcore Lieder fans, the Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolff segments of her program will be fairly familiar, but the Spanish songs of Fernando Obradors are a highly specialized taste and the English songs of Haydn (revealing some surprising emotional depths) are not nearly as familiar as they should be.
Fortunately for those who want to come prepared on Friday night, the Haydn songs and some of the Obradors are available on her latest recordings. Haydn (with four songs of Mozart and seven of Schubert) is beautifully interpreted on a Pantheon compact disc. Pianist Cynthia Raim, who will perform with Valente in the Terrace, is her partner on this disc, and they are joined by clarinetist Harold Wright in Schubert's wonderful "The Shepherd on the Rock."
Four Obradors songs, along with songs of Rodrigo, Granados, Falla, Saint-Saens, Chausson and Ravel, can be heard on "Benita Valente at Eastman -- Vol. I." All this music is superbly styled, but the show-stopper on this disc (as it is whenever it is performed) is the "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5" of Villa-Lobos, which contains one of the most beautiful soprano melodies ever written, supported by an orchestra made up entirely of cellos. Even without texts or translations, both discs are worth having, in their own right and as a preparation or souvenir of the Terrace program. But for adventurous tastes, the Eastman collection, made essentially for an audience of fellow-musicians, is very special.
BENITA VALENTE -- "Benita Valente Sings Lieder of Schubert, Haydn and Mozart" (Pantheon D07140) and "Benita Valente at Eastman -- Vol. I" (Pantheon D07175). Appearing Friday in the Terrace Theater.