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Rolando Villazón: Arias
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Le Cid (1885) – Ah! tout est bien fini … O Souverain [4’53]. Manon (1884) – Enfin, Manon … Enfremant des yeuxa [4’45]; Je suis seul! … Ah! fuyez, douce image [4’45]. Werther (1892) – Oui, ce qu’elle m’ordonne … Lorsque l’enfant revient [4’09]; Traduire … Ah! bien souvent mon rêve s’envole … Pourquoi me réveiller [3’38]. Le Roi de Lahore (1877) – Voix qui me remplissez d’une ineffable ivresse [4’10]. Griséldis (1901) – Je suis l’oiseau [2’51]. Roma (1912) – Je vais la voir! Tout mon être frémitb [4’33]. Le MageAh! parais! Parais, astre de mon cielb [3’40].
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Roméo et Juliette (1867) - L’amour! L’amour! … Ah! lève-toi, soleil [4’20]; C’est là … Salut, tombeau spombre et silencieux [6’02]. Polyeucte (1878) – Source déliceuse [4’36]. La Reine de Saba (1862) – Faiblesse de la race humaine! … Inspirez-moi, race divine [5’11]. Mireille (1864) – Mon coeur est plein d’un noir souci! … Anges du paradis [3’33]. Faust (1859) Quel trouble inconnu me pénètre [6’04].
Rolando Villazón (tenor); aNatalie Dessay (soprano);
bChoeur et Orchestre Philarmonique de Radio France/Evelino Pidò.
Rec. Studio 103, Maison de Radio France, Paris, on March 8th-15th, 2004. DDD
Notes, texts and translations included.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5 45719 2 [67’10]


Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón is a real talent and the fact he has chosen this particular repertoire for this release is a major cause for celebration. In amongst the more famous chunks of Manon and Roméo come snippets of Le Mage, Roma (both Massenet) and La Reine de Saba and Mireille (Gounod). To hear them in top-class performances only makes one itch to hear the operas complete, recorded to this standard. Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Villazón’s strengths are an expressive legato for his generally light tenor, accurate rhythm and a ringing top; that Daniel Zalay and Alain Lanceron’s recording captures nicely. He is lucky to have Radio France’s orchestra to accompany him – they play with real affection and evidently enjoy the various discoveries. More, Natalie Dessay makes a guest appearance in the first Manon excerpt. This begins with an explosion of ardent love as the pair find themselves alone before they - mainly the character Des Greiux - explore their feelings. The preceding ‘O Souverain’ (Le Cid) reveals that there can be an edge to Villazón’s voice, but it is not too much.

Villazón’s real strength is his identification with the various characters and their emotions at the time of the particular arias. Werther’s Act 2 aria, ‘Lorsque l’enfant revient’ is a case in point, as tender and as imploring as they come.

Richard Martlet’s excellent booklet notes suggest the difference is that, ‘Gounod is a French exponent of bel canto, whereas Massenet tends towards a more verismo approach’. Moving then to Gounod (the next three arias on the disc come from Roméo, Polyeucte and La Reine de Saba) one does indeed finds an increase in intensity, with Villazón positively relishing the melodic lines it is his privilege to sing. The ringing top is once more in evidence (‘Parais’, around 1’50). The Polyeucte excerpt is a real outpouring, the orchestra plodding along behind - in the nicest way possible - but it is perhaps the Reine de Saba excerpt that impresses most out of this group of three. Villazón makes one want to hear the whole opera just on the strength of this, the orchestra joining him wholeheartedly in his Gounodian dedication.

A group of three Massenets follows. Le Roi de Lahore is perhaps musically not on the exalted level of Manon, it is true; the line is rather disjunct. Villazón however convinces by dint of sheer ardent singing. But any admirer of musical beauty should surely hear the Griséldis excerpt. Villazón sings this as if improvising, and carries the listener along superbly. A more famous Werther aria rounds off this trio (‘Pourquoi me réveiller’). It flows gloriously - the orchestra has a fair amount to do with this - swelling enormously right at the end. Wonderful.

The love-pervaded anxiety of the lover-in-waiting saturates Vincent’s aria from Mireille (‘Anges du paradis’). A silent tomb is viscerally invoked by Villazón in the Roméo extract (‘Salut, tonbeau sombre …’). Not only that, the orchestra is perfectly ‘intent’ here. By which I mean it plays great attention to what would normally be just ‘chugging’ figures. This is possibly the most ‘serious’ aria in this collection, and it receives its full due here.

If Roméo is moving towards familiar territory, we arrive with Faust. How lovingly-shaped are the strings leading to the vocal entrance. Villazón avoids any suggestion of sentimental milking of the line in his delivery, and in doing so becomes all the more touching as he succumbs to love for Marguerite.

Massenet gets the last word. Des Grieux’s ‘Ah fuyez, douce image’ contains lovely floated moments, yet that ‘steel’ edge is there in any dynamic over forte - not unappealingly. But what a brave and successful decision it was to end with two lesser known snippets. Lentulus’s scene from Roma - the chorus represents the ‘Voices of the Vestals’ - includes moments of real magic from flute and harp, over which Massenet (and Villazón) weave a seemingly unending melody. Finally, the wonderful, glowing music of Le Mage in Zarastra’s ‘Ah! parais!’. Quite a decision to end a disc of solo arias with a chorus, but just listen to how the chorus enters as the logical ... and magical ... extension of the pre-extant orchestral texture. Masterly; as is everything about this disc, really.

Colin Clarke

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