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Barry Banks - Bel Canto Arias (sung in English)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
The Italian Girl in Algiers: In dreams of endless pleasure (1813) [7.16] (a)
Stabat Mater: Through her soul in endless grieving (1841) [6.25] (b)
Count Ory: May destiny befriend you (1828) [4.38] (c)
Moses in Egypt: The blow at last has fallen (1818) [7.10] (d)
Ermione: Palace of horrors!...Ah, how can I hide the flames (1819) [7.07] (e)
The Thieving Magpie: Darling! Darling, let me embrace you! (1817) [5.03] (f)
Armida: I lost the will to action (1817) [3.22] (g)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni: Could I ever believe...Her joy is my joy (1787) [4.52] (h)
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Rake's Progress: Here I stand...Since it is not by merit (1948/51) [2.40] (i)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Don Pasquale: Poor lost Ernesto...I shall go, no more returning (1843) [9.47] (j)
Don Pasquale: The night is calm (1843) [4.05] (k)
The Elixir of Love: Only one teardrop (1832) [5.14] (l)
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Our Friend Fritz: Suzel, good morning (1891) [8.33] (m)
Barry Banks (tenor)
Alan Opie (baritone) (d)
Alfred Boe (tenor) (e)
Bruce Ford (tenor) (g)
Dennis O'Neill (tenor) (g)
Janice Watson (soprano) (m)
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir (f, k)
London Philharmonic Orchestra (a-e, g, i-j, m) or Philharmonia Orchestra (f, h, k-l)/David Parry
rec. Blackheath Halls, London, 3-7 March 2003 (a, g, m); 24-27 September 2001 (b-e, h); 22-27 August 2000 (i); 15, 17-18, 20-21 November 1997 (j-k); 7-11 February 1999 (l); 21-23, 27-28 September 2002 (f)
CHANDOS CHAN 3112 [77.05]



The sopranos who spearheaded the twentieth century's bel canto revival included Callas, Sutherland, Sills, CaballÚ. Although primarily renowned for "dramatic coloratura" roles - the Fach more precisely termed soprano drammatica d'agilitÓ - these singers regularly appeared in mainstream roles as well. Their tenor partners, however, seem not to have commanded the same adaptability.

The Spaniard Alfredo Kraus probably came closest on the international level: noted for a secure if reedy high Rubini extension, he exploited it sparingly. He was as likely to sing Rodolfo as Almaviva and generally eschewed unfamiliar territory, but preserved his voice over a long and celebrated career. Early on, Luciano Pavarotti's juicier instrument could well have made a home in Donizetti; but I suspect the tension underlying his vocal production would eventually have taken its toll, even if a move into heavier roles and arena concerts had not. The specialist "Rossini tenors" emergent in the 1980s - Chris Merritt, William Matteuzzi, Rockwell Blake - negotiated the extreme top in a pumped-up version of Kraus's forward, reedy resonance. They rarely ventured into more central repertoire - although I believe Merritt was once announced for a Trovatore! Currently, Antonio Siragusa follows this lineage.

All this is to offer a context in which to consider Barry Banks, whose well-chosen, varied program attempts to bridge the repertoire divide. I am only familiar with him from Chandos's "Opera in English" series - to which this recital belongs - but his biography lists appearances at major houses throughout the U.S., as well as in Britain and on the Continent. He's sung a fair amount of Rossini as well as Rimsky-Korsakov's Astrologer, indicating (one hopes) a reliable extension into the leggiero top. His "standard" roles - Tamino, Nemorino, and Edgardo among them - suggest a reasonable midrange presence as well.

Based on this album, Banks's voice has a clear, open timbre and placement, standing him in good stead for a program that includes seven Rossini scenes. The singer's frontal, somewhat nasal approach to the passaggio avoids overweighting the voice and affords him flexibility in the fioriture, but occasionally renders the midrange tremulous, robbing it of some of its clarity and ring. On the other hand, Banks negotiates bright-toned excursions into the Rubini range without sounding fierce or overdriven - not an easy feat.

Interpretatively, Banks doesn't get much beyond projecting the appropriate mood for each aria, but that's more than sufficient for the Rossini selections, which are, after all, primarily about singing - solution of the technical problems in a musical way will take care of most of the "interpretation." In the Stabat Mater aria, the return to the original key sounds clunky and uncertain, with the singer waiting momentarily for the orchestra's audible prompt. And the fioriture in the Ermione cabaletta sound careful, missing incisiveness. At the other extreme, the Thieving Magpie cabaletta goes with the sort of thrilling, proclamatory energy familiar from Ramiro's big aria in Cinderella. Armida's brief, virile trio for tenors is a novelty: the baritonal lead voice is clearly Bruce Ford's, balanced well by Banks and Dennis O'Neill in their successive entries.

The non-Rossini material is similarly well-considered. A relatively simple passage like the Don Pasquale recitative finds Banks singing note-by-note, rather than phrasing it in full arcs. But then, venturing far from conventional leggiero territory, he and soprano Janice Watson are perfectly attuned to the easy charm of the Our Friend Fritz duet, opening into full-throated climaxes within a bel canto framework - I'm inclined to call it the best thing on the album.

In this otherwise resolutely conservative program, the Rake's Progress aria sticks out like a cornstalk in a rosebush, Stravinsky's purported obeisance to Italian models notwithstanding. Once past the infirm, nebulous starting pitches - if you don't already know they're a B and two Cs, you still won't now - Banks's immediate, "verbal" delivery of the English text puts the piece across nicely.

Oh, yes, the English translations. They work rather well, actually - better than you'd expect from reading them ("only one teardrop" for "una furtiva lagrima," for example). And none of the sung texts sets the wrong tone; compare the Chandos Ernani with its improbably highfalutin' brigands. Save in the Mozart, which for some reason gets mushy, Banks's enunciation is exemplary - I rarely consulted the booklet.

David Parry conducts with sensitive understanding throughout. Both orchestras play well, with the LPO's principal horn and trumpet sounding poised and eloquent in their solo turns. Sonically, the characteristic Chandos resonance mostly falls pleasantly on the ear - the larger-than-life woodwind sound is especially attractive in the Stravinsky. The cushiony ambience, however, blunts the edge of the instrumental textures in the Inflammatus - whoops, in Through her soul - and the bass can be boomy. Banks is suitably forward of the orchestra, except in the Pasquale serenade, drawn from the recording of the complete opera, where he begins "offstage."

Stephen Francis Vasta



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