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Roberto Alagna: French Opera Arias
Francois BAZIN (1816–1878)

Romance: Je pense a vous
 (Maitre Pathelin) (1856)
Jules MASSENET (1842 - 1912)
O Souverain, O Juge, O Pere
(Le Cid) (1885)
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760–1842)
J’ai vu disparaitre l’espoir (Les Abencerages) (1813)
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
Anges du paradis (Mireille) (1864)
Andre-Ernest GRETRY (1741–1813)
Serenade (L’Amant Jaloux) (1778)
Fromental HALEVY (1799 –1862)
Rachel, quand du Seigneur (La Juive) (1835)
Ambroise THOMAS (1811–1896)
Elle ne croyait pas (Mignon) (1866)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791–1864)
Pays, merveilleux (L’Africaine) (1865)
Hector BERLIOZ (1803–1869) Invocation a la nature (La Damnation de Faust) (1846)
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714–1787)
Unis des la plus tendre enfance (Iphigenie en Tauride) (1779)
Georges BIZET (1836–1875)
Romance: Je crois entendre encore
(Les Pecheurs de Perles) (1863)
Edouard LALO (1823–1892)
Vainement, ma bien-aimee
(Le Roi d’Ys) (1888)
Etienne-Nicolas MEHUL (1763–1817) Champs paternel (Joseph) (1807)
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835–1921)
Cois ma misere
(Samson et Dalila) (1877)

Alfred BRUNEAU (1857–1934)
Je jour tombe (L’Attaque du moulin) (1892/3)
Roberto Alagna (tenor)
London Voices
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Bertrand de Billy
rec. April 1999, January 2000, Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 6280 [72.23]

The tenor voice has been a constant in French opera since the 17th century but the type of voice has metamorphosed. Lully had voices available to him which we would recognise as tenors but the most popular voice type at the time was the haut-contre, a species of lyric tenor whose upper register is extended using falsetto. During the 18th century the haut-contre was gradually replaced by a more modern sounding tenor, though late 18th/early 19th century opera tended to emphasise, rather than disguise the changes of register. It was only with Adolphe Nourrit and Gilbert-Louis Duprez in the 19th century that the modern operatic tenor was created, with the emphasis on the high C sung in full chest voice.
Roberto Alagna traverses much of this repertoire on this fascinating recital, originally recorded in 1999/2000. On this disc Alagna’s voice is recognisably developing into something stronger, more capable of heavy roles, but he still has a lovely lyric instrument. This means that, though he sings arias written for a variety of voice types, he can generally produce a convincing vocal style.
In the Romance from Francois Bazin’s Maitre Pathelin, Alagna displays an impressive continuity of vocal tone to the very top of his voice, though the aria is marred by a rather abrupt end. The composer wrote mainly for the Opera Comique and enjoyed some success with Maitre Pathelin (in 1856), but achieved longer lasting fame with Le Voyage en Chine in 1865.
Alagna displays an impressive sense of line in ‘O souverain, o juge, o pere’ from Massenet’s Le Cid. He also refrains from over milking Massenet’s big tune, showing a musicality which is one of the welcome facets of this recital.
The aria from Cherubini’s Les Abencerages (which dates from 1813) is attractively tuneful and presages future developments in French opera. At times the aria sounds surprisingly in advance of its time. One of the fascinating things the recital points up is the continuity of form and idea in these operas. The Serenade form Gretry’s L’Amant jaloux contains a number of pre-echoes of Bizet’s essays in a similar vein. Though the aria would ideally need a lighter, more lyric voice, Alagna gives a convincing performance nonetheless. The Cavatine from Gounod’s Mireille shows the composer treading familiar ground as it contains numerous reminders of ‘O Demeure, Pure et Simple’ from Faust.
With the Air from Halevy’s La Juive we come to a group of better-known arias. The items by Thomas, Meyerbeer and Halevy have kept a life in recital even if their operas are not so often performed. And the excerpt from La Damnation de Faust needs no introduction. In all these pieces Alagna displays fine musicality and a good sense of line. He is adept at creating the right atmosphere for each aria. Whilst his versions may not be completely ideal, taken as a group they are an impressive achievement.
By this point in the recital, I began to notice a certain commonality in the pieces. Granted they have all been selected for a purpose and are linked by Alagna’s personality, but beyond that the pieces seem to display a similar feel for the melodic line and a care for the voice over the orchestra, a preference for lyricism over sheer power. That these concerns continued from early to late 19th century in French opera is an indication, perhaps, of how the later composers on this record were determined not to be affected by Wagnerisme.
Something from an opera by Gluck is a prime candidate for inclusion in the recital, because Gluck’s French operas became so influential. Unfortunately Alagna’s style lets him down in ‘Unis des la plus tendre enfance’ from Iphigenie en Tauride.
The Romance from Les Pecheurs de perles requires a certain type of lyric tenor voice. Whilst Alagna successfully negotiated the demands of the Romance from Bazin’s opera, in Bizet’s Romance he resorts to a sort of crooning which is atmospheric and effective whilst not being what is really called for. With the arias from Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys and Mehul’s Joseph we are on lesser known ground, but Alagna returns to form with stylistically appropriate performances.
‘ Vois ma misere’ is probably the heaviest of the roles that are sampled on the disc. Alagna’s performance is impressive, indicating the way his voice was going to develop, but he lacks the raw power and emotion which others have brought to the role.
The final item on the disc is something of a pleasant surprise, an aria from Bruneau’s opera L’Attaque du moulin, definitely repertoire that you do not come across every day. Bruneau was a Massenet pupil and an admirer of Zola; Bruneau based eight of his thirteen operas on Zola’s stories. It is a big romantic sing, and Alagna gives the aria its full weight making you curious about the rest of Bruneau’s work.
Bertrand de Billy and the orchestra of the Royal Opera House give fine support. Lucy Foster and Elizabeth Fyfe contribute some fine cor anglais playing in ‘Rachel, quand du Seigneur’.
This is an interestingly put together recital which manages to illuminate much of the tenor repertoire in 19th century French opera (and early) whilst mixing the known and the unknown. Of course, it only works properly because Alagna brings to each aria his familiar intelligence and musicality. Don’t throw out your Georges Thill recitals, but definitely buy this one as well.

Robert Hugill


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(Editor - this is one of a number of Alagna recitals recently released on DG - see Robert Hugill's review of the Berlioz rectial for links to reviews of the other releases). 


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