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 down.
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?
An excellent soundtrack let down by the visuals. Is it worth buying this DVD for its audio alone?