two consecutive days I listened to Alagna, first in bel
canto repertoire by Bellini and Donizetti (see review)
and then in this programme of verismo arias. The
stylistic gap between them seems wide, but such is Alagna’s
adaptability and vocal prowess that he seems equally at
home in both
camps. If I sometimes felt the last ounce of elegance missing
in the bel canto arias, this is, on the other hand,
exactly what he adds to the verismo arias, which
have been screamed and bawled through the last century
at full forte, even by notable singers. Alagna shows that
this music deserves better; that nuances, light and shade,
can also ennoble what looks plain on paper. Others have
done this before Alagna, notably Björling and Bergonzi
from the not so distant past, but not in a full recital
of only verismo arias.
disc starts and finishes with Nessun dorma – but
in two different versions. The first is performed as it
would be in an opera recital, but with chorus. The second
starts a couple of pages earlier with the Heralds announcing
that “Tonight let no-one sleep in Peking!”, then comes
the chorus, repeating “Let no-one sleep”, whereupon Calaf
enters, speaking inwardly, to himself it seems. Then the
aria builds to the climactic end. But there, after Calaf’s All’alba
vincerò! the final chorus of the opera, utilizing the
same melodic material, is inserted and brings the whole
disc to a monumental end – even though it feels odd to
let the chorus have the last word in a recital starring
the tenor. A clever idea it is, however, and the experienced
Mark Elder brings out the last ounce of power and glory
from the London Voices and the magnificent orchestra.
through my listening notes I read “stylish”, “long lines”, “intensity”, “feeling
and restraint”, “deeply felt” – not all of them comments
that first come to mind when discussing verismo singing.
As can be seen from the heading we are offered some of
the real war-horses: Andrea Chenier, La Gioconda, Cavalleria
rusticana and Fedora – the latter rarely heard
complete. This aria appears every so often in recitals.
Large parts of the programme also contain seldom performed
arias from seldom performed operas. There is a Philips
compilation from 1990, juxtaposing arias from two 1970s
sessions with the still fairly fresh-voiced José Carreras.
Here we find a number of the same arias. The same territory
is explored on an even more recent BMG double-CD, collecting
three solo recitals Placido Domingo made for RCA at the
beginning of his career. There room was found for two arias
that originally appeared on the fourth LP side of the complete I
Pagliacci – one of them the aria from Chatterton,
also recorded by Alagna. The young Domingo sported a voice
in a million, but interpretatively Alagna is well on a
par with his predecessor.
well-known are the two arias from Leoncavallo’s La bohème, of
which Testa adorata was also recorded by Caruso.
Alagna sings them lyrically with great feeling but avoids
disfiguring sobs. In the aria from Sly he adopts
a coarser style for this near danse macabre. All
through the recital he shows fine sensitivity and intelligence.
On the debit side he sometimes sings a fraction sharp,
mainly when the dramatic temperature is at its highest,
but I would rather accept that than the under-the-note
singing of some of his less well-endowed colleagues.
tremendous sonics, an ever-responsive conductor, good documentation
and perceptive notes by John Steane plus complete texts
and translations this is another highly recommendable recital.
Villazon and Caleja may be challenging him in the future
but so far Alagna holds his own against the runners-up.