John Steane points out in his short booklet notes, Roberto
Alagna has been mainly associated with Italian and French
operas from the later part of the romantic era (see review).
When he moves a half century backwards in time he turns
be almost as well suited to this “lighter” repertoire.
I put quotation marks around “lighter” since it is neither
more lightweight nor more easily executed than Verdi and
Puccini; quite the contrary since it requires even greater
technical accomplishment, more light and shade, more flexibility.
Moreover there are also a couple of quite heavy arias here,
often sung by dramatic tenors in the Otello class.
The recital starts with a scene from Poliuto, a
role in which Francesco Tamagno, the first Otello, also
excelled. Alagna copes well enough with the dramatic recitative
and the aria proper but he has to push his voice to achieve
the wanted effect. Maybe today, five or seven years later,
his voice has grown into this part more naturally. The
scene from Norma is also impressive, lacking a little
rest of the recital is what could be labelled ‘Pavarotti
repertoire’, at least the repertoire through which the
great Luciano first became known. It has to be said at
once that among latter-day tenors Alagna is the one who
comes closest to challenging Pavarotti. He has a glorious
voice which he uses with the utmost sensitivity. He can
sing the most exquisite pianissimos imaginable and he is
an intelligent interpreter. He also has those important
top notes, high Cs and even C sharps, that ring out fearlessly
even though he can’t quite compete with Pavarotti’s ease
of production. The last track of the disc, the cavatina
from La Fille du régiment with those nine high Cs,
reveals the difference – but only when making a side-by-side
comparison. Heard on his own, Alagna is in the top flight.
And listening through the whole well filled recital one
can’t help admiring the care and insight with which he
tackles these taxing arias. Possibly the best number is
the duet from La sonnambula, which is sung so beautifully
and with such loving tone. Here he is partnered by his
wife, Angela Gheorghiu, who also sings like a goddess. A
te, o cara from I puritani is another highlight
and the arias from La Favorita are also sensitively
known many of these arias for decades in both historical
and modern recordings I naturally have ideas about how
they should ideally be sung, and when it comes to comparisons,
Alagna sometimes comes only second best, if only by a hair-breadth.
One instance is Ernesto’s Sogno soave e casto from Don
Pasquale, which seldom has been sung with such care.
Cesare Valletti on the old Cetra recording from 1950, with
a smaller and lighter voice, caresses the phrases even
more magically. He is of course let down by the primitive
sound and an orchestra that can’t challenge the LPO, who
play wonderfully for Evelino Pidò. The choice of programme
is interesting with old warhorses rubbing shoulders with
relative rarities like Roberto Devereux, Il pirata and Dom
Sébastien, even though the aria from the last-mentioned
has been performed and recorded by some of the greats,
mostly sung in Italian as Deserto in terra. Caruso
recorded it in 1908 and it says much for Alagna’s capacity
that he need not feel ashamed to be compared to the great
Enrico. What I miss every now and then is a bit more poetry
but as a whole this is tenor singing on a very high level.
care has been taken to present the material as authentically
as possible: French arias are sung in French and of course
Alagna’s French is spotless, London Voices are called upon
to provide chorus backgrounds and several comprimario singers
are employed, for example in the Puritani excerpt,
which actually is a quartet. As for the ordering of the
programme I am unable to find anything logical about it,
no chronology, no thematic grouping, nothing. Maybe the
producer just pressed the random button and voilà! Besides
John Steane’s notes on bel canto in general, Roberto
Alagna provides some personal comments on each of the arias.
John Steane again gives even more background material to
the music and there are full texts and translations – all
of it printed in black on white, as should always be the
is a distinguished issue and can be warmly recommended.