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Viva Villazón! – The Best of Rolando Villazón
see end of review for details
Rolando Villazón (tenor)
unknown recording dates and venues
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3952452 [67:05 + 68:27]

The most exciting tenor during the first decade of the new millennium has undoubtedly been Rolando Villazón. He has a charming appearance, is a good actor, has a voice that besides brilliance and beauty can also express all kinds of nuance, he has good taste and a versatility that is stunning. In other words he has all the attributes to make him a star performer. More than once his voice has been compared to that of the young Placido Domingo. In certain repertoire, notably on this set in the two zarzuela arias, the similarities are so close that one has to check who is singing. At the celebrated outdoor concert in Berlin last summer, available on a highly attractive DVD, the two tenors appear together and it is also Domingo who conducts the zarzuela disc which is the source of the arias on this compilation. Having for some years been under contract with Virgin he has recently moved over to DG. This double CD is a kind of summary or closing of the books for this period of his career.
As can be seen from the track list, we are treated to a large number of the expected standard arias. Few of them have been better sung in recent times. We are also treated to several comparative rarities, which makes this an attractive buy even for those who are already well stocked with the standard stuff. When, for example, did you last hear something from Gounod’s Polyeucte or Massenet’s Le Mage and Roma? The sacred song by Berlioz is also something for the rarity list. Make no mistake: these are high quality pieces that are very likely to become friends to which you will want to return just as often as to the more hackneyed pieces.

On the other hand it is the standard arias that most definitely place Rolando Villazón at the top of the current list of singers. They show clearly not only what a superb singer he is but also that his interpretative insight is hors concours. I used words like taste and versatility at the beginning of the review and would like to add style. There are no excesses: no demonstrative sudden pianissimos or diminuendos of the kind at which Franco Corelli used to excel; there are no eternally-held top notes at window shattering forte in the Pavarotti manner. There are no sobs, no hysterical laughter, no shouts of despair – none of the stuff that was part and parcel of Mario Del Monaco’s ‘style’.  Let me just take a few examples that amply demonstrate what I mean:-

•  La donna è mobile is light and elegant with refined shadings – this is an aristocrat at work.
•  Salut, demeure is stylish and noble. The high C rings out effortlessly and is integrated with the rest of the aria – not an added bon-bon.
•  Che gelida manina is conversational and personal and again the high C comes out as just a natural part of the melodic line.
•  Mamma, quel vino è generoso from Cavalleria rusticana - this heartrending scene when Turiddu suddenly realizes that his life is shattered and all that remains is death. Too often the aria is distorted and amended by sundry histrionic devices to heighten the intensity. Villazón has despair in his voice and the scene is all the more gripping for that.
•  Ah! Lêve-toi from Roméo et Juliette is rendered in a soft and inward way, only to expand gradually to a ringing fortissimo.
•  Kleinsach’s aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann becomes a many-faceted portrait of an unhappy person who tries, in vain, to hide the tragedy.
•  The final aria from Lucia di Lammermoor where Villazón’s half-voice is so lovely and natural. In this respect he reminds me of Beniamino Gigli – and there is no higher praise. Gigli sentimentalizes with little hiccups and half hidden tears in the voice. Villazon never breaks the musical line; just phrases naturally and the effect is magical.
•  The romance from Les Pêcheurs de perles. Here with the preceding recitative included this is impassioned and alive within the restrained dynamic scope.
•  He is an ideal Werther. Gedda and Kraus are superb in this role and will never be surpassed but Villazón is certainly in their league. As in every other aria on these two discs he builds this scene so skilfully towards the climax.

I could go on with observations about every single piece but I don’t feel any need. Readers who have followed me this far will know my point of view. Let me only add that his excursion into early baroque is greatly successful. The two Monteverdi pieces feel completely natural and he has the requisite lightness and agility. The juxtaposition of period instruments and a voice honed in music from later periods is not unbecoming.
No criticism at all, then? To be honest – but this is more a personal view than objective truth – Lenski’s aria from Eugene Onegin is slightly over-emphatic, slightly melodramatic. Of course Lenski is extremely emotional here, just minutes before his already anticipated death, but he sings it to himself. Still it is as beautifully sung as almost any other version I know. I also have some misgivings concerning the two Christmas songs on CD 1. Nothing wrong with the singing, quite the contrary, but I find the orchestral arrangements over-done. These are straightforward songs and simplicity should be a key-word – especially when it comes to Stille Nacht which according to legend was first performed as a duet with guitar accompaniment.
I haven’t seen the documentation – the review copies came in simple envelopes with just the titles and who plays what. I hope there is at least some information on the less well-known arias in the collection. Even if there isn’t, these discs should be snapped up by all lovers of great singing. Alternatively, since they are still in the catalogue: get the original discs.
Göran Forsling

Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
1. La donna è mobile [2:03]
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
2. Quel trouble inconnu … Salut, demeure chaste et pure [6:02]
Pablo SOROZÁBAL (1897–1988)
La tabernera del puerto:
3. No puede ser! [2:42]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863–1945)
Cavalleria rusticana:
4. Mamma, quell vino [3:54]
Charles GOUNOD
5. Source délicieuse [4:36]
Roméo et Juliette:
6. L’amour, l’amour … Ah! Lève-toi, soleil [4:19]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
La bohème:
7. Che gelida manina [4:32]
Manon Lescaut:
8. Donna non vidi mai [2:30]
9. Recondita armonia [2:41]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Eugene Onegin:
10. Kuda … kuda [6:19]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819–1880)
Les Contes d’Hoffmann
11. Il était une fois à la cour d’Eisenach [5:04]
Amadeu VIVES (1871–1932)
Doña Francisquita:
12. Por el humo se sabe dónde está el fuego [4:16]
Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)
Le Mage:
13. Ah! Paraîs, aster de mon ciel [3:33]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
14. Chant sacré Op. 2 No. 6: Dieu tout puissant, Dieu de l’aurore [5:10]
John Francis WADE (c.1711–1786) (arr. Philippe Rombi)
15. Adeste fidelis [4:15]
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787–1863) (arr. Philippe Rombi)
16. Stille Nacht [4:18]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567–1643)
1. Si dolce è l’tormento [7:31]
2. Eri già tutta mia [2:50]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1897–1848)
L’Elisir d’amore:
3. Una furtive lagrima [4:28]
Giuseppe VERDI
La traviata:
4. Lunge da lei … De’ miei bollenti [5:15]
Don Carlo:
5. Io l’ho perduta io la vidi [3:27]
Francesco CILEA (1866–1950)
6. E la solita storia [4:44]
Lucia di Lammermoor:
7. Tombe degli avi miei … Fra poco a me ricovero [7:09]
Giuseppe VERDI
Un ballo in maschera:
8. Ma se m’è forza perderti [5:17]
Georges BIZET (1838–1875)
9. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée [4:17]
Les Pêcheurs de perles:
10. A cette voix, quell trouble … Je crois entendre encore [4:55]
11. Je vais la voir … Tout mon être [4:33]
12. Je suis seul! Seul enfin … Ah! Fuyez douce image [4:44]
13. Traduire! Ah! Bien souvent mon rêve s’envoie … Pourquoi me réveiller [3:37]
Le Cid:
14. Ah! Tout est bien fini … O souverain [4:54]
Teresa Blank (mezzo-soprano) (CD1 tr. 4), Florian Laconi (tenor) (CD1 tr. 11); Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Marcello Viotti (CD1 tr. 1, 7; CD2 tr. 3-7); Michel Plasson (CD1 tr. 4, 8-11; CD2 Tr. 8-10); Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Evelino Pidò (CD1 tr. 2, 5, 6, 13; CD2 tr. 11-14); Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid/Placido Domingo (CD1 tr. 3, 12); Choeur ”Les Eléments” & Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson (CD1 Tr. 14); Orchestre Symphonique Bel Arte/Philippe Rombi (CD1 tr. 15, 16); Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haim (CD2 tr. 1, 2)


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