Operatic Duets for Baritone and Bass - Thomas Hampson and Samuel Ramey
Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801) Il matrimonio segreto (1792) Se fiato in cor avete
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Don Pasquale (1843) Cheti cheti immantinente;
Marino Faliero (1835) Israele, che vuoi?...Se pur giungi a trucidarlo
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) I puritani (1835) Il rival salvar tu dęi ... Suoni la tromba
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Attila (1846) Uldino, a me dinanzi ... Tardo per gli anni
Don Carlos (1867) Restez!; Simon Boccanegra (1857) Suona ogni labbro il mio nome;
Un giorno di regno (1840) Tutte l’armi si puň prendere
Thomas Hampson (baritone); Samuel Ramey (bass)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Miguel Gómez-Martínez
rec. Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Bavaria, Germany, July 1997, DDD
WARNER APEX TELDEC 2564 67717-2 [73.11]

This recital of operatic duets for baritone and bass was originally released in 1998 by the Teldec label and I believe under a different title (No Tenors Allowed). To my mind this was a more imaginative name, not devoid of humour. Whether Warner Classics & Jazz were not permitted to use the original heading or whether they decided to go with a more descriptive though slightly boring caption, I do not know; however it was not a wise idea. At a time when classical music and opera are trying hard to captivate younger audiences, small details, like catchier names, can contribute to this objective in a positive manner. Title considerations aside though, this is an exceptionally pleasing recital and there is a lot to enjoy.

Thomas Hampson and Samuel Ramey have been around for a while and need no introduction to opera lovers, as they are two of the most distinguished American opera singers of our time; a magnificent baritone and a great bass respectively. Although in later years, Ramey has sometimes been criticised for a noticeable wobble in his singing - after all he is nearly seventy! - at the time of this recording, he was still at the height of his powers. His sonorous bass truly shines in all the duets. He sings with great warmth; his tone is pure, his diction clear and his technique flawless; additionally, his brilliant coloratura - one of his singing attributes that made him famous - is superbly demonstrated in all the duets, especially in the most famous Suoni la tromba from Bellini’s I puritani and in the least known Israele, che vuoi?... from Donizetti’s Marino Faliero. The thirteen years younger Hampson was also at his best in 1997 when this recital was originally recorded and although he is at present still a force to be reckoned with, his crystal clear baritone was more in evidence then than it is now, particularly when one hears him live.

I have had the pleasure of watching Hampson on stage, in different roles, such as Athanaël in Massenet’s Thaďs where he sang opposite Renée Fleming who performed in the title role, or again with Fleming as Violetta, in Verdi’s La Traviata where he brilliantly sang Giorgio Germont. Hampson as a performer really achieves his best on stage. What I mean is that he possesses a beautiful voice and a flawless technique, which also comes across on CD and most definitely in this offer with Ramey; however, it is his dramatic skill and charismatic presence that transform certain baritone roles from interesting into positively memorable, qualities more difficult to demonstrate in a pure audio performance. In this CD of duets and although Hampson is most effective on stage, one can tell that he is in character: his singing is very expressive and highly dramatic, particularly in the duets by Verdi, most notably in Restez! from Don Carlos and in Suona ogni labbro il mio nome from Simon Boccanegra.

I have heard a wide variety of recordings by Samuel Ramey but I have never had the opportunity of seeing him on stage; so, I cannot tell if his dramatic skills and stage persona would be more or less remarkable than on CD. This fact, however, becomes irrelevant because in this recording his singing comes across as highly expressive and dramatically effective. Ramey’s sonorous bass harmonises beautifully with Hampson’s clear baritone and they both launch into each duet enthusiastically, offering the listener an overall intelligent, elegant and extremely pleasing performance.

All duets in this CD are exceptionally sung and immensely enjoyable; to my mind, there is only one exception: I did not appreciate their rendition of Cheti cheti immantinente from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale as I did all the other pieces; not because this is delivered in a less excellent manner than the others. It is not. It is simply because it is one of those duets that loses its comic impact in a purely audio performance, particularly in its second half, which demands singing at an incredible speed. On CD, I felt that this came across a little muddled and the comic timing was not immediately obvious. Small flaws in an otherwise flawless recording!

Hampson and Ramey are exceptionally served by the Münchner Rundfunkorchester (The Munich Radio Orchestra) and conductor Miguel Gómez-Martínez who are sympathetic to the repertoire chosen and very much attuned to the artistry of the two singers. They deliver a technically satisfying performance and are an outstanding accompaniment, effectively complementing the voices of both soloists.

I enjoyed Operatic Duets for Baritone and Bass very much. It is a shame that the CD comes without a booklet hence no texts, which in my view would have added to the pleasure of listening. However, this is a repertoire that one does not often hear as a recital on CD or on stage for that matter! Warner Classics & Jazz did well in deciding to re-release this recording. It is definitely a welcome addition to any operatic collection and to admirers of Hampson’s and Ramey’s artistry alike.

Margarida Mota-Bull
Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at http://www.flowingprose.com/

A welcome addition to any operatic collection and to admirers of Hampson’s and Ramey’s artistry alike.