slowly, it has been said, but in return they are often able to
continue singing far beyond the expected “shelf life” of sopranos
and tenors. The booklet text for this issue doesn’t explicitly
give a birth date for Hao Jiang Tian. Since he was twelve at the
time of the cultural revolution in China he must have been fifty
when this disc was recorded.
The first notes of
the Nabucco aria reveal a mature voice, vibrant, with the
suspicion of a beat, a bit strained on the top, but with bottom
notes secure. This is a true bass, not a pushed-down baritone.
There’s authority there and no lack of power. Ideally he should
have been recorded a few years earlier but this is still a voice
with a great deal to offer. Inevitably a programme like this with
many standard arias invites comparisons with great predecessors
and contemporaries, Set beside singers like Ghiaurov, Nestorenko
and Raimondi, he may not be quite in the same league, but listened
to in his own right he is still very attractive. In certain respects
he reminds me of Canadian bass Joseph Rouleau, whom visitors to
Covent Garden in bygone days may recall.
Tian who has appeared
at the Met every season since 1991 demonstrates fine breath control
in the aria from Les vêpres siciliennes, here sung in the
original French. The same goes for the seldom heard aria from
Jérusalem – a grateful number for a good bass. In the Macbeth
aria he adopts a softer, more fatherly tone and sings with great
warmth. The recitative to the Boccanegra aria is dramatically
executed. Finest of all in the Verdi block, and probably in the
whole recital, is Filippo’s monologue from Don Carlo, which
is sung in Italian. This scene always seems to draw the best from
basses with some theatrical instinct. Here his vibrato is more
concentrated and he finds many nuances. It is obvious that this
is an older voice, which is not inappropriate in this role. He
sang this part in Genoa as the first Asian singer to perform it
As Gremin in Eugene
Onegin he again sings with warmth and for Basilio’s slander
aria from Il barbiere he lightens the voice admirably.
Vi ravviso from La Sonnambula requires a true bel
canto singer. Even as great an artist as Chaliapin failed in this
respect. Tian sings with fine legato but with too much strain
to be ideal. Still, this is a good version.
is, as Ken Smith puts it in his notes, “a devilish gift to bass
singers”. This is a role Tian has sung on numerous occasions,
including on the occasion of his Latin-American début. One can
hear in his characterisation that this is role that “sits” well
with him; just listen to that diabolical laughter.
Don Diègue’s aria
from Le Cid is not heard every day, which is a pity, not
least due to the beautiful orchestral prelude. Of Alvise’s aria
from La Gioconda I couldn’t find a single recording in
my collection, apart from in the complete sets. In both cases
Tian delivers good sturdy accounts.
is an experienced opera conductor with numerous complete sets,
not least on Naxos, to his credit. I remember an excellent The
Force of Destiny at ENO more than ten years ago. His Slovak
orchestra is excellent and together they make the most of the
purely orchestral sections. Note for instance the fine woodwind
playing before the aria proper in the Vêpres excerpt. It
should also be pointed out that the track-listing on the disc,
which I have slavishly copied in the heading, doesn’t tell the
whole truth, since in several cases the arias are preceded by
The sound is generally
good and well-balanced but a couple of numbers – Barbiere
and Le Cid – seem to be recorded in different acoustics,
or rather with the soloist more backwardly placed. Ken Smith’s
notes give an outline of the singer’s background and each of the
arias is presented with some personal remembrance on Tian’s part.
Finally – lo and behold – there are full texts and English translations!
you want a good handful of standard bass arias, spiced with a
trio of rarities well worth hearing, all honestly sung by an experienced
international artist and on a disc retailing at super-budget price,
then look no further.