Haim seems to have a penchant for working with singers who
are not necessarily known for their work in the period performance
field. The title role in her recording of Monteverdi’s Orfeo
was Ian Bostridge, who is not a singer primarily associated
this new disc Haim has taken this strategy even further, by
casting operatic tenor Rolando Villazon as testo in Il
Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. Villazon has
not worked in early music before and is a newcomer to period
performance practice. He has taken on board elements of the
style and ornamentation required and his performance is, in
some ways, astonishing. Though I suspect a singer more experienced
in music of this period would have taken some of the ornamentation
a little faster.
is known for his expertise in 19th and early 20th
century Italian opera, but his beautiful voice is obviously
responsive to other styles and genres. But only to a certain
extent; Villazon’s main concern seems to remain beauty of
vocal tone. He sings in an open-throated manner with vibrato
and though he sings with a good line, his manner is very much
focused on the vocal sound. In this, he is only following
what are probably the core elements of his grounding in 19th
century performance practice. When his voice rises to its
upper levels he opens it out in a manner which is entirely
foreign to 17th century music.
singing Monteverdi, words should be paramount. Villazon only
succeeds in emoting in a rather general manner, singing in
paragraphs rather than emoting individual words and phrases.
Villazon is passionate and emotional, but lacks a feeling
for the detail. Sheer beauty of tone is not what most listeners
are looking for in Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.
can undoubtedly be seductive, his performance of Si
dolce e’l tormento is lovely, if you accept the anachronistic
is another issue involved here, that of balance. Le Concert
d’Astrée is a relatively small group (nine instrumentalists).
All three singers perform in a rather operatic manner and
when accompanied just by a few instruments, I felt that the
voices were a little too dominant.
other singers on the disc, Topi Lehtipuu and Patrizia Ciofi,
are both seasoned performers when it comes to 17th
century music. But both move between the 17th century
and later periods. This is especially true of Ciofi who includes
Verdi in her repertoire. On this disc, both Lehtipuu and Ciofi
seem to match their vocal technique a little towards Villazon’s
which means that all the voices are well balanced.
has a far stronger feeling for the words and for the music’s
line than does Villazon. The arias which Lehtipuu sings solo
are amongst the best on the disc. His tone is less Italianate
than Villazon’s and far more focused.
Ciofi, I must confess that I was very disappointed. She seems
to apply a rather uniform swooping and cooing manner to all
of her items on the disc. This, combined with some smudgy
fioriture makes her less than ideal.
Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda the
disc includes a selection of arias and duets from Scherzi
Musicali, Arie di diversi and the 7th
Book of Madrigals. Villazon and Lehtipuu blend very well in
their two duets, which is probably a compliment to the flexibility
of Lehtipuu’s technique.
you listen to Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano in
this repertoire, both the singers and the players perform
the music with a concentrated, dramatic intensity which brings
out the inherent passion and drama in the piece in a way which
is missing here.
all means buy this disc if you are interested in hearing how Villazon
performs this repertoire. You get to hear how one of the 21st
century’s loveliest voices sounds in this music, providing you
can get beyond the vexed issue of performance style.