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The French Collection
Opera arias by Massenet, Berlioz, Verdi, Boieldieu, Donizetti, Gounod, Bizet
Piotr Beczala (tenor)
Diana Damrau (soprano) (Manon duet)
Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Lyon/Alain Altinoglu
rec. August 2014, Auditorium Maurice-Ravel, Lyon, France
Full French texts with English and German translations
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 4101 [62.51]

Polish tenor Piotr Beczala has been singing on the opera stage since 1997. His career took off internationally in 2004 leading to a burgeoning repertoire of bel canto and Romantic opera roles. In 2014 he won a prestigious ECHO Klassik award for ‘Singer of the Year’. Currently more of a connoisseurs' choice, for regular opera goers Beczala isn’t as well known as he should be certainly in the UK.

Titled The French Collection, this is Beczala’s first solo operatic album on Deutsche Grammophon and should provide the necessary international reach his talent deserves. All twelve works here lie at the centre of Beczala’s repertoire and are either by French composers or were composed for the Paris Opera.

Beczala is certainly not scared of expressing his views. In 2013 a section of the audience at La Scala, Milan showed its displeasure by booing Dmitri Tcherniakov’s contemporary ‘modern dress’ production of Verdi’s La Traviata. Beczala who played Alfredo responded by posting on social media that he would see out his contract but this would be his last production at La Scala and the house should engage only Italian singers. This was followed by Stéphane Lissner, then general manager and artistic director at La Scala, describing Piotr Beczala as “one of the few great tenors of our time.” I’m confident that Riccardo Chailly, the current music director elect at La Scala, will pour oil on these stormy waters and maybe invite Beczala back.

On the evidence of this disc his voice is in marvellous condition, eminently well suited to this Romantic French milieu. Although the repertoire on this album is similar to Vittorio Grigolo’s 2014 album of French arias The Romantic Hero, Beczala’s lyric tenor vocal reminded me more of Argentine tenor Marcello Alvarez and is certainly none the worse for that.

Especially impressive is the opening aria Toute mon âme - Pourquoi me réveiller known as Ossian’s Song from Massenet’s Werther. In response to Charlotte trying to divert the despairing Werther from suicidal thoughts he turns his attention to the book of Ossian he was to translate. Noticeable almost immediately is the tenor's single cream consistency of tone. He is not given to the sort of over-brightness that can soon become tiresome. As he generates intense despair the tenor reveals an uncommon weeping quality.

Another highlight is Fernando’s lovely aria Ange si pur from Donizetti’s La Favorite, a much undervalued grand opera. Expressing his intense sorrow in the moving cavatina Beczala demonstrates a polished and steadfast technique that allows the production of attractive colours with irresistible freshness. These travel through his high register with relative ease. He is so well suited to the glorious Salut! demeure chaste et pure from Gounod’s Faust and in La fleur que tu m'avais jetée from Bizet’s Carmen the tenor creates an unalloyed passion leaving affecting tears in its wake. Also compellingly sung is the cavatina Seul sur la terre … Ange céleste from Donizetti’s grand opera Dom Sébastien with Beczala as the King of Portugal maintaining steady control at full vocal force. The final track is the duet Toi! Vous! Oui, c’est moi … N’est-ce plus ma main from Massenet’s Manon. In this Beczala as Des Grieux is partnered by Diana Damrau in the title role. Despite Manon’s betrayal Des Grieux cannot shake off his love for her. Passionate and affecting the duo’s voices blend delightfully and round off an engaging collection.

Deutsche Grammophon once again deliver clarity and presence with an excellent balance secured between soloist and orchestra. Add to this well-paced conducting from Alain Altinoglu and crisp playing throughout.

This compellingly desirable collection makes a real impact and again presents Beczala as a tenor whose reputation proceeds from strength to strength.

Michael Cookson

Track Listing

Piotr Beczala - The French Collection
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
1. Toute mon âme - Pourquoi me réveiller (from Werther) [3.07]
2. Ah! Tout est bien fini... Ô souverain (from Le Cid) [5.26]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
3. Merci, doux crépuscule! (from La Damnation de Faust, Op. 24) [5.25]
4. Ah! Je vais l'aimer, mon cœur me l'annonce (from Béatrice et Bénédict) [3.01]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
5. Fontainebleau! Forêt immense et solitaire … (from Don Carlos) [4.54]
François-Adrien BOIELDIEU (1775-1834)
6. Maintenant observons… Viens, gentille dame (from La Dame blanche) [9.12]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
7. La maitresse du roi!... Ange si pur (from La Favorite) [3.49]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
8. L'amour! l'amour! ... Ah! lève-toi, soleil! (from Roméo et Juliette) [4.41]
9. Salut! demeure chaste et pure (from Faust) [5.06]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
10. La fleur que tu m'avais jetée (from Carmen) (Flower Song) [4.44]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
11. Seul sur la terre… Ange céleste (from Dom Sébastien, Roi de Portugal) [5.14]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
12. Toi! Vous! Oui, c’est moi… N’est-ce plus ma main (from Manon) [8.04]
Piotr Beczala, tenor
Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Lyon/Alain Altinoglu
Diana Damrau, soprano (Manon duet, track 12)



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