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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



CD REVIEW
RECORDING OF THE MONTH


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Bel Canto Spectacular
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)

I puritani (1834-35) - Finì... me lassa!... Vieni fra queste braccia [11.38] with Anna Netrebko (soprano) as Elvira
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Il viaggio a Reims (1825) – Di che son reo!... D’alma celeste [10.48] with Daniela Barcellona (mezzo) as Marchesa Melibea
Otello (1816) – Ah vieni, nel tuo sangue vendicherò le offese [4.49] with Plácido Domingo (tenor) as Otello
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

La figlia del reggimento (1840) – Amici miei, che allegro giorno!* [7.20]
La Favorite (1840) – La maîtresse du roi?... Ange si pur [5.10]
L’elisir d’amore (1832) – Venti scudi? [8.17] with Mariusz Kwiecień (baritone) as Belcore, Una furtiva lagrima [5.15]
Linda di Chamounix (1842) – Linda! Linda!... Da quel dì che t’incontrai [9.02] with Patrizia Ciofi (soprano) as Linda, Linda! Si ritirò... Se tanto in ira agl’uomini [7.13]
Lucrezia Borgia (1833) – Partir degg’io... T’amo qual s’ama un angelo [7.18]
Juan Diego Flórez (tenor)
*Fernando Piqueras (baritone)
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana/Francesc Perales
Orchestra de la Comunitat Valenciana/Daniel Oren
rec. Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", Valencia, Spain, November 2007, DDD
Booklet with sung texts in Italian, English, French and German
DECCA 478 0315 [76.50]
Experience Classicsonline

 


With his previous CD release Arias for Rubini, in 2007, Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez set himself a tough act to follow. That project was not only a respectful, loving tribute to tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini (1794-1854) but also a brilliant, stylish display of Flórez’s voice in fiendishly difficult repertoire. So when I first set eyes upon his latest recital offering under the somehow vague title of Bel Canto Spectacular, I feared I might be in for a disappointment.

If proof were needed that appearances may be deceptive, then Bel Canto Spectacular was that proof. This is not like Arias for Rubini, which does not mean that it is any worse or any better; it is simply different. That said, the high standard of musicianship and the quality of the singing that Flórez has accustomed us to, is present from beginning to end, as is the obvious care taken when choosing the pieces for the CD. As previously, Flórez sticks to the repertoire that enhances his voice and best suits his vocal ability - the Bel Canto operas of the first half of the 19th century by the star composers of the day: Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. But Flórez does not merely choose pieces to showcase his voice; he selects works that are seldom seen on stage and that have not been recorded successfully for a long time. In consistently doing so, he has managed to resurrect precious, forgotten gems that are a pleasure to hear.

The CD begins with an aria from one of his signature roles and with which he tends to be associated, namely Ah! Mes amis... Pour mon âme (the one with the nine consecutive high Cs!) from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment. Flórez has sung this aria many times and recorded it in his 2004 disc of arias by Bellini and Donizetti, not to mention the two filmed full productions of the opera on DVD. This is also the aria of the notorious encore at La Scala 2007, which brought him as much acclaim as it did criticism; and of the encore this year (2008) at the Met, which was surrounded by media frenzy, normally reserved for movie stars. And yet, he took care that it does not sound repetitive or tiresome. Instead of singing the more famous French version, Flórez opted for the lesser-known Italian one Amici miei, che allegro giorno!, composed a year later, in 1840, by Donizetti, as an Italian opera buffa - with recitatives instead of spoken dialogue, as is the tradition of the French opéra comique. Both versions premiered in the same year: the French, in February 1840 in Paris and the Italian, in October, at La Scala, Milan. The music is essentially the same; the nine high Cs are all there but the aria sounds different in Italian.

After the above-described introduction with a familiar aria, Flórez moves to the really "serious" pieces that make one want to listen to the CD repeatedly. In Bellini’s Finì... me lassa!... Vieni fra queste braccia from I puritani, he sings a duet with Russian soprano Anna Netrebko. The effect of Netrebko’s rich, full soprano combined with his light tenor is wonderful and they deliver a beautiful, moving and passionate rendition of music from one of Bellini’s finest operas. It is followed by an aria that parades Flórez’s gift: the perfect combination of virtuosity and beauty, which is undoubtedly what Bel Canto intended. The aria is La maîtresse du roi from Donizetti’s La Favorite, an opera he has yet to sing on stage. It is also not the only one in this category present on the CD; here belong as well Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix and Lucrezia Borgia. There are two pieces from Linda di Chamounix - the first provides one of the best duets of the album, with Italian soprano Patrizia Cioffi whose coloratura rivals Flórez’s and whose voice partners his to perfection. Then he sings Linda! Si ritirò... Se tanto in ira agl’uomini, an aria I have heard him sing in a piano recital with Vincenzo Scalera, at the Barbican in December 2006. To my personal taste, the piece sounded better accompanied solely by piano, which allowed one to notice all the nuances of his voice in a clearer manner. This is not a criticism of the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, which is excellent and flawless throughout, perfectly cushioning Flórez’s singing to best effect. From the operas he has not yet sung on stage, the final excerpt comes from Lucrezia Borgia: Genaro’s aria Partir degg’io... T’amo qual s’ama un angelo, a touching but powerful declaration of love, full of emotion. It is beautifully delivered by this still young tenor who does not cease to amaze.

Also worth mentioning are two pieces from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore: a solo aria and a duet with Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień; another duet with wonderful Italian mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona from Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims, and, last but not least, the duet with Plácido Domingo from Rossini’s Otello. From L’elisir d’amore, Flórez sings an aria, which again, as Ah! Mes amis..., he has previously recorded and sung countless times, particularly in live recitals and concerts: the famous Una furtiva lagrima. Yet he manages to make it sound fresh, almost as if one is hearing it for the first time. This is achieved by introducing subtle variations, possibly composed by himself, as I know he enjoys doing and has done for other pieces. You can also hear this, for example, in the two demanding Idreno arias in Rossini’s Semiramide, present respectively on two of his previous CDs: Rossini Arias and Great Tenor Arias. The other piece from L’elisir d’amore is the duet with great Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień who possesses a beautifully rich, deep but clear tone that offers a wonderful contrast to Flórez’s high tenor and provides much enjoyment. The duet with Daniela Barcellona from Il viaggio a Reims is yet another treat and a wonderful display of two contrasting voices that harmonise extremely well. Barcellona’s deep, expressive mezzo, which particularly in its lower register sounds more like a warm, smooth contralto, combined with Flórez’s crystalline, ringing high notes create an extraordinary effect in a duet of great beauty and rare accomplishment.

Finally, there is the so-called ‘bonus track’. This is a duet with no less than living legend Plácido Domingo. At present, he probably is the best known opera singer in the world; if not for the roles that made him famous, then for the concerts of "The Three Tenors", together with his compatriot José Carreras and the late Luciano Pavarotti. That Domingo agreed to sing a duet with Flórez on the latter’s CD is an acknowledgement not only of the Peruvian’s talent but also of his current star status in the world of opera. This duet is to my mind the most marvellous treat of the album. It is wonderful to hear the old master tackle a piece, which was not part of his usual repertoire. Domingo was celebrated for his Otello but his was Verdi’s Otello, a more intensely dramatic role with a completely different style of music than that of Rossini’s. There is perhaps a little strain present, on one or two occasions, in Domingo’s voice in its highest register but it is hardly noticeable. He is undoubtedly a fabulous tenor; one of the true greats. The mature beauty of his voice, so different in style and range from that of Flórez’s, harmonises perfectly with his younger colleague’s youthful, sparkling, liquid tone, creating a duet that is a delight to the ear.

Bel Canto Spectacular, as a concept, is not as successful and striking as Arias for Rubini, however it once again demonstrates Flórez’s flawless singing. The arias he performs in this latest CD show off not only his incredible athletic vocal prowess but also his brilliant impeccable legato technique, crystal clear diction, refined shaping of the musical phrases and warm tone with the right level of sentiment. Combined, these attributes make his voice unique and at present unmatched in today’s opera world. He excels in all the arias but is also the perfect partner in all the duets. These sound throughout as accomplished, experienced partnerships and not as a fight for supremacy between two voices, as can sometimes happen.

In Bel Canto Spectacular, Juan Diego Flórez manages yet again to produce thoughtful work, with musical integrity. He makes a strong case for listening to Bel Canto operas, demonstrating that they are as worthy, beautiful and fantastic as the nowadays more popular dramatic repertoire of Verdi and Puccini. So if you love Bel Canto at its best and are an admirer of Flórez’s fabulous voice, forget the somewhat unnaturally staged photographs of the CD booklet, forgive him the unimaginative disc title and run to the next CD shop or website to buy this pleasing and fulfilling piece of enjoyment.

Margarida Mota-Bull


 




 


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