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Basso: Great Arias for the Bass Voice and to be Experienced as a Protagonist
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Don Giovanni, ‘Madamina! Il catalogo é questo’
Don Giovanni, ‘Deh! Vieni alla finestra’
Die Zauberflöte, ‘In diesen heil’gen Hallen’
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

I vespri siciliani, ‘O tu, Palermo’
Ernani, ‘Infelice!…e tuo credevi’
Macbeth, ‘Come dal ciel precipita’
Simon Boccanegra,Il lacerato spirito’
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La Boheme, ‘Vecchia zimarra’
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Il barbiere di Siviglia, ‘La callunia’
Valter Carignano, (bass-baritone); Marco Pauluzzo, (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus ‘Compagnia D’Opera Italiana’. Conducted by Antonella Gotto
Recorded June-August 1997. No venue indicated
CANTOLOPERA 95036 [72.37]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Le nozze di Figaro, ‘Non piú andrai’
Le nozze di Figaro, ‘’Se vuol ballare, signor contino’
Don Giovanni, ‘Fin ch’han dal vino’
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Don Carlo, ‘Ella giammai m’amò’
Nabucco, ‘Vieni, o levita!..Tu sul labbro dei veggenti’
Georges Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust, ‘Le veau d’or’
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
La sonnambula, ‘Vi Ravisso, o luoghi ameni’
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Boris Godunov, ‘Pimen’s Monologue’ (sung in Russian)
Valter Carignano, (bass-baritone); Marco Paoluzzo, (bass); Matteo Peirone (basso brilliante)
Orchestra and Chorus ‘Compagnia D’Opera Italiana’. Conducted by Antonella Gotto
Recorded June-October 1997. No venue indicated
CANTOLOPERA 95045 [63.30]

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In summer 2003 I reviewed on this site a CD-ROM entitled ‘Between Earth and Sky: The Hour of Meditation and Prayer’. This was an issue from Cantolopera being Volume VII of their ‘Great Interactive Opera Encyclopaedia’. On that ROM there were hours of involving content including a spoken and visual analysis of the characteristics of the baritone voice. Other volumes in the series covered the other vocal registers. Each disc allowed analysis of ones own vocality with the opportunity to sing arias with the accompanying music from speakers or headphones as the words and score passed in front of ones eyes on the VDU. This new series from Cantolopera comprises ‘straight’ CDs, but their sub-title ‘to be Experienced as a Protagonist’ gives a clue to their second purpose. Each disc of arias is sung by professional singers, backed by orchestra, and chorus when appropriate. These ‘model’ tracks are then followed by the music and chorus alone, allowing the listener to try his/her talents and skills, with the backing of an orchestra, rather than just a piano. The words, in the language of the aria, are given with an English translation. However, as no music script is given, as was the case on the ROMs, a vocal score is a must for the serious protagonist, particularly as the words provided do not indicate reprised phrases. There is also the complication that some arias are given in abbreviated performing versions that may differ from standard vocal scores. However, serious users of these discs, which are in no way ‘jokey karaoke’, should have no difficulty in using them both for listening to the performances of professional singers and as protagonist. Given also that each disc has ‘fach’ variations, such as lyric and dramatic arias, they will help the user define their individual vocal strengths for themselves. Not all potential singers have the benefit of a music college coach or personal teacher. Each disc is a separate entity and can be purchased in that form. (See purchase details on this site)

The bass is the lowest male voice. Its range covers almost two octaves from E below middle C to middle C or even E above. Many sub-divisions exist within opera houses with some distinct differences between the German and Italian repertoire. In the former, common divisions include the ‘tiefer’ bass (Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, CD 1 tr. 6 here); the ‘buffo’ or ‘komischer’ bass (Osmin in The Seraglio); and the ‘hoker’ bass. Osmin is unusual in this ‘fach’ in that it is a comic role of which Mozart also asks for a low D, no less, to be held for seven measures; far too long for any faking no matter how low the jaw is put on the chest! Putative protagonists will be relieved that the aria concerned is not included here for them to attempt. There is also the complication of the Wagner bass-baritone (Wotan, Sachs and The Dutchman). What these voices require, be they true basses with some top, or baritones with strength in their lower range, is vocal strength and focus to ‘ride’ Wagnerian orchestration. Somewhat less demanding are the basses with a free top than can take on the Mozart roles of Don Giovanni, his servant Leporello, as well as Figaro and his master Count Almaviva. What these parts require is a lightness of vocal touch to go with the greater sonority of the bass voice when compared to the baritone voice for which they were written. Examples are to be found on CD 1 trs.1-2 and CD 2 trs. 5, 6 and 8.

In the Italian repertoire there are three main sub-divisions of the bass voice. The most common is the ‘basso cantante’, a high but true bass in timbre and range also encompassing lyric qualities and a smooth style. Verdi wrote King Philip (Don Carlo, CD 2 tr.1), Zaccaria (Nabucco, CD 2 tr.7), Silva, (Ernani, CD 1 tr.5), Procida, (Sicilian Vespers, CD 1 tr.4) and Fiesco (Simon Boccanegra, CD 1 tr.9) and several other roles, for this type of voice. Related roles are Mephistopheles (Gounod’s Faust, CD 2 tr.2) and the title role in Boris Godunov. Requiring a distinctly more flexible voice is the ‘buffo bass’, really the coloratura of basses. Agility and speed of tongue are requirements for roles such as Dr. Bartolo in Rossini’s Barber of Seville and the title role in Don Pasquale. The lowest voice in the Italian ‘fach’ is the ‘basso profondo’ and which really overlaps with the Germanic ‘tiefer’ bass.

On these two discs the higher Mozart roles from Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro are shared, with Valter Carignano, described as a bass-baritone taking master and servant from the first named (CD 1 trs.1-2 and CD 2 tr.8), and Matteo Peirone, described as ‘basso brilliante’ singing both Figaro arias (CD 2 tr.5-6). I find Carignano rather too heavy-toned for the libertine Giovanni and lacking the sardonic turn of phrase that can refresh Leporello’s ‘Catalogue’ aria; the stolid accompaniment to the former aria, ‘Deh! Vieni’ (CD 1 tr.1) doesn’t help. Peirone is better as Figaro and I can identify with his characterisation. Marco Paoluzzo, who has a tightly focused smallish voice, takes the remaining ‘cantante’ roles. He is no bad exemplar for interested protagonists to follow with some elegant phrasing in the Verdi arias, although he hasn’t the ideal low sonority for Sarastro (CD 1 tr.6) or in Pimen’s ‘Monologue’ from Boris (CD 2 tr. 3).

Listen to CD 1 tr.9, Verdi’s ‘Il lacerato spirito’; CD 2 tr.2 to Mephistopheles’ ‘Le veau d’or’ from Faust and to CD 2 tr.6 ‘Se vuol ballare’ as Figaro thinks how he might get the better of Count Almaviva his master, who covets his wife to be.

Robert J Farr

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