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Sir Thomas Allen: Great Operatic Arias - Volume 2
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Magic Flute - Papageno's Aria (Der Vogelfäger bin ich ja) [2:05]; Pamina and Papageno’s Duet (Der Vogelfäger bin ich ja) with Susan Gritton (soprano) [3:12]; Papagena and Papageno's Duet, Pa-pa-ge-na, with Susan Gritton (soprano) [2:38]
The Marriage of Figaro - Non pių andrai [3:51]
Figaro’s Recitative and Cavatina - Se vuol ballare [3:30]
Don Giovanni - Leporello's Catalogue Aria, Madamina [5:38]; Don Giovanni's Aria, Finch' han dal vino [1:29]; Don Giovanni's Canzonetta, Deh, vieni alla finestra [2:20]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Falstaff - Ford's Monologue, Č sogno? O realtā... [4:37]
Don Carlos - Don Carlos' and Rodrigo's Duet, Dio, che nell'alma infondere with Gwyn Hughes Jones (tenor); Philip Tebb (bass); Geoffrey Mitchell Choir [5:41]
Prison Scene. Per me giunto č il dė supremo with Gwyn Hughes Jones (tenor) [12:13]
Macbeth - Macbeth's Scena and Aria, Perfidi! - Pietā, rispetto [5:16]
La Traviata - Recitative and Duet, Pura siccome un angelo with Claire Rutter (soprano) [18:56]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Knickerbocker Holiday - September Song [4:04]
Sir Thomas Allen (baritone)
Philharmonia Orchestra/David Parry
rec. Blackheath Halls, London, 12-15 October 2007
Experience Classicsonline

I recently went to a performance by Welsh National Opera of the Magic Flute. This was on behalf of Musicweb International’s Scene and Heard (see review) and I also attended the pre-performance talk. The speaker recounted that his first, most lasting impression and experience of the work, was by the WNO in 1971. What had impacted itself on him the most was the performance of a young Thomas Allen (b. 1941) as Papageno. I saw the same production and it also had a similar lasting effect on me. With his immaculately articulated lyric baritone ideally suited to the role, Allen not only sang superbly, but his vocal and acted assumption of the birdman in Michael Geliot’s production combined to give a near immaculate memorable performance. Typical of his early on-stage confidence, Allen notably, and with characteristic humour and aplomb, added to the impact by adapting the English translation into his native Weirside accent, complete with topical jokes that owed nothing to librettist Schikaneder! In reviewing a performance by Opera North I recalled my experience of Allen at that time and suggested that the singer in the performance under review, Roderick Williams, was the nearest I had come to that of his illustrious predecessor in the intervening thirty odd years. I hoped that it presaged an equally distinguished career (see review).
With those memories of Thomas Allen it is appropriate for me that this, his second volume of arias sung in English for Chandos, starts with Papageno’s opening aria Der Vogelfäger bin ich ja (tr.1). I use the better known original language titles rather than the English translation. In this aria Papageno yearns for a Papagena to share his life with and have children. Compared to his 1984 recording of Mozart Arias (CDC 7 47508 2) Allen’s voice has lost some flexibility and the tone is heavier. What has not changed is his innate musicality and its influence on the most important constituent of his considerable vocal skills, the ability to characterise. Compare his representation of Papageno’s musings and longings in this first aria with Der Vogelfäger bin ich ja from act two, where Papageno’s joy at finding his soul-mate is unbounded and where Allen is joined by Susan Gritton as an appropriately light-toned and expressive Papagena (tr.9). Allen understands and conveys every nuance of the words. This is also evident in the diverse sentiments of Figaro’s two arias from The Marriage of Figaro. First, his light-hearted bravura singing of Non pių andrai (tr.2) as Figaro sends off Cherubino, whom the Count has granted a commission in his regiment to get rid of him and his habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Listen to the fuller incisive and biting tone of Se vuol ballare as Figaro realises his master’s plans for his intended bride (tr.7).
At the onset of his career, having won the Queen’s Prize at the Royal College of Music, Allen joined Welsh National Opera and debuted in major roles as Figaro in Rossini’s Barber of Seville on 18 October 1969. As a company member, he took on a wide variety of characters including, among many, Paola in Simon Boccanegra, Guglielmo in Cosi and Falke in Fledermaus. Covent Garden and Glyndebourne became interested with the former placing him under contract from the 1972-73 season. Under the stagione system operating at Covent Garden, Allen took on many small roles as well as some major ones whilst returning regularly to WNO to try out others. It was, however, in Mozart that he began to make waves on the international stage. He easily encompassed the higher tessitura of Count Almaviva in Figaro, but it was in Don Giovanni that he found the role that was to define his future. His acclaimed assumption of the title role in Peter Hall’s 1977 production at Glyndebourne was widely noted. His acting as a lithe and suave seducer with a demonic and sadistic bent was frightening in its intensity as was his interpretation for Covent Garden in the 1990s. Both those productions were broadcast and will doubtless appear on DVD in due course whilst already his portrayal under Muti at La Scala in 1987 and Cologne in 1991 are available in that medium (Opus Arte OA LS 3001D and Arthaus Musik 100 020 respectively). On CD all his Mozart roles are available on complete recordings. The vocal virility and suavity of Thomas Allen’s Giovanni are represented here by the brief aria Finch' han dal vino (tr.10) and canzonetta Deh, vieni alla finestra (tr.11) whilst his relishing of Leporello’s catalogue aria is an added bonus.
Allen did not restrict himself to Mozart but also undertook the more lyric of Verdi’s baritone roles of Rodrigo in Don Carlo and Germont pére in La Traviata. The former is represented by a very fine rendering of the friendship duet, (Tr.4) and the death of Rodrigo (tr.12) who sacrifices himself to save the prince and, he hopes, Flanders; both are with a lyric sounding Gwyn Hughes Jones. The long duet from La Traviata, with Allen suitably austere before realising Violetta’s qualities, is another assumption of distinction with his now heavier voice ideally expressive in all the aspects of the interpretation (tr.8). Claire Rutter is a full-voiced and dramatic Violetta. Allen’s fuller tone in his sixty-third year enables him to give justice to Macbeth’s Perfidi! - Pietā, rispetto (tr.5) as well as Ford’s monologue from Falstaff, a role he also sang on stage (tr.3). Although the Verdi is interspersed with Mozart, Kurt Weill’s September Song (tr.14) gives a glimpse of the singer’s skills in lighter music, skills he has brought to operetta with distinguished performances as Danilo in The Merry Widow (Royal Opera House, 1997) and as Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus (Glyndebourne 2003). Both of these performances were broadcast and will doubtless appear on DVD where Thomas Allen’s well thought out and acted assumptions bring an added dimension to the consummate vocal skills exhibited here. The careful husbanding of his vocal resources, and choice of repertoire, over his career means he can take on a recording such as this without fear for his reputation. Darker tone of course, but, unlike many others there is no sign of vocal spread or thinness.
Robert J Farr


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