needs no introduction. His reputation precedes him.
disc presents an interesting listening endeavor because it represents
the composer’s work in a genre for which he is not known. Song
and opera, in spite of their superficial similarities, present
very different challenges for composers and performers alike.
In an opera, characterization and communication are developed
and executed over large spans of time. Song, on the other hand,
requires both composer and interpreter to compress and express
the emotional content of a poem into much smaller segments of
time. As a writer of expansive operatic masterpieces, Verdi’s
song-writing endeavors give the listener insight into his compositional
prowess. When his resources are restricted - no orchestra, three
minutes as opposed to three hours, and no interpersonal relationships
to explore - can the master still produce works as insightful
and moving as the operas?
disc proves that Verdi can, in fact, produce small-scale compositions
of beauty and efficacy. The melodies are unmistakably his. The
Italian flair that characterizes his music is present throughout,
but what is so remarkable is his ability to set a mood immediately
and explore it thoroughly. The first selection, Ave Maria,
sets the well-known prayer with understated, nuanced fervour.
Non t’accostare all’urna expresses a departed soul’s
angst and anger with an eerie solemnity while Stornello invokes
fickle independence with hilarious result. These songs are all
impressive vignettes that isolate and survey various emotions,
personalities and situations.
performances are, for the most part, exemplary. O’Neill possess
a voice of rare beauty, and his ability to shape the expansive
Verdian lines is impressive. His dynamic palette is wide, and
he manages to use its various gradations frequently and sensitively,
especially at the extreme top of his range. Unfortunately he
has fallen into the habit of ending many phrases with an abrupt
choke. Vocal pedagogues would, without a doubt, object on the
grounds of healthy technique. These concerns aside, it is jarring
to the ears when a phrase that has been beautiful from its inception
ends with such an uncharacteristic grunt. His interpretations
are engaging and well-planned, especially in the more character-oriented
pieces such as Stornello and Lo spazzacamino.
Ingrid Surgenor provides thoroughly musical and exciting accompaniment.
Many of the melodies are anchored by a repetitive “oom-pa-pa”
from the piano, and Surgenor proves her skill as she manages
to imbue these formulaic figures with meaning and finesse. Furthermore,
she follows O’Neill perfectly: ensemble issues are rare.
recording is highly recommended. Fans of Verdi and of tenors
as well as people who just love good singing will find this
a worthy addition to their collections.