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Giuseppe VERDI (1797–1848)

Luisa Miller, Oh! Fede negar potessi … Quando le sere al placido [5.43]
I Lombardi, La mia letizia infondere [2.18]
Se quell guerrier io fossi! … Celeste Aida [4.21]
Ernarni, Merce, diletti amici … Come rugiada al cespite … Deli’esillio nel dolor..O tu l’alma adore [6.40]
Un ballo in Maschera, Forse la soglia … Ma se m’é [5.28]
Otello, Dio, mio potevi scagliar tutti I mali … Ma, o pianto, o duol! [4.57]
Otello, Niun mi tema [6.06]
La forza del destino, Orchestral introduction. La vita e inferno … O tu che in seno agli angeli [10.42]
Macbeth, O figli … Perfidi! .. Pieta, rispetto, amore [4.01]
Jérusalem, Lémir aupres de lui m’appelle … Je veux encore entendre [6.12]
Il Trovatore, Ah si, ben mio [3.19]. Di quella pira [3.26]
Roberto Alagna (tenor)
London Voices. Berlin Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado
rec. Philharmonie, Berlin. February, August 1997
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 6279 GH [64.08]

There is a bit of history behind this DG issue. It first appeared on EMI in 1998 (CDC 5 56567). A few months later Alagna went back to Berlin and recorded an admired sequence of Verdi duets with his wife Angela Gheorghiu, again with the Berlin Phil but recorded in the Jesus Christus-Kirche. At that stage Gheorghiu, a Decca contracted artist, was in process of transferring to EMI and the duo subsequently made a series of studio opera recordings together for that company including Carmen, Il Trovatore and a Puccini series under Pappano. With the prevailing view in EMI that studio audio recordings of opera were due for imminent demise, Alagna’s contract was not renewed and after a period in the recording wilderness he signed for DG. This repackaging of the Verdi arias issue has the original introduction by John Steane, a narrative on each excerpt and all the words with translations in English, French and German. Whilst Angela Gheorghiu’s brief contribution as Leonora during Di quella pirra (tr. 22) is credited, I can see none for the singers of Iago and Cassio in the Otello excerpts (trs. 11-13).

In his early works Verdi did not make excessive demands on his tenors and a good lyric voice with heft and an open tone can encompass the vocal requirements with comfort. Certainly from the role of Manrico in Il Trovatore onwards a lyric voice, however capable of heft, is often not sufficient to give a rounded and characterful portrayal. The demand is best met by at least a spinto voice as is required for Radames in Aida. A spinto tenor will encompass Alvaro in La Forza del destino if taking care, for this is a role really requiring a tenore de forza, a step up in vocal weight and strength from spinto. In his penultimate work, Otello, Verdi wrote the title role for the strongest Italianate tenor fach, the heroic tenor. It is often beyond the limits of many tenors who can and do sing Radames and Manrico with ease. That summary of Verdi’s demands on the tenor voice applies for singers taking on complete roles in an opera house, not a recital in a recording studio. So how goes Alagna here?
In the opening of the Luisa Miller extract he shows a good sense of Verdian style (tr. 10), but as the aria proper develops (tr. 2) some of his limitations begin to show. As he puts pressure on the voice it constricts rather than opens out. This characteristic I find a major limitation in Alagna’s singing in the Italian repertoire as distinct from the French. This is not merely a question of language but rather of style. This is best evidenced by Alagna’s singing in the aria La mia letizia infondere from Verdi’s fourth opera, I Lombardi, (tr. 3) compared with Je veux encore entendre the equivalent from his re-write of the work in French for Paris as Jérusalem (trs. 19-20). In both extracts his voice tends to squeeze as the pitch rises. This compares unfavourably with his rendition of the Flower Song in Bizet’s Carmen in the complete recording when he rises to the climactic note with unforced tone and vocal elegance (see review). By contrast in this recital and on the complete Il Trovatore (see review) his approach and realisation of the high note at the conclusion of Di quella pira (tr. 22) leaves much to be desired. All is not so negative however; Alagna’s concluding note at the end of Radames’ Celeste Aida (tr. 5) is taken on a heady diminuendo, an ending that is eschewed by many more notable Verdi tenors who can only sing it at full and rising voice. Perhaps surprisingly, his Niun mi tema from the conclusion of Otello (tr. 13) is sung with good tone, characterisation and sense of style. Of course Verdi’s writing at this point is not heavily orchestrated. For those who know their Verdi and love his writing, it is a pity that DG did not set out the tracks on this disc in compositional sequence instead of skipping between the composer’s different stylistic periods.
When this recital was first issued it split critical opinion between those who hailed Alagna as the finished Verdian article and others, like me, who look to Bergonzi’s collection for the ultimate in elegance of style and meaningful vocal characterisation (Philips). Since the time of the first issue of this recital, DG has also featured Domingo singing all the Verdi tenor arias. That four CD set is derived from Domingo’s complete Verdi opera recordings for the company with gaps filled in conducted by Gergiev. Both those collections show what Verdi singing is about in terms of open-toned, elegant phrasing, characterisation and well-supported even vocal emission. I regret to say that far too often in the present collection Alagna fails to bring out the innate qualities of Verdi’s vocal writing. I cannot derive much pleasure from his uneven, often forced, vocal emission (for reviews of two other recent releases by Alagna on DG, see Bel Canto and Nessun Dorma).
Robert J Farr


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