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Ramon VARGAS (tenor) - Between Friends
Georges BIZET (1838-1870)

Les Pecheurs de perles, ‘Au fond du temple saint’ (Vassily Gerello, bar.)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Maometo II, ‘In questi estremi instanti’ (Barbara Lavarian, sop. Vessilina Kasarova, mezzo)
Il barbiere di Siviglia, ‘All’idea di quell metallo’ (Manuel Lanza, bar.)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1868)

L’Elisir d’amore, ‘Ardir! Ha forse il cielo mandato…Voglio dire, lo stupendo elisir..Obbligato’ (Leo Nucci, bar.)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Don Carlo, ‘E lui…Dio che nell’alma infondere’ (Vassily Gerello, bar.)
Don Carlo, ‘È dessa! lassù ci vidremo’ (finale scene; Miriam Gauci, sop.)
La forza del destino, ‘Solenne in quest’ora’ (Roberto Frontali, bar)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La Boheme, ‘In un coupe..O Mimi, tu piu non torni’ (Roberto Frontali, bar)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Vjekoslav Sutej
Rec. April 8th to 15th 2003, in the Auditorium di Milano, Milan
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 54343 2 [56.08]


This CD gets a flying start with me by its choice of title. Not ‘duets’, or worse still reference to Bizet’s most famous duet. Even better, it is not a selection culled from previous issues. Here instead is an imaginative programme recorded in Milan over one week in spring 2003. Friendship and friends are the theme. Given the paucity of new opera recordings this issue allows us to hear other singers who might otherwise not make it onto CD, along with the star who is the focus of the issue.

Vargas himself first impinged on my consciousness, as far as recordings are concerned, as Count Almaviva in Naxos’s 1992 ‘Barber of Seville’ and again in Rossini as Don Narciso to Bartoli’s fiery Fiorilla in Decca’s 1997 ‘Il Turco in Italia’. Those roles are for a light ‘tenore di grazia’ voice; in the opera house Vargas has moved on to heavier lyric roles. This collection shows him beyond the transition between those ‘fachs’ and stretching towards even weightier repertoire. In the meantime he has acquired more colour and heft to his voice. Indeed in the extract from Rossini’s ‘Maometto’ (tr. 2) he sounds a little husky as the two ladies duet nicely, whilst in ‘All idea’ from the ‘Barber of Seville’ Vargas lightens his tone; the extra metal now in his voice is a perfect foil to the well-tuned lyric baritone of Manuel Lanza (tr. 7). Perhaps the ideal repertoire for him just now is Nemorino, with a dry-toned Nucci (tr. 3) or more likely Rodolpho (La Boheme) in which role he has already appeared at Covent Garden and The Metropolitan New York. Here, with a slightly nasal Frontali as Marcello, the part and character are well into his voice (tr. 6). However, Vargas obviously wants to dip his toes into heavier repertoire whilst Alvaro from Verdi’s ‘La Forza del destino’ is, if he is wise, at his present vocal limit (tr. 5). The eponymous Don Carlo, which he is to sing at Houston and Washington, will do nicely for the present. The role features in two extracts from the opera. The first (tr.4), where Don Carlo confesses his love for Elisabeth, to whom he was betrothed but who had, for political reasons, to marry his father, is sung with appealingly plangent tone. Both singers are very impressive with the tone and heft in Vargas’s voice very evident (from 5.35 to end) and well matched by the Rodrigo of Vassily Gerello. The same duo sing the famous friendship duet ‘Au fond du temple saint’ from Bizet’s ‘Pearl Fishers’ (tr. 1). The best compliment I can pay the pair is to write that their rendering is the best I have heard on a recital disc since the famous 1950 recording by Björling and Merrill and here basking in the advantage of a more modern sound. The second extract from Don Carlo features the final duet with Elisabeth (tr. 8) and when the two are disturbed by the King and The Grand Inquisitor, he being rescued by the ‘Friar’, in body or spirit the former King Charles. Here Vargas sings and phrases with elegance and eloquence. However, Miriam Gauci hasn’t the legato, colour or depth of tone for Elisabeth ... pity.

The recording is well balanced in a natural, clear and airy acoustic. The booklet has brief comments by Vargas on the friendship themes of the extracts and a full libretto with translation in English, French and German; although you may need a magnifying glass to read it. The track listing isn’t cross-referenced to the pages in the libretto. There are no artist profiles. It would have been helpful if these had been provided for the lesser-known names. As far as Vargas is concerned, his 2003 Riccardo (‘Ballo in Maschera’) at Bologna was well received, and likewise his Alfredo (‘La Traviata’) at the ‘Met’, although critics found his tone hardening at the more dramatic parts of the latter role. Whether his scheduled Don Jose (Carmen) at Houston in 2006 will put too much pressure on his essentially lyric voice, albeit capable of some heft, remains to be seen. In the meantime this imaginatively conceived disc may be enjoyed for its many virtues, not least Vargas’s pleasant tone, elegant phrasing and good characterisation. If studio recording of opera was still in vogue he would doubtless feature regularly.

Robert J Farr


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