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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Rolando Villazon sings Verdi

Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Marcello Viotti and Michel Plasson; Saint Cecilia Orchestra, Rome/Antonio Pappano
rec. 2003-09
Contents list at end of review
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6357112 [37.59]

Six of these recordings were made in 2003 as Villazon (b.1972) was making an impact on the operatic world. They preceded his renowned Alfredo in La Traviata in Willy Decker’s production at Salzburg in 2005 alongside Anna Netrebko as Violetta (see review). He was also heard in productions at Covent Garden. His clear lyric voice and evident musicality are a joy to hear, as is his clear diction. The latter is evident throughout and arises from his following of Verdi’s intentions. The composer was a stickler with his librettists in respect of their poetry. He then took particular care himself to match his music to their words. For a singer, following the melodic line and able to sit the voice on the melody whilst not being tempted to strain or over sing, makes both phrasing and clarity of words become much easier. Added to those important outcomes in the case of Villazon is the ability to express the emotions and intent of the words of the aria within the context of the opera.
To my ears Villazon’s rendition of the ever-popular La donna è mobile from act one of Rigoletto, that opens this brief collection, is a particular delight. This is partly because of the manner in which he plays with the phrases. In this respect he reminds me of Gigli in one of his farewell concerts long ago. They have remained imprinted in my mind’s ear (Tr.1). His illustrious Italian predecessor, accompanied only by a piano, was not as easy and fluent with the final high note as is Villazon who is able, and willing, to hit that note with ease and clarity and without any squeezing or distortion of his voice. Likewise, his more dramatic portrayal of the act two double aria Ella mi fu rapita ... Parmi veder le lagrime from the same opera shows his more dramatic side as well as his interpretive skills as he conveys the Duke’s varying emotions (Tr.8). Both these arias, along with those from La Traviata (Tr.2), I Lombardi (Tr.5), Don Carlo (Tr.6), and Macbeth (Tr.7) are derived from sessions in 2003 conducted by Marcello Viotti who has this music in his blood. All those excerpts, in a slightly resonant acoustic, show Villazon to be a master Verdian, able to realise the composer’s intentions by following the music exactly as intended.
The 2006 recordings under Michel Plasson are set in an even warmer and somewhat recessed acoustic. The conductor is sympathetic if not as idiomatic as his Italian counterpart. Viotti would have drawn from the singer more of the agonies of uncertainty Riccardo feels back in his room after leaving Amelia under the care of Renato as the conspirators, intent on his assassination, arrive (Tr.3). On the other hand this may also be a case of the singer never having sung that role on stage with its wide variety of emotional travails. In the same manner Villazon could be considered new to Don Carlo’s act one aria, only having sung it on stage a couple of times prior to the recording (Tr.6). Nonetheless his singing tugs at the heartstrings as Carlo’s hopes are raised. Also evident is the difference in tone and legato between this version and that in the complete recording of his performance under Pappano at Covent Garden after the first of his vocal crises necessitated time away from the stage (see review). This latter performance marked the tenor’s return to the house after his having to take a enforced rest from singing with evident threats to his vocal well-being. Certainly, his timbre is distinctly more baritonal than at the time of this recording when he concentrated more on the bel canto repertoire such as L’Elisir d’Amore (see review).
The occasional signs of vocal effort, and baritonal hue evident in that Covent Garden recording of Don Carlo, are also to be heard in the Ingemisco from Verdi’s Requiem, also with Pappano on the rostrum. Recorded in the acoustic of Rome’s Santa Cecilia Auditorium I cannot help but feel Villazon would have been more capable of smoother lyric tone and legato along with more ethereal phrasing a few years earlier.
The short measure is only partly compensated for by the low price. This disc is, however, a good memento of a singer in his vocal prime in repertoire in which, for too brief a period, he excelled.
Robert J Farr

Contents List 
Rigoletto (1851)
La donna è mobile [2.03]
Ella mi fu rapita ... Parmi veder le lagrime [4.51]
La Traviata (1853)
Lunge da lei ... De' miei bollenti spiriti ... O mio rimorso [5.16]
Un Ballo in Maschera (1851)
Ma se m'è forza perderti (with chorus) [5.15]
Ernani (1851)
Odi il voto ... sprezzo la vita (with chorus) [7.31]
I Lombardi (1843)
La mia letizia [2.01]
Don Carlo (1867)
Io l'ho perduta lo la vidi [3.28]
Macbeth (1847)
O figli ... Ah! La paterna mano [3.22]
Requiem (1874)
Ingemisco [3.39]