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La Passione
see end of review track listing
Alfie Boe (tenor)
Matteo Saggese (piano)
Chris Cameron (piano)
Stephanie Gonley (violin)
Mauro Di Domenico (guitars, bouzouki)
Alfonso Deidda (Woodwinds, soprano saxophone)
John Parricelli (mandolin)
Nigel Hopkins (accordion)
The Metro Voices
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Valeriano Chiaravalle
rec. Angel Studios, London, 2007
EMI CLASSICS 5044112 [49.08]
Experience Classicsonline

Some years ago I attended a performance of Britten’s Albert Herring at Glyndebourne where the title role was sung by a very talented and very winning young tenor, Alfred Boe. He joined the young artists programme at the Royal Opera House, but also received the call to join the cast of Baz Luhrman’s La Bohème on Broadway. Boe took the latter course and in due course the Alfie Boe phenomenon was borne. This new disc, entitled La Passione, is intended ‘to reach a wider audience with classical music and to show that you don’t’ have to be a musical genius to enjoy it’.
But before we actually discuss the performances on this disc, perhaps we should consider why a tenor from Fleetwood in Lancashire is recording Neapolitan popular songs at all?
When Fred Gaisberg first recorded Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso, he discovered a singer whose voice was entirely suited to the new gramophone recording process and a phenomenon was born. Caruso was the first recording sensation, a singer who was made by the gramophone but whose singing helped make the gramophone popular. Like all singers of the period, Caruso had a repertoire of popular songs; light music for want of a better word. English singers recorded many, many English folk songs and parlour ballads. Caruso recorded the Neapolitan equivalent. But creation of the Caruso phenomenon has meant that Neapolitan popular song is required material for any operatic tenor worth his salt, even English lyric tenors from Fleetwood. An interesting side point here is that when Caruso recorded this repertoire the composers were alive - they were his contemporaries.
And make no mistake, Boe is still an operatic tenor. He might be attempting to corner the market in operatic populism, but he still appears on the operatic stage - he is doing The Merry Widow with ENO later this year - and still does recitals of operatic arias with ensembles like the Philharmonia Orchestra.
This disc casts its net relatively widely. In addition to well known Neapolitan songs Boe includes Leoncavallo’s Mattinata and Caruso by the contemporary Italian film composer Lucia Dalla. But the composers are only listed at the back in tiny script and there are no texts. You are encouraged to feel the passion and not worry too much about details.
From the opening of the first song, it is apparent that Boe has the manner down to a tee. His Italian sounds credible and his diction is excellent; he doesn’t sound like an Englishman singing Italian which is greatly to his credit. He is also something of a vocal actor as he has incorporated a number of the required tenorino mannerisms into his style. The results are moderately convincing and, at first, rather charming.
Boe sings the songs musically and with some care, in fact with too much care really. There are moments when you wish he would let go a little more. Unfortunately he seems to feel that the place to let go is on the high notes. Boe has an attractive lyric tenor voice, the closest that I can come to is Barry Banks, a tenor who specialises in the early 19th century repertoire. Both have silvery lyric voices which have a rather English cast to them. When Boe opens up on his top notes his silvery voice turns a little hard and no amount of Italian mannerism can make up for the fact that he lacks the Italianate darkness and depth that is needed for this type of song.
For the songs in the first half of this recital I came away feeling that Boe was trying far too hard to be something that he was not. Instead of taking Pavarotti as his model he should be using Heddle Nash. But in the second half of the disc we get rather fewer moments where Boe opens the throttle on his top register and keeps things at a lower temperature. The results are quite appealing and show what a fine musician he can be.
Ultimately I tired of his aping of the Italian manner. After 15 songs I still felt that he was buttonholing me and forcing me to notice how clever he was.
That said, this disc is well performed, well produced and Boe is ably supported by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Valeriano Chiaravalle.
If somebody buys this for their aunt or a cousin who has been caught up in the EMI/Alfie Boe marketing machine then they will certainly not damage their health and they might enjoy it and even consider going to hear Boe singing some real opera or operetta. Which, of course, is the intention behind the disc … isn’t it?
Robert Hugill

Track listing
Lucio DALLA (b.1943?)
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1875–1937)/Giovanni Battista DE CURTIS (1860–1926)
Torna a Surriento
Luigi DENZA (1846–1922)/Giuseppe TURCO (1846–1907) (arr. Matteo Saggese)
Funiculì Funiculà
Gabriele D’ANNUNZIO (1863–1938)/Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846–1916)
A Vucchella
Eduardo de CAPUA (1865–1917)/Giovanni CAPURRO (1859–1920)/Alfredo MAZZUCCHI (1878–1972)
O Sole Mio
Vincenzo VALENTE (1855–1921), Ernesto TAGLIAFERRI (1889–1937)/Libero BOVIO (1883–1942)
Agustin LARA (1900–1970)
Cesare Andrea BIXIO (1898–1978)/Ennio NERI
Parlami D'Amore Mariù
Salvatore di GIACOMO (1860–1934)/Francesco Paolo TOSTI (1846–1916) (arr. Matteo Saggese)
Teodoro COTTRAU (1827–1879) (arr. Matteo Saggese)
Santa Lucia
Eldo di LAZARRO (1902–1968)
Chitarra Romana
Eduardo di CAPUA (1865–1917)/Vincenzo RUSSO (1876–1904) (arr. Matteo Saggese)
Maria Mari'
Munasterio' E Santa Chiara

Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858–1919) (arr. Matteo Saggese)
Traditional (arr. Giancarlo Chiaramello)
Feneste Che Lucive


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