Rolando Villazon - Cielo
e mar Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834 – 1886) La Gioconda: Cielo
e mar [5:15] Francesco CILEA (1866 – 1950) Adriana Lecouvreur: La
dolcissima effigie [2:09]L’anima ho stanca [1:48] Saverio MERCADANTE (1795 – 1870) Il giuramento: La dea di
tutti i cor! [4:12] Compita è omai – Fu celeste
quel contento [3:41] Arrigo BOITO (1842 – 1918) Mefistofele: Dai
campi, dai prati [2:33]Giunto sul passo
estremo [2:38] Giuseppe PIETRI (1886 – 1946) Maristella: Io
conosco un giardino [2:01] Antônio Carlos
GOMES (1836 – 1896) Fosca: Intenditi con Dio! – Ah!
Se tu sei fra gli angeli [5:01] Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Simon Boccanegra: O inferno!
Amelia qui! – Sento avvampar nell’anima [5:23] Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848) Poliuto: Veleno è l’aura
ch’io respire! – Sfolgorò divino raggio [8:24]* Amilcare PONCHIELLI Il figliuol prodigo: Il
padre! … Il padre mio! – Tenda natal [4:41] Giuseppe VERDI Luisa Miller: Oh! Fede
negar potessi – Quando le sere al placido [5:36] L’ara
o l’avello apprestami [3:18]*
Gianluca Alfano (bass)*
Coro Sinfonico di Milano Giuseppe Verdi and Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe
rec. Auditorium, Milan, March 2007
Texts and French, German and English translations enclosed DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON
477 7224 [56:41]
his eagerly awaited first solo recital for DG – there has
been a duet disc with Anna Netrebko – Villazon roams
fairly untrodden paths in the deep forests of Italian
opera. That there are riches to be uncovered we knew
and little is true virgin soil since some of his colleagues
and predecessors have already walked there. Still it
to be applauded that he is brave enough to thrust his
way through the thickets and come out with vigorous and
plants, worthy to blossom in our public gardens. At first
it seems that he beds them out in haphazard order without
any regard to their reciprocal kinship, but in his own
words ‘the recital begins with an ideal world of love;
then we see how this love may transform into anger and
revenge. Each aria has a soul crying out with its emotion:
passion, despair, joy, pain.’ With this manifesto in
mind we can regard his garden either as a unity or dwell
the individual beauty of each flower.
e mar from La Gioconda is in every
lirico spinto tenor’s repertoire
but when did we last hear something from Ponchielli’s
other operas? He wrote another nine. Il figliuol prodigo, written
four years after La Gioconda and his penultimate
work, premiered on 26 December 1880, may not have been
a success but Azaele’s recitative and romance from the
last act is certainly worth rescuing. The recitative
is charged with intensity and the romance is truly beautiful.
José Carreras recorded it in 1976 and on the same occasion
set down the two arias from Mercadante’s Il giuramento,
composed in 1837 and regarded as his reform opera where
he tried to free himself from the conventions of Italian
opera of the time. Franz Liszt admired Mercadante’s
operas and regarded them as the best orchestrated in
genre. It is easy to agree when one hears the beautiful
interlude for cellos in the first of these two arias.
But the vocal line is also expressive in his arias
and far superior to many a Donizetti aria.
Antonio Carlos Gomes was the first Latin-American composer
whose works were performed in Europe. The best known is
no doubt Il guarany, premiered in Milan in 1870.
Sony recorded the opera complete in the mid-1990s with
Placido Domingo in the tenor lead. Three years after Il
guaranyFosca was first performed, also in Milan,
and in a revised version five years later with Francesco
Tamagno, who a decade later was the first Otello. The libretto
for Fosca was byAntonio Ghislanzoni, no
less, best known for his co-operation with Verdi in Aïda.
The adventurous Carreras has recorded also this Fosca aria
in a later recital from 1980.
odd one out of these composers is Giuseppe Pietri, who
wasn’t even born when the rest of the works on this disc
were written. His main field was operetta - he wrote
eighteen - but he also wrote five operas. Of these Maristella,
first performed in Naples in 1934, has survived through
the little romanza heard here, with a beautiful text,
in Kenneth Chalmers’s English translation:
know a garden unknown
to anyone else, a
haven of velvet under
a deep blue sky. In
summer, in winter there’s
the scent of irises in bloom, nightingales
sing there at
night, in love. Come,
come here to my heart, I’ll
take you to that haven, and
offer you a lovely cushion of
tiny golden feathers, and
I’ll adorn your lips with kisses, and
offer you a great casket of
shimmering dreams, of
falling stars from
the highest heavens. My
sweet love, come, ah!
come with me!
glowing words inspired Pietri to the glowing aria. Beniamino
Gigli sang in the first La Scala performances of Maristella in
April 1940 and he wrote in his memoirs: ‘I found the
tenor role extremely congenial to my voice, full of beautiful
melodic phrases and with one lovely aria … that I promptly
added to my concert repertory.’ He recorded it in January
of that year and it is a truly lovely reading. On the
cover to volume 10 of the Naxos ‘Gigli Edition’ there
is a photo of him in the role. Another tenor of fame
this song to his heart was Luciano Pavarotti who recorded
it around 1970.
of the remaining arias on the disc are rarities but neither
do they belong to the top 20 list of favourite tenor
arias – apart
from Cielo e mar.
all the arias from before and being a great admirer of
Rolando Villazon I put the disc in my CD-player with
anticipation as well as certain apprehension. Reports
of Villazon taking
time out to recover from stress this winter seemed a
bad omen and, to be sure, this recital was recorded well
his withdrawal – in March 2007 – but I still listened
with a certain measure of hindsight. Cielo e mar begins
softly and, seemingly, slower than ever but with his
phenomenal breath control he has no problems to keep
a steady line
and his phrasing is as musical and nuanced as before – but
don’t I detect a few signs of wear on some upper notes?
It shouldn’t be much to worry about but with hindsight … Isn’t
there also a minimal but yet widening of vibrato at forte?
Nothing to worry about but with hindsight … The tone is
however as velvety as before from mezzo-forte and below
and it is as gloriously ringing from mezzo-forte and upwards,
but again: isn’t he pressing too hard, isn’t there a metallic
upper layer that wasn’t there before and isn’t he more
prone to sacrifice some nuances for sheer brilliance?
At this stage of my listening I felt it deeply unfair
to think so but as I went on listening the feeling became
stronger. The only criticism I have ever had against
his mentor and model Placido Domingo is that he too seldom
scaled down, that mezzo-forte tended to be his softest
nuance. With Villazon I have felt that his way of moulding
phrases had priority over the aural equivalent of tensing
the muscles. This time there is more macho about
him, while his softer nuances are still there. After
a number of arias his golden tone became a bit tiring.
it’s the fault of the recital format: fourteen tenor arias
in a row at one sitting; maybe it’s the recording: is it
over-bright? The orchestra isn’t, but the voice.
reader! At this stage of the review, don’t let this put
you off! Rolando Villazon on this hearing has still one
of the most glorious voices ever recorded and, what is
more, is one of the most intelligent and musical and sensitive
of interpreters. Looking through my notes I see them littered
with exclamation marks and words like ‘superb’, ‘glorious’, ‘expressive’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘elegant’.
About La dolcissima effigie I read: ‘opens pianissimo!!’, ‘superb
legato’, ‘”Bella tu sei” beautifully vocalized.’ About La
dea di tutti I cor!: ‘lovingly sung’.
Dai campi: ‘Faust in this
opera was one of Gigli’s favourite roles – and one
of his first. He made his debut in that role in Palermo,
Naples, Rome, at La Scala and the Metropolitan. Villazon
sings it as beautifully and with none of the blemishes
of Gigli: over-sentimental, sobs and gulps, intrusive
Io conosco un giardino: ‘Riches
Intenditi con Dio: ‘Challenges
Poliuto: One of the most dramatic tenor roles in all Donizetti. Carreras recorded
the opera complete in the mid-1980s but then he was already
past his best and sorely strained. Villazon has freshness
of tone and in the aria proper he sings with such beauty
and such Donizettian elegance that any criticism expressed
elsewhere seems totally unimportant.
Lecouvreur: L’anima ho stanca: ‘Intensity
almost to the breaking-point’.
figliuol prodigo: ‘Involvement
and intensity in the recitative, the aria beautiful and
sung sensitively and with expert legato’.
Giunto sul passo: ‘The romance
from the Epilogue has rarely been sung more exquisitely’.
Miller: The recitative Oh!
Fede negar potessi is concentrated and intense
a buzz-word for Villazon’s readings) and Quando le
sere, opening softly and then growing in intensity
but with the tone under perfect control and the long
unbroken Verdian phrases challenging even Carlo Bergonzi.
The final track L’ara o l’avello apprestami is
the cabaletta and separated from the aria by some short
dialogue not recorded here. It is light and elegant – in
the Bergonzi manner – and with a properly crescendo
and a glowing final note.
should be added that the chorus and orchestra are first-class,
that the bass, appearing in two numbers, is shaky but
hardly ruins the performances and that the photographs
are more ‘mar’ than ‘cielo’. I must admit that the maritime
surroundings are better suited to the present trend of
artists being portrayed barefooted than most – even string
quartets in tailcoats are photographed without shoes.
finished the review and returned to some of the tracks
for a double-check I am still to some degree in two minds:
While I admire Rolando Villazon enormously for his ever
sensitive and nuanced readings I am at least marginally
worried about his over-zealous brilliance. Impressive it
is, glorious the tone is but is it too much? And what does
the future hold in store? I will be very interested to
hear him after his time-out.
some rare repertoire and for superb musicality the disc
however requires to be heard by all lovers of great singing.
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