> Roberto ALAGNA (tenor) Bel Canto [RJF]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Roberto ALAGNA (tenor)
"BEL-CANTO" Arias from operas by:–
BELLINI (La sonnambula, Norma, I puritani, and Il pirata)
DONIZETTI (Poliuto, La Favorite, Don Pasquale, Roberto Devereux, Dom Sebastien, L'Elisir d'amore, La Fille du Régiment).
London Voices
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Evelino Pido
Recorded 1999. No 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London. Full price.
EMI CLASSICS 7243 3 557302 [67.13]


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On his disc of 'French Opera Arias' released early in 2001, Alagna presented a mélange of lyric and more dramatic pieces. His feel for the genre, allied to command of the idiom and language, led to his receiving the accolade of Gramophone Magazine's 'Vocal Award'. He repeats the mixture in this selection from the Italian bel-canto repertoire, with two of Donizetti's operas written for Paris sung, as written, in French.

I started by listening to 'Prendi I'anel ti dono’ from Bellini's La sonnambula (tr 3). Recently, Decca's new star Juan Diego Florez sang the tenor part at London's Covent Garden and Milan's La Scala. The part of Elvino is very much ‘tenore di grazia' (light lyric tenor) territory and compared with Tagliavini (Fonit Cetra) or Pavarotti (Decca), Alagna makes heavy weather of it. Whilst singing softly in parts, his movement between registers is laboured, the voice lacking essential ease of support. Moving on to the slightly heavier 'Una furtiva lagrima' (tr 15), I found Alagna lacking lightness of vocal touch and his inability to caress a phrase, as Pavarotti does (Decca), frustrating. He lightens his tone, but that does, however, reveal something of his rather nasal vocal emission. The heavier role of Pollione from Norma (tr 8-9), with its more heroic demands is more to Alagna's liking although I would have preferred more expression and variation of vocal colour.

Moving to Donizetti's 'Paris' operas, La Favorite (tr 4-6) and La Fille du Régiment (tr 17-20), and with the extracts sung in French, I had higher hopes. These were better realised, although the top notes at the conclusion of Fernand’s Act I Cavatina (tr 4) sounded more falsetto than head voice. As Tonio (La Fille) we get the Act 2 'Romance' (tr 17), nicely realised, then the brief Act I Cavatina and part of the extended duet with the corporal and soldiers, including all the famous high notes taken from the chest with pleasing lyric tone (tr 20). In the Bellini roles of Arturo (I Puritani tr 13), and Gualtiero (Il pirata tr 16) Alagna is least successful, seemingly having to squeeze out the high tessitura in a rather throaty way. It is though a pleasure to hear his wife in the latter excerpt, and also in the earlier one from La sonnambula. She brings artistry, as well as a delicacy of intonation and phrasing to her singing which seems beyond her husband, particularly when singing in Italian.

The recording is bright, clear and well balanced with Evelino Pido an ideal conductor of this repertoire. An interesting and varied album, even if the realisation doesn't quite match the ideal. The booklet contains a brief outline of the context of each excerpt and translations in English, German and French.

I wonder if the fact that the recording sessions were in the autumn of 1999, and the disc is only just released, indicates that others had reservations too? I will await with interest Florez's forthcoming album, from Decca, of bel-canto arias, and see what overlap there is and how the singing compares.

Robert J Farr

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