Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Villazón Verdi
Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio Act 2 - "Ciel che feci!... di qual sangue..."
I due Foscari Act 1 - Scena: "Qui ti rimani". Arioso: "Brezza del suol natio"
8 Romanze per tenore e orchestra - Brindisi, L’esule, In solitaria stanza
I Lombardi Act 2 - O madre mia, che fa colei - La mia letizia infondere
Il Corsaro Act 3 - "Eccomi prigionero!"
Rigoletto Act 1 - "Questa o quella" (Ballata)
Rigoletto Act 3 - "La donna è mobile"
La traviata Act 2 - "Lunge da lei ... De' miei bollenti spiriti... O mio rimorso"
Un ballo in maschera Act 1 - "La rivedrà nell'estasi...Il cenno mio"
Don Carlo Act 1 - "Fontainebleau! Foresta immensa e solitaria!"
Messa da Requiem Dies Irae - Ingemisco
Falstaff Act 3 - "Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola"
Rolando Villazón (tenor)
Mojca Erdmann (soprano in Ballo and Falstaff)
Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. no details supplied
Oh, Rolando Villazón: where did it all go wrong? When he first burst onto our radar he was the great white hope for tenors, confirmed in his extraordinary Tales of Hoffmann for the Royal Opera in 2004. Then a series of poor choices and mishaps led to serious vocal trouble which forced him to withdraw from the stage for an extended period. Even his great comeback, Covent Garden’s 2008 Don Carlos, was variable and poorly received by the press. He then ended up doing awful shows like Popstar to Operastar. His stage performances have been less frequent since.
This recital may well appeal to those who have become his fans from seeing him on the TV, but I can’t hear much in it to appeal to those who love Verdi, or who loved Villazón when he was at his peak, because it shows us how much his technique has deteriorated.
The main problem with the recital is that it suffers from Villazón’s propensity to over-act, something which can be attractive on the stage but does not lend itself to repeated listening on disc. The recital actually begins fairly promisingly with the extract from Oberto, ardent tone yielding to an attractive romanza, but even here Villazón cannot restrain himself from the vices that mar so much of his singing nowadays. He no longer knows the meaning of the word subtlety. He gives it everything all of the time, so that the experience of listening is like being caught in the glare of headlights mercilessly bearing down on you! The scene from I Due Foscari, for example, is that of a prisoner running a full gamut of emotions, but Villazón gives us almost no variety so that every passage sounds the same; namely ardent, forceful yearning, which gets very wearing! Top notes are a particular trial. They’re not a problem for him technically, because they lie well within his range, but he feels the need to force them unnecessarily, thereby drawing attention away from the music and onto himself. The Lombardi cavatina is marred by some unnecessary and very unmusical swooning into the microphone, and the Corsaro extract is sung in so bombastic a style as to entirely undermine the words.
His Duke of Mantua is unbearable because he feels the need to inject OTT emotionalism into every phrase, entirely breaking up the vocal line and ruining the continuity. It’s particularly bad in Questa o quella, and it even distracts him from accurately hitting some of the notes in La donna e mobile, the final cadence of which all but comes off the rails entirely. Alfredo is nearly as bad: he is so keen to act the recitative that he loses the musical line. There are uncalled-for crescendos in the middle of notes that are distracting and irritating. Even I had to admit, though, that his sustained top note at the end of the cabaletta is thrilling, and a reminder of the voice in its heyday. The recitative in Ballo is solid, but then unattractive swooping, and a seeming thinning of the top register, mars the aria itself. The Don Carlo aria is undoubtedly better, though, perhaps because it is a role he knows well from singing it on stage. However, a couple of times in the Ingemisco he can’t restrain himself from approaching a fake sob, which does not sit well alongside his contribution to Pappano’s complete Verdi Requiem. The sonnet from Falstaff isn’t bad, but it’s an odd way to end the disc, merely stopping rather than going out with a bang, something very unlike him.
Listening with headphones makes this disc even more difficult because Villazón’s voice seems to “flicker” between the left and right channels rather than staying focused and central. I presume this was a reflection of his being unable to restrain himself in the sessions and using his body to mimic the swooning that he does with his voice. It doesn’t happen in every track, but it’s particularly awful in the Rigoletto numbers, and it’s another black mark.
The songs are worth discovering, however. Originally written for piano, we get them here in the opulent and very faithful orchestrations from Luciano Berio, and they’re very attractive in their own ways. Each one, in fact, could serve just as well as an operatic aria. Brindisi contains a drinking song to rouse the masses. L’Esule could pass for an extended scena, with more than a fleeting reference to Wagner’s Lohengrin prelude in the string orchestration of the introduction. In soliataria stanza goes well until Villazón injects an unattractive beat into this voice and we’re back into forced yearning mode.
The playing of the Turin orchestra is lovely, especially the frequent solos, such as the cello in Oberto or the clarinet in I Due Foscari and Don Carlo, and Noseda directs them well. The attack of the strings in La donna e mobile is particularly attractive, and the sparseness of orchestration in the Fontainebleau aria sits well with the voice.
Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not trying to go out on some Villazón vendetta. He’s an artist that I admired and who gave me some great nights in the theatre. His is however a cautionary tale of how an artist can fall from grace with illness or indiscipline. My primary reaction to this set is one of disappointment that his artistry has fallen as far as it has. It’s a particular shame when you compare this disc to some of Villazón’s earlier recitals, such as the collections he did with Virgin and, especially, Cielo e Mar, his very good first recital with DG. He still has an attractive voice, but he seems to have lost all the vocal discipline that once enabled him to use his instrument so well. The results are disappointing to those who knew him in that previous existence.
This might appeal to some newcomers to Verdi but, beyond the existence of the Verdi anniversary in 2013, it’s hard to see any good reason why this recital was compiled, and it’s even harder to see any long term future for it.
Simon Thompson
My primary reaction is one of disappointment. 
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