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Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), Ludovic Tézier (baritone)

Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Sir Antonio Pappano
rec. 2021, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
Sung texts provided with English translations
SONY CLASSICAL 19439987002 [74]

Since first performing together on stage in Werther in 2010 in Paris, German tenor Jonas Kaufmann and French baritone Ludovic Tézier have been paired in a number of other productions. They have often been cast as stage adversaries, such as Otello and Iago (Otello) and Alvaro and Carlo (La forza del destino), but are actually firm friends. With his smouldering good looks, Kaufmann is many people’s answer to a matinee idol and now probably the world’s most famous tenor, known by many who are not part of the opera-going public. Sought after for his warmly passionate and dramatic portrayals of Italian and French opera his voice also has the fortitude and weight for Wagnerian music dramas, too. His collaborator, Marseille-born Tézier is far less well-known, although he has built a reputation as one of the leading baritones on the international stage with a wide portfolio of roles.

‘Insieme’ - Italian for ‘Together’ - is Kaufmann and Tézier’s first album together. It is a collection of nine duets from six operas by just three composers - Ponchielli, Verdi and Puccini - spanning forty years from Les vêpres siciliennes to La bohème. Some of these duets they have performed together on stage, while others have been specifically selected for the album. All the duos are sung in Italian with the except for the two with French libretti: Don Carlos and Les vêpres siciliennes and they have clearly chosen repertoire that is predominantly serious and darkly dramatic rather than those infused with joie de vivre.

The last time I saw Kaufmann perform live was in 2017 in the lead role in Andrea Chénier (Giordano) directed by Philipp Stölzl at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich (review). This was quite soon after his layoff caused by vocal cord problems in 2016 and I wrote how Kaufmann’s voice ‘gradually revealed itself in fine condition, characteristically warmly expressive and compellingly projected.’ Now, four years later, in this recording, Kaufmann’s voice seems to have darkened slightly. Still able to captivate an audience, his warmly appealing tone has the rare quality of reaching deep into the heart of the text. He can give the impression of making everything seem so easy, especially his voice projection. As recently as 2021, Tézier released his acclaimed first recital album, an all-Verdi programme of established arias/airs on Sony. Tézier’s splendid lyric baritone is resolute and resilient, demonstrating his aptitude for gallant expression. Like Kaufmann, Tézier also has the expertise to create tension and a sense of peril.

Both Kaufmann and Tézier are much sought after for Verdi roles and have here selected duets from Les vêpres siciliennes, Don Carlos, La Forza del Destino and Otello, duets from Verdi’s serious and heavy operas involving libretti based on historical subjects, political confrontation between crown and church, family honour and feuds, with the added ingredients of love, liberty, hated and revenge. All are admirably performed, but a couple especially stand out. In the Act Two duo Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes from Don Carlos, stirring heroic declaration of brotherhood in which Rodrigue and Carlos swearing a vow of loyalty under God. In the closing scene of Act Two of Otello, the treacherous Iago is planting suggestions in Otello’s mind that Desdemona is being unfaithful to him with Cassio. Kaufmann and Tézier generate a terrific level of tension and drama, especially in the breathtaking closing section, where Otello and Iago jointly swear revenge.

Puccini is represented by a duet from La bohème, an opera of a character entirely different from that of the late Verdi operas. Often described as a verismo opera, La bohème is set amongst impoverished young friends living a bohemian life in the Latin quarter of fin de siècle Paris. In their duet O Mimì, tu più non torni, the artist Marcello and poet Rodolfo contemplate their disheartening situation. Singing with utmost sincerity, Kaufmann and Tézier create a nostalgic mood as the excitable young bohemians ponder their failed love affairs.

Included too is a single duet taken from Ponchielli’s verismo opera La gioconda. I initially found it surprising that this lesser-known duet was included, but that was before reading that Kaufmann and Tézier are to sing La gioconda in 2023 in the Sydney Opera House. In the Act One duo Enzo Grimaldo, Principe di Santafior, che pensi?, unscrupulous spy Barnaba tries anything to seduce Gioconda, a street singer. Gioconda loves the exiled Genoese noblemen Enzo who instead loves the married Laura. This is a duet I’m not too familiar with; nevertheless, Kaufmann and Tézier come together impressively to generate tension, with Tézier producing a dark undertow of duplicity.

Kaufmann and Tézier may not be Italian-born, but there is no shortage of hot-blooded Latin passion in their performances, even though they are from studio sessions rather live performances. The duo never resorts to unnecessary exaggeration, although amid all the drama there is occasionally a slight lessening of focus.

A highly experienced opera conductor, Antonio Pappano knows the Verdi and Puccini repertoire well and has also conducted La Gioconda. The Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under him rises to the challenge with solid playing of vitality and pleasing levels of expression. Recording under studio conditions in the Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome, sound engineer Jakob Händel has excelled, providing high quality sound with pleasing clarity and balance. The booklet in this CD set contains the sung texts with English translations. There are two essays: ‘Two Singers, One Voice’ by Rüdiger Sturm which concerns the friendship of the two soloists and the far more helpful ‘Emotions at Boiling Point’ by Bjørn Woll.

Jonas Kaufmann and Ludovic Tézier are certainly in their element with this outstanding new collection of opera duets.

Michael Cookson

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
La bohème (prem. 1896)
1) Act 4: “In un coupé? … O Mimì, tu più non torni” (Marcello, Rodolfo) [4:55]
Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886)
La Gioconda (prem. 1876)
2) Act 1: “Enzo Grimaldo, Principe di Santafior, che pensi?” (Barnaba, Enzo) [7:28]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Les vêpres siciliennes (prem. 1855)
3) Act 1, Duo: “Quel est ton nom? … Punis mon audace! … Téméraire!” (Montfort, Henri) [7:38]
4) Act 3, Duo: “Je n’en puis revenir! … Quand ma bonté toujours nouvelle … Comble de misère!” (Henri, Montfort) (Act 3) [10:47]
Don Carlos (prem. 1867)
5) Act 2, Scène et duo: “Le voilà! C’est l’infant! … Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes” (Rodrigue, Carlos) [8:53]
La forza del destino (revised Milan version 1869)
6) Act 3, Duettino: “Solenne in quest’ora” (Alvaro, Carlo) [4:15]
7) Act 3, Scena e duetto: “Né gustare m’è dato … No, d’un imene il vincolo” (Alvaro, Carlo) [8:12]
8) Act 4, Scena e duetto: “Invano, Alvaro, ti celasti al mondo … Col sangue sol cancellasi … Le minacce, i fieri accenti” (Carlo, Alvaro) [9:32]
Otello (prem. 1887)
9) Act 2: “Tu?! Indietro! Fuggi! … Ora e per sempre addio … Era la notte, Cassio dormia … Sì, pel ciel marmoreo giuro!” (Otello, Iago) [11:58]

Published: November 15, 2022

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