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Ramón Vargas (tenor) - Opera Arias
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834 - 1886)
La Gioconda: Cielo e mar [4:36]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Simon Boccanegra: O inferno! Amelia qui! ... Cielo pietoso [5:05]
Arrigo BOITO (1842 - 1918)
Mefistofele: Dai campi, dai prati [2:21] Giunto sul passo estremo [2:57]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Tosca: Recondita armonia [2:40]
Francesco CILEA (1866 - 1950)
L’arlesiana: E la solita storia del pastore [4:30]
Charles GOUNOD (1818 - 1893)
Faust: Salut demeure chaste et pure [4:51]
Tosca: E lucevan le stelle [2:52]
Jules MASSENET (1842 - 1912)
Werther: Porquoi me réveiller [3:34]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803 - 1869)
La Damnation de Faust: Nature immense [4:08]
Giuseppe VERDI
I due Foscari: Notte! ... perpetua notte [5:40]
Turandot: Nessun dorma [2:59]
Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Frizza
rec. Studio 22, Hungarian Radio, Budapest, 2012
Interview and biographical information in the booklet but no sung texts
CAPRICCIO C5165 [48:00]

The Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas came early to singing, joining a boys’ choir at nine and soon becoming a soloist. His aim was not at that time to be a professional singer, he wanted to become a teacher. Providence brought him into contact with a singing teacher he knew from his boys’ choir days and this teacher advised him to take up singing as a soloist. He made his operatic debut in Mexico City in 1983 and some years later came to Vienna and later Lucerne. Other houses soon showed interest. In 1992 he was catapulted to stardom when he stood in for Pavarotti in Lucia de Lammermoor at the Met. At the time he was still primarily a lirico and that’s a repertoire he wants to nurture even though he has gradually taken on some heavier roles, as can be heard on this recital disc. I first encountered his voice on the superb Naxos recording of Il barbiere di Siviglia, incidentally recorded during the year of his breakthrough and in the same city where this recital was set down, Budapest. He then seemed to be a worthy successor to singers like Luigi Alva or Nicola Monti who were great Almavivas in their day: smooth, light, elastic and elegant. Although he has widened his repertoire to Rodolfo, Werther and middle Verdi he still sings Don Ottavio and, his favourite character, Nemorino. Neither of those two is heard here, and there are some others that he should have avoided.
Cielo e mar is one of those. Basically it is a sympathetic reading with a lot of care for nuance - he is far too intelligent to try to out-bowl some testosterone-bulging colleagues from the past - no names - but he has to force and then the strain is obvious. It is still not a bad reading but he is no match for Jussi Björling and other true lirico-spinto tenors. Gabriele Adorno in Simon Boccanegra is also on the heavy side but still attractive. He has something of the same intensity as José Carreras, whose Adorno for Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon was one of his best recordings.
His Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele has a great deal to commend it, though even here one can’t avoid feeling that he is a size too small. Recondita armonia is good, better still is Federico’s lament from L’arlesiana. This is his repertoire! Just listen to his honeyed half-voice, so natural and beautiful. Gounod’s Faust is also within his reach and here his nuances are lovingly realized. He hits the high C, although not without some effort, but he scales down beautifully at the end.
On a par with the L’arlesiana aria is also E lucevan le stelle - impassioned, involved. Werther is another character he cares for; maybe he is a bit overemphatic towards the end of the aria. His third Faust, that by Berlioz, is good without being exceptional but the rarity here, Jacopo’s aria from I due Foscari, is really good. The beautiful cello solo in the introduction is very well played and what follows is partly forceful but not over the top. The beautiful hymn is sung with impeccable legato.
Nessun dorma - do we really need yet another recording? Probably not and Vargas comes nowhere near the top of the pile. He also admits in the interview that he will never sing Calaf on stage. He made the recording for pleasure. Why not? It isn’t bad overall and he delivers the end OK - though not all that heroically. We also miss the female chorus in the middle.
The Budapest Symphony Orchestra play well and Riccardo Frizza is a sympathetic conductor but at premium price 48 minutes playing time is pretty meagre. There are several good readings here but also some that I could have done without.
Göran Forsling