Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)
Mefistofele (1868) – Ecco il mondo
Georges BIZET (1838 - 1875)
Carmen (1875) – Votre toast
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust (1859) – Vous faites l’endormie
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Boris Godunov (1874) – Farewell, my son
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Aleko (1892) – Aleko’s Cavatina
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816) – La calunnia
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Don Carlo (1867) – Ella giammai m’amo
Simon Boccanegra (1857) – Il lacerato spirito
Nabucco (1842) – Tu sul labbro
Attila (1846) – Mentre gonfiarsi l’anima parea
Carlo Colombara (bass)
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Gyorgy G. Rath
Bulgarian National Symphony Orchestra and Bulgarian Opera Chorus/Vladimir Ghiaurov
Prague Tchaikovsky Orchestra/Fabrizio Milani
Director: Oscar Martos
rec. Sofia, 28-31 January 2006 (Flamenco Introduction, Barbiere di Siviglia, Aleko); Prague, 2006 (Carmen and Don Carlo); RSI Radio Svizzera Italiana Studio, Lugano-Besso, April 2003 (Simon Boccanegra, Faust, Mefistofele, Attila). No date for Boris Godunov.
Directors of Photography: Oscar Martos and Jose Luis Velasquez.
Subtitles in English and Original Languages (French, Italian, Russian)
NAXOS 2.110612 [68:28]
This is a singularly frustrating DVD. In terms of audio alone
this release has a good deal to commend it, but I will explain
my concerns about the visual elements.
Many of the extracts have an aptness of style and consistency
of beautiful tone which, always rare, must be especially cherished
among modern singers. Sometimes one forgets how good an Italian
singer sounds in these grand bass roles since these roles/arias
have so frequently been taken on record by a host of East European
artists beginning with Fyodor Chaliapin and including Boris
Christoff, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Evgeny Nesterenko and Paata Burchuladze.
These artists, all equipped with pungent bass voices can be
dramatic and strong-voiced but are all guilty, at various times,
of not sounding completely idiomatic. That being the case, there
is an argument that to hear the music at its very best you must
hear native singers singing in their own language, and though
there are exceptions it certainly seems the case here.
Although there are not perhaps as many famous Italian basses
as at various times in the past there are notable examples in
recent times including Ruggero Raimondi, Ferruccio Furlanetto,
Roberto Scandiuzzi and Francesco Ellero d'Artegna. The names
are all to be reckoned with and it is to Carlo Colombara's credit
that his records need not fear comparison. His voice is tidily
employed with no roughness or a graininess and there is no sign
of a wobble which is something of a relief. He has a suitably
elegant control of the Italian language and that does give him
something of an advantage over international competitors.
His voice is a true bass as opposed to bass-baritone and that
means that while his phrasing is fine as Escamillo, the Toreador
from Carmen, his voice is not ideally suited to that role. He
'manages' the high-lying part well enough – including some steady
but rather short high notes - but the easy brilliance and vigour
of baritone singers like Jose Van Dam, Robert Merrill or Gino
Bechi is a little lacking which is a shame. This is the only
case in this recital where his voice, no matter how well used,
is not a good fit for the part. Ella giammai m'amo
is well vocalised with his voice being satisfyingly dark toned.
Ferruccio Furlanetto, whose voice sometimes sounds light for
the role on records, gives a rather more extrovert performance
and can make rather more drama out of this piece than perhaps
any of his contemporaries. All the same, Colombara's performance
is satisfyingly sung – if not ultimately as moving as with Furlanetto.
His recording of 'Vous faites l'endormie' is smoothly vocalised
and his diction is clear. He does not have the manic edge which
makes Bryn Terfel's recording - part of his ‘Bad Boys’ album
- the more complex and interesting performance. Again, however,
one must appreciate the skill of his performance. I imagine
there could be two different interpretations of these recordings:
some critics would prefer more red-blooded singing at the risk
of sounding vulgar, others respecting the taste and discipline
for not veering into excess even if the result is less obviously
exciting. 'Tu sul labbro' sounds impressively smooth and is
not exaggerated. Sometimes the voice as recorded, for example
in the Nabucco selection, does not sound very large – it would
be interesting to know how his voice carries in big opera houses.
He is a suitably large-scale Mefistofeles in 'Ecco il mondo'
from Mefistofele all the same, which is evidently well suited
to his capabilities. His Attila is phrased expertly with a good
deal that is subtle and well shaped and his hushed singing does
not lose much quality – on the strength of this recording one
would expect him to be a fine Banco and Fiesco.
I presume that some of these extracts – the ones with Orchestra
della Svizzera Italiana and Gyorgy G. Rath – are the same as
the Carlo Colombara CD 'Opera Recital' on the Bongiovanni label
which may be worth looking out for.
The Russian language does not appear to pose him too many problems.
His voice does not have the metal 'edge' one expects from East
European basses in the Rachmaninov but his legato -'joined-up'-
phrases sound suitably smooth and there is little in that aria
which taxes him. His Boris does not have the frenzy of Boris
Christoff but is wobble-free and it is a younger sounding portrayal
which arguably has advantages and disadvantages. He is willing
to sing very quietly indeed at times which means occasionally
the words are lost. If this were solely an audio recording –
be it a CD, Download etc. - I would be inclined to rate it very
highly indeed but I'm sad to say that the videos let the performance
The first few videos including a flamenco video to represent
Carmen and the intermittently overacted performance of Philip's
soliloquy 'Ella giammai m'amo' are only the beginning of a dishearteningly
amateur medley of videos. Colombara's turn as Basilio from Barber
of Seville with 'La calunnia' looks like a 1980s pop video with
him singing the aria from a ballpit. It seems a fair question
to ask what this has to do with Basilio? In contrast,
Fiesco's scene is the most moving and best staging with a similar
setting to the Nabucco aria – it does not try too hard and the
emotive subject tells its own story. Mephistopheles' scene from
Faust is very earth bound with attempts at being stylised and
risky – courtesy of some burlesque dancers and the devil singing
into a retro microphone– although the result just feels static
with, again, bad dubbing of video to voice.
Although not subtle the Nabucco aria is well enough acted and
the ecclesiastical surroundings are spectacular. Boito's Mefistofele
is better for being rather risky with a half-naked female dancer
covered in glitter and a harem of other dancers around a satanic
symbol; even here there are some ghastly devils apparently wrestling
to get out of a box of kitchen foil. Colombara's 'big' acting
is rather appropriate here as the devil – I can't think of many
ways you could overplay that part. During Attila the picture
is rather smudged throughout with a sickly green background.
Colombara looks fine as Attila, being a handsome man, but again
his performance is undermined by poor dubbing. Aleko errs towards
the tacky and risible end of the scale with another dancer.
Boris is a very conventional staging for the small screen and
at times rather hackneyed while Colombara is not too convincing
wearing a glued-on beard in close-up.
The other singers do not have much to do in these extracts.
The orchestras are uniformly fine – the conducting rather better
than one can presume for recital discs. The sound is consistently
very good indeed, clear and clean with the chorus in Carmen
sounding nicely present and focused.
I wish I could be more positive about the video side of this
DVD but it rather disappointed me. The audio side is really
very accomplished however, so I wonder if readers would be interested
enough to buy this DVD for its audio alone?