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Tales of Opera:
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816) – Largo al factotum [4:56]; Guillaume Tell (1829) – Sois immobile [2:25]; Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) Hérodiade (1881) – Vision fugitive [4:23]; Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Don Carlo (1867) – Per me giuntoè il di [8:17]; Un ballo in maschera (1859) – Eri tu che macchiavi quell:anima [6:00]; La traviata (1853) – Di provenza il mar [4:16]; Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896) Hamlet (1866) – O vin, dissipe la tristesse [3:53]; Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) I Puritani (1835) – Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei [5:22]; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Die Zauberflöte (1791) – Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen [4:07]; Don Giovanni (1787) – Dah vieni alla finestra [2:09]; Zaïde (1779-1780) – Nur mutig, mein Herz, versuche dein Glück [5:22]; Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919) Pagliacci (1892) – Si può, si può [5:23]; Francisco CILEA (1866-1950) L:Arlesiana (1897) – Come due tizzi accesi [3:36]; Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Pique Dame (1890) – Je vas ljublju [4:49]; Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Tannhäuser (1845) – Oh, du mein holder Abendstern [5:14]
Simon Keenleyside (baritone)
Munich Radio Orchestra/Ulf Schirmer
rec. Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, 29 May-2 June 2006. DDD
SONY/BMG 82876884822 [70:12]

I am not sure I agree with Simon Keenleyside when he says that one does not record for posterity. He asks, 'Who of you knows the artistry of Pasquale Amato, Renato Zanelli, Giuseppe de Lucca, Tagliabue, Pinza, Merrill, or 'il leone' Titta Ruffo, and a host of others?'. It is to be hoped that most reading this review will, despite the fact that contemporary Classic fM culture would have us believe that the likes of Alfie Boe should somehow join the pantheon. Here, Keenleyside preaches to the converted - he does, though, refer to a 'Maestro Seraphim' in reference to a Gobbi Don Carlos in Madrid. Surely he means Serafin? If only this excellent, superbly programmed album had had the relentless pushing of a host of lesser artists, it surely would create many much needed converts to the cause of opera. Tellingly, Keenleyside writes his own booklet notes, full of enthusiasm and down-to-earth common sense. He explains his choice of arias as being representative of what he was singing at the time of recording, acknowledging tributes along the way: the Cilea is intended as a nod towards Gobbi.

But it is in his singing that his truth lies. This is at once a very wide-ranging recital that concentrates broadly on Romantic arias - except, of course for the Mozart. Keenleyside announces himself in no uncertain fashion in one of the fizziest arias of them all, the so-called Largo al factotum. There is even a sense of the voice arriving spatially during the opening fa-las before coming fully into focus for the first words. Keenleyside revels in Rossini’s virtuoso challenges; challenges which include Italian pronunciation at high velocity.

'Sois immobile' from Tell is a close relation to Philip's great aria from Verdi's Don Carlos. Apart from the obvious parallel of obbligato solo cello, it inhabits a similar emotional space. Keenleyside seems totally within his character. A snippet of miraculous Massenet (Hérodiade), replete with superb vocal pianissimi complementing ardent expression, separates this from Carlos proper. The famous portion of his excerpt, 'O Carlo, ascolta', is dispatched with magnificent concentration. Most importantly, this sounds as if this is great Verdi - personally, I hear Carlos as one of Verdi's greatest scores, up there with Traviata, Trovatore, Otello and Falstaff. The Ballo excerpt is just as fine, with superb legato at 'Eri tu che macchiavi quell'anima'. Keenleyside gives the dramatic declaration his all, as if to convince us that this music is just as deserving - it is - as the much better known Traviata excerpt ('Di Provenza il mar') that follows. Similarly, the flute and harp episode is simply superbly done by the orchestral soloists.

Stepping into 'Di Provenza' is to meet familiar territory, and Keenleyside responds with the utmost emotion. Coming after this aria, the opening line of the Thomas could hardly be better chosen: 'O vin, dissipe la tristesse'. The orchestra has all the requisite bubble to set the scene for Keenleyside's excellently rendered French and textbook legato. Bellini brings his own sense of drama and sadness in the Puritani excerpt before the Mozart 'Ein Mädchen' lightens things up. This is one of the few disappointments of the album. The tinkly introduction is no more than dutiful, and the aria never really takes off despite the singer's best efforts. It is all too smooth. Could it have been deliberate, so that the explosive beginning of the Leoncavallo is set into high relief? I doubt it - the Giovanni and Zaïde excerpts do not fare much better. There is however no doubt that in Pagliacci Keenleyside seems absolutely at home; his booklet commentary is very insightful, too.

The gossamer bed of strings that initiates the Cilea aria sets the scene beautifully for an outpouring of heartfelt emotion. It is the Tchaikovsky that is more fascinating, though. Keenleyside is inspired here, although his voice does not have the depth of a true Russian singer.

Ending the recital with Wagner is something of which I fully approve. Keenleyside is most moving in 'Wie Todesahnung', with the Munich brass intoning dolefully beneath him. His diction is excellent, and yet he never once interrupts the line.

This is one of the best produced, best sung and best played operatic arias discs to come my way in many a moon. The singer's own humorous cartoons are also reproduced in the booklet. Keenleyside shows his very best side here. For Keenleyside in Lieder, the interested reader should hear his Schumann on Hyperion with Graham Johnson, CDJ33102.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Goran Forsling November Recording of the Month


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