My Life is an Opera
Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Aleksandra Kurzak (soprano) (trs. 5, 8, 9)
London Orchestra/Yvan Cassar
rec. 2014, Air Studios, London; Abbey Road Studios, London DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4811524 [57:29]
Roberto Alagna, recently turned 52, is obviously still going strong, judging by this recital, recorded less than a year ago. A couple of years ago he divorced his wife since 1996 Angela Gheorghiu and started a relationship with the Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, with whom he has a one-year-old daughter. Ms Kurzak appears on this disc in three duets and is in excellent vocal shape.
The programme at large is a mix of well-known arias and some relative rarities. The two excerpts from Manon is a fine introduction to the recital. He has the brilliance, he has insight – and he has retained his enviable capacity to scale down and sing a honeyed pianissimo. His voice seems to be perfectly intact, as we have come to know it over more than twenty years. The tone may have hardened a mite, which is not necessarily a drawback. Lenski’s aria from Eugene Onegin, sung in French, could have been more lyrical. As it is he sings too much forte. The aria from Gounod’s La Reine de Saba, one of the rarities, is on the other hand gloriously done. The origins of the song A la luz de la luna (In the moonlight) are a bit uncertain. According to one source it was possibly composed by two habanera singers from Cuba, active in Catalonia, named Anton and Michelena. It was famously recorded by Enrico Caruso and baritone Emilio de Gogorza in 1918 and it should now enjoy a new lease of life with the present duet by Alagna and Kurzak. A longstanding favourite for tenors wanting to show off their virtuosity is Rossini’s Neapolitan tarantella La danza. Alagna’s version is full-throated and should win him standing ovations at recitals but connoisseurs would demand a more nuanced approach. Nuance is more readily found in his reading of the aria from Sigurd. Like Wagner’s Ring this opera is based on the Nibelungenlied and the Icelandic Edda. Premiered in 1884 it saw several productions during a ten-year-period but then disappeared only to enjoy a few revivals after World War 2.
Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux from 1837 also dropped out before the end of the 19th century but was reawakened in the 1960s and has been championed by singers like Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé, Beverly Sills and Edita Gruberova. The duet and cabaletta heard here is truly vintage Donizetti and both singers are involved, though Alagna’s tone sometimes becomes rather pinched. Good to have it in such classy performance though. Alagna is heard to better advantage in Pinkerton’s aria from Madama Butterfly and his reading of the scene from Hérodiade is stylish – generally speaking he is at his best in French repertoire. With this in mind it would have been wiser to sing the Orfeo aria in French. As it is it sounds a bit over the top – but he sings it gloriously.
Gounod is not the only composer to present the Queen of Sheba in operatic guise. Another setting of the Biblical story is Karl Goldmark’s, and this is a great opera, which regrettably is rarely heard today. There is fortunately an excellent complete recording on Hungaroton from 1980, conducted by Adam Fischer with Siegfried Jerusalem as Assad and Klara Takács as the Queen. Magische Töne is perhaps the only number that is well known and Alagna sings it really beautifully in a nicely shaded reading.
David Alagna, Roberto’s younger brother, is a successful composer and the scene from his opera Le dernier jour d’un condamné, based on a story by Victor Hugo, is very attractive.
The title role in Pagliacci has been roared to pieces by many a leather-lunged tenor or drenched in tears – sometimes by the same tenors. It is comforting that Alagna steers a sensitive middle course.
The London Orchestra – possibly a pick-up band – play well and the recorded sound is good. I regret the absence of texts, especially since there are several numbers here that are not standard repertoire. Maybe not the very best recital with Roberto Alagna but well worth owning.
Track listing Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
1. Ah, Manon, mi tradisce [2:52]
2. Donna non vidi mai [2:41] Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
3. Pour moi ce jour est tout mystčre (Kuda, Kuda) [5:47] Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)
La Reine de Saba:
4. Faiblesse de la race humaine … Inspirez-moi, race divine [5:00] Anton y Michelena (18?? – 19??)
5. A la luz de la luna [3:48] Giaocchino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868)
6. La danza [3:23] Ernest REYER (1823 – 1909)
7. Esprits, gardiens de ces lieux vénérés [4:32] Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
8. Un tenero cuore … [3:25]
9. Cabaletta: Un lampo, un lampo orribile [2:46] Giacomo PUCCINI
10. Addio fiorito asil [2:04] Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)
11. Ne pouvant réprimer ... Adieu donc [4:55] Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714 – 1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice:
12. Che faro senza Euridice [3:52] Karl GOLDMARK (1830 – 1915)
Die Königin von Saba:
13. Magische Töne [4:00] David ALAGNA (b. 1975)
Le dernier jour d’un condamné:
14. Il est dix heures ... Encore six heures [3:59] Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857 – 1919)
15. Introduction I Pagliacci [1:10]
16. Recitar ... Vesti la giubba [3:16]