Uruguayan singer Erwin Schrott is probably the most successful pinup of the baritone world these days. Not long ago that would have been a contradiction in terms, but not for Schrott are the stereotypes of the blustering stepfather or the frustrated lover. Instead his interpretations of characters like Figaro, Leporello and Don Giovanni have injected energy and vigour into much of the baritone repertory. Part of the reason for this is that he has largely restricted himself to the younger, more dynamic characters in the repertoire, but we’re all the better off for that and, as he matures, he will doubtless move into the Bartolos and Iagos of the operatic world.
He has released a few recital discs for Sony already. This very unimaginatively titled one contains a brief biography of Schrott, contextual notes about the extracts, and texts and translations, but nothing about his reason for choosing the numbers he does. That leads me to believe that it’s a bit of a pick-and-mix with little rhyme or reason to it. Not everything on the disc is a success, but it’s fine on its own terms. Schrott’s voice has dark, silky quality, a sexiness that fits his public persona. Scintille diamante
is therefore a slightly surprising choice for him, but he sounds thrilling, a younger version of Dapterutto than we may be used to, but still dark and interesting, opening up new suggestions of the character. He is far too young, of course, to be singing Massenet’s Don Quichotte, but his voice carries surprising weight in the Don’s death scene, showing gravitas and sincerity in a serious baritone scene. The preceding interlude has a beautifully played cello solo too, highlighting the all-important contribution of the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra, so effective because so well played and unobtrusive.
scene is very well realised too, the aria sung with thrilling intensity, tapping straight into the hot-blooded passion so important to early Verdi. The ensuing cabaletta bounces with virility, Schrott’s voice and tone ably capturing Pagano’s anticipation of sexual fulfilment as he finally procures his beloved. He sings Attila’s vision very well too, though without much sense of dread, and the ensuing recommitment to his attack on Rome sounds really much too similar to the nightmare.
His Escamillo is surprisingly uninteresting, though, blasting through the notes without much heed to the character’s innate swaggering nature. Scarpia doesn’t suit him, either, as he basks in the melodrama without unlocking the musicality of the role. His Mephistopheles (Gounod) also sounds a little overcooked, hectoring the refrain and losing much of the tone. His characterisation of Boito’s Mefistofele is much more successful, though, capturing both the character’s tongue-in-cheek irony and his dark nature, particularly in Son lo spirito che nega
The two least known numbers on the disc both carry musical interest. The black-hearted Duke of Arcos in Rosa’s Di Sposo, Di Padre
sings that the peaceful joys of marriage and fatherhood hold no appeal to him, and in Schrott’s dark-voiced interpretation you are inclined to believe him; a one-dimensional portrayal, certainly, but you can enjoy it for five minutes of this aria. La Taberna del Puerto
is a Zarzuela, premiered in 1936, and Schrott sings arias from two different characters. The first is the remorseful, melodramatic confession of Juan the smuggler, while the second is the song of a black slave, inflected by exotic rhythms and sung with dark allure. Heard cheek by jowl they’re a good summary of the best of Schrott’s art and a symbol of how good he is at inhabiting different characteristics.
The choral singing is very good, particularly in the quieter episodes, such as the nuns in Lombardi
or the angels in Mephistofele
. Rustioni’s direction is safe-as-houses and does nothing to detract from the star turn of the baritone in a disc which is solid enough, and decidedly more than that in places, without being particularly thrilling.