On the Deutsche Grammophon homepage Rolando Villazón states:
‘I was not looking for Hollywood-style arrangements of Mexican
music with a big orchestra, I wanted a chamber orchestra that
is able to recreate the intimate feeling of the music and also
to spark its radiant fire.’ I do sympathize with this approach
though it isn’t a traditional chamber orchestra but the Bolívar
Soloists (flute, violin, cello and piano) frequently supplemented
with double-bass, guitar and plenty of percussion plus a couple
of woodwind, a viola and, most notably, a trumpet, which is
an essential feature in Mexican music. Not always is there a
chamber music feeling, rather a relaxed jazz combo in ebullient
mood. The arrangements are quite elaborate and things happen
all the time, rhythmically as well as melodically. The musicians
are in high spirits and video clips on the homepage reveal that
Villazón was enjoying the sessions.
He has since I first heard him risen to the top of my list of
present-day favourite tenors. This is not even primarily for
his similarity with the young Placido Domingo in timbre and
general musicality. He is a marvellous actor and his singing
has always stood out as stylish and impassioned – not always
compatible quantities. His rather recent Handel recital
is good evidence of that.
On the present disc, in popular songs from his native Mexico,
repertoire that should be and probably is close to his heart,
he doesn’t convince in the way he did on his previous discs.
To be sure he isn’t a baroque stylist on the Handel recital
either but still fits surprisingly well into the picture, inspired
no doubt by the presence of one of the best baroque groups of
our time. Here, backed by an excellent group of compatriots,
he doesn’t always seem to strive for ‘the intimate feeling of
the music, as quoted above, rather he stresses ‘to spark its
radiant fire’. While we are grateful for his choice of a small
ensemble for the accompaniments, his own approach too often
conflicts with the backgrounds. His singing is overblown in
exactly the way many a great classical singer has killed lighter
fare through being too operatic. Villazón tries to ‘out-Domingo’
– and he doesn’t have the Otello-power for that. Others may
go into a trance for such full-throated singing, but I prefer
a lighter touch. Moreover it isn’t very convincingly done, vocally.
He presses the voice far beyond its natural means and he is
strained and even pinched in tone. I don’t want to be a prophet
of woe but it seems that his vocal condition has deteriorated
after his throat problems a while ago. His middle register also
sounds drier than before, afflicted by a kind of hoarseness.
Reports of cancelled concerts and performances lately also seem
But let us not rule him out completely. This is still an interesting
disc and much of the repertoire is infectious, Villazón still
has one of the most beautiful voices when he chooses to husband
its resources and his soft singing is lovely. Just listen to
the marvellous pianissimo end of Comprendo (tr. 6) or
Maria Grever’s beautiful Te quiero, dijiste (tr. 8),
sung mostly piano throughout and with the final note taken falsetto.
El retoj (tr. 10) sounds like a potential hit and Besos
robados (tr. 13) is true chamber music size, accompanied
only by the piano, until the trumpet enters for a solo before
the final refrain. Ponce’s world hit Estrellita (tr.
14) is also sung with restraint, just as one wants it, and the
concluding medley is highly entertaining.
No, Villazon isn’t ruled out yet but he should be careful with
his voice, it is a delicate instrument and a middleweight shouldn’t
adopt heavyweight manners until he has gained some more muscle
The recording is excellent and lets us hear every detail in
the often quite intricate arrangements. The lyrics can be downloaded
(see link in the header) but it was a little tricky to get access
to them. You have to click on MUSIC on the homepage and then
on LYRICS DOWNLOAD and then type in the password MEXICO2010.
see also review by Rob