Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Opera Arias - Armiliato sings Puccini
Orgia, chimera [5:03]
Le Villi
Ecco la casa … Torna ai felici dì [6:44]
Manon Lescaut
Tra voi, belle, brune e bionde [1:26]
Donna non vidi mai [2:38]
Ah! Manon, mi tradisce [2:26]
Ah! Guai a chi la tocca! … No, pazzo son! [3:40]
La Bohème
Che gelida manina [4:37]
Recondita armonia [3:00]
E lucevan le stelle [3:39]
Madama Butterfly
Addio, fiorito asil di letizia e d’amor! [2:23]
Gianni Schicchi
Avete torto … Firenze è come un albero fiorito [3:17]
Il Tabarro
Hai ben ragione [2:44]
Io voglio la tua bocca … Folledi gelosia [2:06]
La Fanciulla del West
Una parola sola … Or son sei mesi che mio padre mori [3:20]
Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano [1:58]
Non piangere, Liù [2:30]
Nessun dorma [3:19]
Fabio Armiliato (tenor)
Orchestra e coro della Fondazione Arena di Verona/Marco Boemi
rec. Teatro Filarmonico di Verona, 6-8 November 2008
DECCA 476 3434 [56:15]

The Puccini jubilee produced a number of recital discs and several complete operas. Most of these were reissues but two soprano recitals - Babajanyan on EMI and Nizza on Dynamic - came my way, together with a mixed disc of arias and duets with Haloran and La Spina on ABC. But we haven’t had a brand new disc with tenor arias since José Cura’s debut recital in the mid-1990s (Erato). Cura made the journey through the master’s oeuvre backwards: starting with Nessun dorma from Turandot and ending with Le villi. Armiliato travels the more natural way, though he for some reason transposes Le villi and Edgar and places La fanciulla del West after Il trittico. Cura is also the most complete, insofar as he includes one further solo from Manon Lescaut, Amore o grillo from Madama Butterfly and the two solos from La Rondine.

However, completeness is not necessarily a criterion for a successful recital. Rather I would say, and have said so on several occasions, that the solo recital format is seldom an ideal way of presenting isolated excerpts from operas. In the good old days - the era of the 78 rpm records - one bought a record with a maximum playing time of 5 minutes per side. When the microgroove records appeared around 1950 we got extended playing time but an EP played for - at most - 16-20 minutes and the LP recitals around 40 minutes. Forty minutes with one singer approached the upper limit, but with the advent of the Compact Disc and playing time exceeding 75 minutes there had to be very charismatic singers indeed to avoid monotony. There have been some clever examples of creative programming. The ABC disc mentioned above with a soprano and a tenor sharing the available space and sprinkling in a duet or two for even greater contrast is an excellent idea. A Naxos disc some years ago, one of my very first reviews for MusicWeb International, employed four singers and thus they could also offer even more variation, for instance in the Rigoletto quartet. And several recent recitals have launched the idea with guest artists, coming in for just one or two numbers.

This preamble should not be interpreted as the beginning of a ‘panning’ of the disc under scrutiny. Quite the opposite, in fact. Fabio Armiliato is one of the most richly endowed and most thrilling tenors now before the public. He combines some of the best attributes of some of his most illustrious predecessors. Judging a singer solely by recordings does not always give a fair picture of his capacity, but when I heard Fabio Armiliato at the Vienna State Opera about seven years ago in Don Carlo, I at once got the feeling that I was listening to the natural successor of Mario Del Monaco. Here was a glorious, expansive voice with the capacity to fill a vast space - and the Vienna State Opera is vast. He had the punch, the thrill and the stamina for the role, and his top notes had that ring that creates goose-flesh. But he was also able to sing softly in the Gigli or Tagliavini way, his mid-register had the warmth of Bergonzi and his involvement reminded me of Di Stefano. Strong words, and readers may think I had found a phenomenon who could out-sing any contemporary competition - or in the past for that matter. Well, I’m not implying that he surpasses those tenors mentioned but he is, as I have said, richly endowed. I hope the description will at least give an indication of what he sounds like. It is a rather lean voice, in spite of the heroic heft, and the Puccini repertoire suits him extremely well.

In the first two arias Puccini hadn’t fully found his mature style but they are interesting anyway. Particularly fascinating is the orchestral writing in the one from Le Villi. The four excerpts from Manon Lescaut find him in glorious form. Tra voi belle lacks the lightness of Björling but Donna non vidi mai is splendid. Che gelida manina is stylish and impassioned and the high C has a healthy ring. Best of all is E lucevan le stelle, so inward and contemplative, mostly sung at pianissimo. Rinuccio’s role in Gianni Schicchi was written for a tenorino but Armiliato lightens the tone skilfully and the solos from Il Tabarro offer truly heroic singing. As Calaf he is also in his element and he makes a beautiful diminuendo at the end of the first stanza. All in all there is a lot to savour in every aria here.

I’m afraid that the backing isn’t on a par with the singing. The orchestra is quite recessed and - even more damaging - the conductor is so laid-back that he hampers the singer. Additional thrust from the orchestra would have made this an even more compelling recital.

Fabio Armiliato is no newcomer. He made his professional debut as long ago as 1984 but his voice is still in mint condition and this is, in spite of less than enthusiastic accompaniment, an excellent recital. I regret that the booklet has no texts, only a couple of essays with at least some description of the contents of the arias. It should also be mentioned that there is a very good Verdi recital available on Real Sound 051-0016, recorded in 2000 and including the rarely heard Inno delle Nazioni from 1862. The present disc is however well worth anyone’s money and it is a pleasure to hear such fresh, impassioned and stylish singing.

Göran Forsling