> Largo al Factotum: Famous Baritone Arias [DR]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Largo al Factotum: Famous Baritone Arias
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868.)

Il barbiere di Siviglia: Largo al factorum. (Roberto Servile, Failoni Chamber Orchestra, Will Humburg; from Naxos 8.553436.)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791.)

Die Zauberflöte: Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja. (Georg Tichy, Failoni Orchestra, Michael Halàsz; from Naxos 8.553438.) Le nozze di Figaro: Se vuol ballare, signor contino; Non più andrai. (Natale De Carolis, Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, Pier Giorgio Morandi; from Naxos 8.554172.) Le nozze di Figaro: Hai già vinta la causa! (Roberto Frontali, Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, Pier Giorgio Morandi; from Naxos 8.554172.) Don Giovanni: Deh! Vieni alla finestra; Finch’ han dal vino. (Bo Skovhus, Nicolaus Esterhàzy Sinfonia, Michael Halàsz; from Naxos 8. 660080-83.) Cosi fan tutte: Non siate ritrosi; Donne mia la fate, a tanti a tanti. (Andrea Martin, Capella Istropolitana, Johannes Wildner; from Naxos 8. 553172.)
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875.)

Carmen: Votre toast (Alan Titus, Czech-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Rahbari; from Naxos 8.553166.)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901.)

Rigoletto: Pari siamo!; Cortigiani, vil razza donnata. (Eduard Tumagian, Czech-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Rahbari; from Naxos 8. 550684.) Il trovatore: Il balen del suo sorriso. (Roberto Servile, Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, Will Humburg; from Naxos 8.554707.) La traviata: Di Provenza il mar. (Georg Tichy, Czech-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Rahbari; from Naxos 8. 553041.) Otello: Era la notte (Iago’s Dream.) (Igor Morozov, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Johannes Wildner; from Naxos 8.553030.) Falstaff: Ehi paggio! . . . L’onore! Ladri!. (Domenico Trimarchi, Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, Will Humburg; from Naxos 8.660050-51.)
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO 1857 – 1919.)

I pagliacci: Si può. (Eduard Tumagian, Czech-Slovak Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Rahbari; from Naxos 8.550684.)
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945.)

Cavalleria rusticana: Il cavallo scalpita. (Eduard Tumagian, Czech-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Rahbari; from Naxos 8.660022.)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924.)

Tosca: Tre shirri, una carrozza; Quanto . . .Quanto . . . Già mi dicon venal. (Silvano Caroli, Czech-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Rahbari; from Naxos 8.554153.)
NAXOS 8.555922 [71.35]


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Ah, the high, lyric baritone voice. The voice that Giuseppe Verdi almost single-handedly raised to international prominence by writing so many juicy roles for it. The voice that George Bernard Shaw so loved to hate. The voice that sends so many opera lovers today into ecstatic fits of frenzy. This collection of 20 standard baritone arias is taken from a variety of Naxos complete opera sets, and serves as a companion album to O mio babbino caro, a similar collection of soprano selections.

Naxos’s general practice has been to offer complete operas featuring lesser-known singers (many of whom have since become internationally prominent thanks to their Naxos exposure,) at budget prices. (Ironically, it is Alan Titus, the best-known singer featured here, who turns in the weakest performance.) All of the performances on this disc are satisfactory, and some rank as very fine indeed.

As Rossini’s Figaro, Roberto Servile commands an even, well-integrated voice with agile coloratura for the album title aria. And while he cannot deliver patter with the same Gatling-gun speed as many who have gone before him, he takes it at a tempo he can execute well, while articulating the text sharply. He puts color and dynamics to clever use of the comedy throughout. Appearing later as the Count di Luna in Il trovatore, he displays rich tone and an easy legato for Il balen. But a lack of power at the bottom distorts several musical lines that need to be more firmly anchored. Several floated high pianissimi communicate the Count’s burning desire, while the bright middle voice suggests his jealousy and frustration.

Georg Tichy brings a deep, booming sound to Mozart’s Papageno that fails to suggest the the birdcatcher’s boyish naïvete that so distinguishes Ich Vogelfänger bin ich ja. And although he sings throughout with clean line, his attempts to lighten his voice in several phrases for contrast seem contrived and over-theatrical. He is heard later to better effect as Germont pere in Verdi’s Traviata, where he brings ample breath, smooth legato, and a warm top to the long musical lines of Di Provenza il mar. But his determination to sing throughout at a steady mezzo-forte saps his characterization of variety and life.

Natale De Carolis’s full, mellow tones seem ideal for Mozart’s Figaro. But the voice lacks playfulness, and De Carolis’s consistent forte fails to evoke much of the humor in Mozart’s dynamics. (Mozart’s comic roles are difficult to sing, because so much of the humor is already there in the music. Too much "interpretation" by the singer often veers a characterization to the Scylla of melodrama, while not enough risks the Charybdis of monotony.) Figaro must show genuine anger at the Count’s machinations in Se vuol ballare; but at the same time, he must secretly enjoy the private charade he is indulging in for his bride-to-be’s benefit. Nor does De Carolis capture much of the bemused irony with which Figaro glorifies Cherubino’s future military career in Non più andrai.

Suave legato, sophisticated coloration, and elegant sound all make Bo Skovhus an aristocratic Don Giovanni in Deh! Vieni alla funestra. But his phrasing becomes choppy for Finch’ han dal vino, in which he seems to ride roughshod over a tempo just slightly too fast for him. As a result, the Don’s confident hedonism does not quite come off.

Although Andrea Martin’s airy, lyric baritone is a tad weak and dry in the bottom range, his otherwise well-integrated voice is perfect for Cosi fan tutte’s Guglielmo. Although the laughter at the end of Non siate ritrosi is a bit overdone, Martin still portrays an endearing lover who enjoys wooing a lady while hiding the delicious secret irony of his disguise. And though this light, bright voice is just the right jovial sound with which to commiserate with his friend Ferrando (whose lover, Dorabella, has been the first of the sisters to succumb to one of the newly-arrived "Albanians,") it would be seriously taxed in repertory any heavier than this.

As Mozart’s Count Almaviva, Roberto Frontali perhaps confronts the toughest assignment on this entire disc: Hai già vinta la causa! reveals a thoroughly unlikable, shallow man who must appear, for a moment at least, as sympathetic and misunderstood. But Frontali has the clear articulation of text and the firmness of line to portray the Count’s determination to have his own way, while his elegant phrasing and sweetness of tone suggest his aristocratic bearing and his simple awareness, sans arrogance, of his position. This performance is one of the finest on the entire disc.

The biggest disappointment on this album is Alan Titus’s Votre toast, from Bizet’s Carmen. Sung at a consistent, phoned-in forte—some of the phrases are closer to being barked than sung—the aria reveals little of Escamillo’s "matinee idol" charisma. And what is a bullfighter without suave élan, ego, or testosterone? Absent, too, is the arrogant glee some Escamillos reveal in playing with ladies’ hearts and watching them succumb—even though these ladies know their lover is merely toying with them.

Eduard Tumagian has many of the ingredients of a fine Rigoletto: his Pari siamo! has dramatic involvement, incisive thrust, and soaring lyrical line. He can snarl the venom of the jester’s self-hatred and still retain the lyrical softness necessary to convince the listener of his abiding love for his daughter Gilda. His Cortigiani, vil razza dannata, however, comes off less well: the power of his dramatic commitment sags in a few phrases when his usually-crisp diction turns to mush and his inability to negotiate legato phrases smoothly fails to arouse the listener’s pity for the jester. In the prologue to Leoncavallo’s I pagliacci, Tumagian, as Tonio, finds sufficient breath to make the long lines really sing (although he does take them slightly faster than most baritones do.) He invests his tone with just the right threat of restrained menace about to explode, but still retains the earnest honesty needed to convince the listener that he and the other players "are men of flesh and bone." One attribute expected of any good Tonio is, of course, a thrilling penultimate high note; Tumagian delivers in spades. On the other hand, Tumagian races through what must be the fastest version of Alfio’s Il cavallo scalpita from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana ever recorded. Then, as Alfio’s thoughts turn to his beloved wife Lola, the music turns dead, dead slow, but later races again to the finale. The contrast is so over-dramatic that it loses all dramatic punch and negates much of Tumagian’s fine singing.

A growl just right for Iago is one important virtue of Igor Morozov’s Era la notte from Verdi’s Otello. (Note that this is the aria generally known as "Iago’s Dream," not the aria usually referred to as "Iago’s Credo." It occurs in the opera just before the Otello-Iago duet that concludes Act II.) Dropping the vocal line is not often considered a virtue among singers, but Morozov knows just how to do it deliberately, here, so as to leave the text fraught with Machiavellian suggestion. Although his voice thins markedly at the top, Morozov atones for this deficiency with ominous whispers that epitomize Iago’s evil.

Silvano Carroli offers two excerpts from Puccini’s Tosca, revealing a Baron Scarpia of snarly color but suave phrasing. This Scarpia is educated, sophisticated, and worldly, motivated far more by sadism—and an intellectual sadism, at that--than by lust. Carroli makes many points through understatement: his Spasimi d’ira . . . spasimi d’amore is sweetly sung, not barked; and his softspoken Al tuo Mario, per tuo voler, non resta che un’ora di vita is nothing short of chilling. Only occasional tones that tend toward dryness mar this powerful performance.

Domenico Trimarchi’s gravelly lower register and tremulous upper register seriously mar his Ehi paggio! . . . L’onore! Ladri!—the so-called "honor monologue" from Verdi’s Falstaff. As a result, the clever interplay between comic and serious elements throughout the scene fails to materialize. In partial atonement, Trimarchi possesses ultra-sharp diction and an almost uncanny sense of exactly what lines to throw away so as to draw the listener in.

One major drawback of this disc is the helter-skelter order in which the selections are programmed. No attempt has been made to put selections by the same singer—or even selections by the same composer or from the same time period—together. The result is a hodge-podge that leaves one with a sense of never knowing what might possibly come next.

But all in all, this is a thoroughly listenable, satisfactory disc. Nearly all of the performances are at least adequate, and a few are near-great. It offers some interpretational depth I have never heard before from far better-known singers, and brings new insight into imaginative ways in which the lyric baritone voice can entertain—and challenge—listeners.

Dennis Ryan

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