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Hao Jiang Tian: Operatic Arias
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Nabucco: Tu sul labbro dei veggenti; Les vêpres siciliennes: Et toi, Palerme; Jérusalem: Grâce mon Dieu!; Macbeth: ome dal ciel precipita; Simon Boccanegra: Il lacerato spirito; Don Carlo: Ella giammai m’amò;
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Eugene Onegin
: Lyubvi vse vozrasty pokorny (Gremin’s aria);
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia: La calunnia; Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
La Sonnambula: Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni;
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1835)
Faust: Vous qui faites l’endormie (Sérénade);
Le Cid: Il a fait noblement ce que l’honneur conseille;
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834–1886)
La Gioconda: Ombre di mia prosapia
Hao Jiang Tian (bass)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
rec. Concert Hall, Slovak Radio, Bratislava, 29 June-2 July 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557442 [59:37]


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Bass-singers mature 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 in Italy.

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.

Gounod’s Méphistophélès 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.

Alexander Rahbari 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 recitatives.

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!

Recommendation: if 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.

Göran Forsling


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