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Roberto Alagna – Tenor!
CD 1
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
La Bohème:
1. Che gelida manina [4:40]
2. O soave fanciulla [3:51]
Tosca:
3. Recondita armonia [2:11]
4. E lucevan le stelle [3:09]
5. Ah! Franchiggia … O dolce mani [4:17]
La rondine:
6. Ma come puoi lasciarmi [5:21]
Le villi:
7. Ecco la casa … Torna ai felici di [6:02]
Gianni Schicchi:
8. Firenze è come un albero fiorito [2:28]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Il trovatore:
9. Ah si, ben mio … L’onda de’ suoni mistici [5:07]
10. Di quella pira [3:11]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Lucie de Lammermoor:
11. C’est moi Lucie [2:18]
12. Sur la tombe de mon père [5:29]
13. Vers toi toujours s’envoler [4:01]
14. Tombes de mes aïeux [7:44]
Giuseppe VERDI
Don Carlos:
15. Fontainebleau! Forêt immense et solitaire [4:03]
16. Qui me rend ace mort? Ô funèbres abîmes! [4:34]
17. Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes [4:35]
CD 2
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
Roméo et Juliette:
1. Cavatine: L’amour … Ah! Lève-toi, soleil! [3:55]
2. Duo de la chamber: Va, je t’ai pardonné … Nuit d’hyménée … Anges du ciel [11:08]
Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)
Manon:
3. En fermant les yeux [3:08]
4. Je suis seul … Ah, fuyez, douce image [4:47]
5. Toi! Vous! Oui! Je fus cruelle … N’est-ce plus ma main [6:53]
Werther:
6. Oui, ce qu’elle m’ordonne … Lorsque l’enfant revient [3:32]
7. Traduire … Pourquoi me reveiller, ô soufflé du printemps [3:13]
8. N’achevez pas, hélas [2:38]
Georges BIZET (1838–1875)
Carmen:
9. Duo: Parle-moi de ma mère [8:50]
10. Duo: Je vais danser en votre honneur … La-la-la-la … Au quartier! [4:44]
11. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée [3:37]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Te Deum:
12. Prière: Te ergo quaesumus [7:30]
Giuseppe VERDI
Requiem:
13. Ingemisco [3:26]
Giacomo PUCCINI
Messa di Gloria:
14. Et incarnatus est [2:46]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819–1880)
La Belle Hélène:
15. Le jugement de Pâris: Au Mont Ida [3:18]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918–1990)
West Side Story:
16. Tonight, tonight, it all began tonight [3:49]
Roberto Alagna (tenor); Leontina Vaduva (soprano) (CD1 tr. 2); Angela Gheorghiu (soprano) (CD1 tr. 5, 6, 9, 10 and CD2 tr. 2, 5, 8, 10 and 16); Natalie Dessay (soprano) (CD1 tr. 11–13), Inva Mula (soprano) (CD2 tr. 9), Thomas Hampson (baritone) (CD1 tr. 17); José Van Dam (bass) (CD1 tr. 16); Philharmonia Orchestra/Antonio Pappano (CD1 tr. 1, 2); Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano (CD1 tr. 3–5)/Richard Armstrong (CD2 tr. 3–5, 15, 16); London Symphony Orchestra/Antonio Pappano (CD1 tr. 6–10; CD2 tr. 6–8, 14); Orchestre I Choeurs de l’Opera National de Lyon/Evelino Pidò (CD1 tr. 11–14); Choeur du Théâtre du Châtelet, Orchestre de Paris/Antonio Pappano (CD1 tr. 15–17); Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson (CD2 tr. 1, 2, 9–11); Choeur & Orchestre de Paris/John Nelson (CD2 tr. 12); Berliner Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado (CD2 tr. 13)
rec. published 1996–2003
EMI CLASSICS 0946 3 80793 2 3 [73:25 + 77:36]

 


Roberto Alagna has some claims to be the foremost tenor in the generation after “The Three Tenors”. For taste and consistency he certainly stands supreme in what can be called standard repertoire for lyric-dramatic tenors in the French-Italian field. Since he transferred to DG after ten years as an EMI artist, his new company have acquired the copyright for his old recitals and reissued quite a number together with some new discs. This latest compilation is culled mainly from complete recordings from the EMI/Virgin catalogues during a period of eight years. Since it contains not only arias but also some duets and ensembles, we get a somewhat wider picture of his capacity, not least as a dramatic singer. In other words this set is complementary to the recital discs and for those who don’t already own the complete sets and don’t wish to do so, this is a fine way of getting to know him more deeply.

The opening aria, Che gelida manina from La Bohème shows him in the best possible light and we notice his virile tone, his fine legato, his sensitive phrasing, his ringing high C and his honeyed pianissimo. This is definitely an artist, not just a singer with an exceptional voice. Occasionally we also note that he can be slightly off pitch but that doesn’t bother me. He also delivers an inward, contemplative E lucevan le stelle with still room for real passion, and it is immediately followed by the dramatic scene with Tosca, leading up to O dolce mani, beautifully vocalized. His spouse Angela Gheorghiu, who appears in several numbers, has the required power for the ill-fated opera singer.

It is good to have a couple of relative rarities, as the beautiful scene from La rondine, with glorious singing from both artists. Some may find Puccini over-sweet here but with wholehearted singing like this it hardly matters. On the other hand the aria from the early Le villi initially finds him in unusually explosive mood. The aria proper is however sweet and slow and here Alagna sings with lyrical restraint, lightening his tone admirably. I am less impressed by his handling of the aria from Gianni Schicchi. This is an elegant, gracious song, best suited to a tenorino but Alagna hams it up in a can belto manner that could pass for a Manrico. As the real Manrico he is much more lyrical, sweet even, in the sensitively sung Ah si, ben mio. He even sports a trill. But in Di quella pira, it is the warrior we hear: energetic, heroic and with a high C that may not be the last word in fullness and brilliance, but it is a thrilling performance and the final C is held forever.

As Edgardo, or Edgar as it is here in the French version of Lucie de Lammermoor, he is partnered by the superb Natalie Dessay in the long first act scene and we are treated to a lot of sensitive singing. Evelino Pidò propels the tension forward but he also holds back to let the lyrical moments tell. Edgar’s last act aria, one of the truly great pieces of writing for the tenor voice, is sung with deep involvement – and taste: he never resorts to sobs and sighs in the Gigli manner.

Don Carlos, in the original French version, became famous through the TV production from the Théâtre du Chatelet. It is available both on CD and DVD and is to my mind the best recording of this version. Alagna, in idiomatic French, is youthfully exuberant in the Fontainebleau aria. Then the producers have reversed the order of the two following numbers, which means that the act 4 scene with Philip II comes before the act 2 duet with Rodrigo, but no doubt the latter makes a better end to the disc. Anyway we get a glimpse of José Van Dam’s beautifully and warmly–too warmly?–sung Philip. Thomas Hampson’s voice in 1996 had considerably more bloom than today and blends well with Alagna’s in this duet, which mainly offers concerted singing. There is a certain amount of stage noise on this live recording.

On CD 2 he moves into “real” French repertoire. His Roméo is manly and lyrical and again we hear Angela Gheorghiu on top form. So she is also in the duet from Manon, and before that Alagna sings a superb “Dream” aria, soft and beautiful, caressing, and a “Church” aria full of passion. Impassioned singing a-plenty is also to be found in the Werther excerpts and he is an unusually lyrical Don José in the first act duet with Micaëla from Carmen, where Inva Mula is an ideal partner with her beautiful and warm voice. Angela Gheorghiu hasn’t got the darkish tone of great mezzo-Carmens and can’t quite challenge Horne or Troyanos or, in the soprano stakes, Callas and Jessey Norman for biting intensity, but she is good even so, closer to Berganza and Victoria de los Angeles. Alagna’s Flower Song is fairly full-voiced and straightforward, not as nuanced as, say, Gedda or Simoneau, but he does the end pianissimo, more or less as written. This José is however more the simple soldier than the vulnerable young man of the first act.

The rest of the disc is non-operatic with a rather beefy reading of the Prière from Berlioz’ Te Deum, recorded in a spacious venue (Salle Pleyel?), a more closely recorded and much more sensitive Ingemisco from Verdi’s Requiem and a beautiful rendering of Et incarnatus est from Puccini’s rarely heard Messa di Gloria. There is a big leap to Pâris’s well-known and testing hit from La belle Hélène, sung ardently and with a swagger. He lightens the voice for the beginning of the second stanza but ends on a gleaming high C. In the encore, Maria from West Side Story, he is again united with his spouse. It might be argued that this music shouldn’t be sung by operatic voices at all, but since Bernstein himself chose Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras for his recording of the work there is some authorization to do so and I don’t mind this approach. I often return to Lennie’s set with pleasure but I think Roberto and Angela are more youthful than Kiri and José.

It may be possible to search out recordings of most of these pieces that are even more insightful and/or better vocalized but in the main this is tenor singing on a level to which only a handful of latter-day singers have reached in this repertoire. At mid-price (amazon.com retails the set at $17:98) it is certainly attractive with 2½ hours’ playing time and recorded sound from EMI’s top drawer. Don’t expect any liner notes worth the name or the sung texts.

Göran Forsling 

And Robert Farr also writes…..

I believe that it is a taken truth in the advertising trade that there is no such a thing as bad publicity. Our tenor on this compilation must hope so. This EMI double CD compilation of recordings made when Alagna was contracted to that company appears contemporaneously with a double CD from his new company, DG. It was issued just after the contretemps of his walking off the stage when singing Radames at the second of a series of performances at La Scala Milan and which made international headlines in newspapers all over the world.

His new company seem to have taken over some of the recitals Alagna made for EMI such as that of Verdi arias that I recently reviewed. This latest double CD is of extracts from the many recordings of complete works, mainly operas, which he made for EMI. He was signed by the company after memorable performances of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Covent Garden that he sang very shortly after the death of his young wife. The first opera recording under the contract was of La Boheme alongside the Mimi of Leontina Vaduva (CD 1 trs 1-2). In Che gelida manina his tightly focused, slightly husky tenor opens up for the high note with only a slight tonal constriction. In the following love duet O soave fanciulla his phrasing, like that of his partner, is appealing.

As is well known he began a professional and personal association with the Romanian lyric soprano Angela Gheorghiu who, after negotiations with her record company, Decca, joined him at EMI; a whole series of recordings followed featuring the both singers. These recordings are the main, but not exclusive, source of the tracks here. Those involving Natalie Dessay in extracts from the complete Lucie de Lamermoor recorded for Virgin are some of the most appealing in the collection (CD 1 trs, 11-14). This French version of Donizetti’s well-known opera, premiered in Naples in 1835, was staged in Paris four years later and for which the composer made a number of alterations. The salient point here is how well both the music and the language suit Alagna’s vocal skills with Edgar’s Tombe de mes aieux being well phrased and the voice well supported within its natural compass (tr.14). The same qualities are to be found in Alagna’s singing in the extracts from Massenet’s Manon (CD 2 trs. 3-5) and Werther (CD 2 trs 6-8) in particular. It is not, however, merely a question of language but the pressure the music puts upon his voice. Just what I mean by this can be heard in the extracts from Carmen (CD 2 trs. 9-11). In Don José’s duet with Micaela, Parie-moi de ma mère (tr. 9) there is not too much pressure on the voice and Alagna characterises and sings with good legato. Two tracks later the demands of La fleur que tu m'avais jetée produce a tendency to squeeze the tone.

As the company’s contracted tenor, Alagna sang the leads in the Puccini cycle that EMI started in the 1990s, under the baton of Antonio Pappano … often with Angela Gheorghiu alongside him. Whereas Rodolfo in La Boheme is largely comfortable for him, I sense that Cavaradossi is one size too large and Puccini’s dense orchestration causes him to strain with his tone coarsening and the highest notes squeezed (CD 1 trs. 3-5). It is this division between the lyric tenor fach and the heavier lyrico spinto that the singer has never really encompassed. By the time of his recording of Il Trovatore in August 2001 Alagna’s tenor was significantly less easy on the ear than ten years earlier. In my review of that issue in September of the following year I questioned his suitability in these spinto roles. It seems that the clients of La Scala shared this view given their response to his singing of Radames’s opening aria in Aida, another spinto role, which precipitated his departure from the stage and the theatre. Just how inappropriate this fach is for his voice can be heard in his singing of Manrico’s demanding Di quella pira (CD 2 tr. 10) from that recording of Il Trovatore. Far more appropriate are the vocal demands of the eponymous Don Carlos in Verdi’s greatest Grand Opera written for Paris in 1867 (CD 1 trs. 11-14). It is not a matter of the language being French, but rather the density of the orchestration and the overall tessitura. I gather Alagna is scheduled to return to Covent Garden later in 2007 as Alfredo in La Traviata. That is more the fach that should be the focus of his repertoire rather than the heavier roles. I hope the coarsening of his voice in those heavier roles, as evidenced in some tracks here, is not irredeemable and that common sense not tenorial ego will determine his future stage and recording schedule.

Robert J Farr

 

 


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