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Kristian Benedikt (tenor) Tenore di forza
Lithuanian National Opera Chorus
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra/Modestas Pitrenas
rec. 2018, Lithuanian National Philharmonic
Sung texts with English translations enclosed DELOS DE3571 [68:10]
Lithuanian tenor Kristian Benedikt, who started out as a lyrical tenor at the Lithuanian National Opera in Vilnius, has gradually conquered the dramatic repertoire and is today one of leading exponents of the title role in Otello, a role he has sung more than 120 times all around Europe as well as in North and South America. I heard him both in concert and as Don José in Carmen some eight years ago and had high expectations when this disc arrived, and those were fulfilled with knobs on. His power and brilliance, which impressed me greatly eight years ago, are even more impressive here and his deep involvement and sensitive soft declamation in the opening Otello aria amply demonstrate why he is such great demand for this role. His rising to a magnificent climax at che mi fa vivo, che mi fa lieto creates goose-pimples, which persist when he delivers a super-charged final santo coll’orrida larva infernal.
Samson in Samson et Dalila was his debut role at the Metropolitan last year (2018) and he made headlines when he, some weeks before his scheduled premiere, jumped in for Roberto Alagna in the third act of the opera. We are treated to two excerpts from the opera: from the first act Samson’s address to the Hebrews to rise up against the Philistines, where his intensity and glow soon convince his followers. We also notice that the chorus is excellent. Later on in the recital, he returns to this opera. Now the third act, when he is blind and imprisoned, he prays to God for forgiveness and help to liberate his people. This is a touching scene and his singing full of character. L’improvviso from the first act of Andrea Chenier is also overwhelming. It is also good that he begins a few phrases before the aria proper, starting at Colpito qui m’avete. Power and glow are again in the fore but also sensitive nuances. Halévy’s La Juive was a popular work during the 19th century and was also on the repertoire of the Metropolitan in the late 1880s. It was revived in 1919 with Enrico Caruso as Eléazar, which turned out to be his last new role and his last performance was also of that role. According to one critic the only reason to endure a performance of the opera was to hear Caruso sing Rachel, quand du Seigneur, which is practically the only music from the opera that is performed today. But this is a very good aria and Kristian Benedict, besides having the required strength, also has the nuances needed to make it alive. At the reprise of the main melody he begins softly and then lets the music expand impressively. Benedikt’s timbre isn’t particularly Italian but he has the strength and glow for Dick Johnson’s part in La fanciulla del West. Interestingly he chooses not the ubiquitous Ch’ella mi creda from the last act but Una parola sola from the scene in Minnie’s cabin, where he reveals who he is.
Not surprisingly Kristian Benedikt has some Wagner roles in his repertoire: Rienzi, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Siegmund and Parsifal. Here he sings Siegmund’s Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater. His enunciation is clear, his involvement great and his shouts of Wälse spine-chilling, but throughout his declamation is truly expressive. This also goes for Canio’s Vesti la giubba, which isn’t sung as a concert piece but as part of the drama. The multilingual Benedikt also has some Russian roles in his gallery, including Hermann in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, which he is scheduled to sing this season at the Metropolitan. Hermann is a notorious gambler which he bemoans in this aria from the third act. What is life? A game! he sings, having just won a game with the first two cards. But with the third card – which is the queen of spades - he loses everything and when the ghost of the countess appears and laughs at him he decides to commit suicide.
In both Ô Souverain from Le Cid and the ever-present Nessun dorma one again has the feeling that he doesn’t rip off the arias as show pieces but as part of the drama.
The last two numbers are rarities with connections to his home country. Ponchielli’s I Lituani is set in the fourteenth century during the invasion of Lithuania by the Teutonic Knights. It has obviously been played at Lithuanian National Opera, since Benedict lists the work among his roles on his website. An interesting choice! Vytautas Klova’s Pilėnai is by far the most popular Lithuanian opera, though it is practically unknown outside Lithuania. It is set in the same period as the Ponchielli opera. The aria was originally written for high baritone and Benedikt sings it transposed slightly upwards. Rarities in recitals are always welcome and this programme is a healthy mix between standard arias, more rarely performed pieces and the completely unknown. Conductor Modestas Pitrėnas draws excellent singing and playing from the choral and orchestral forces, and Delos’ recording is up to their usual standard. Really good dramatic tenors are still in short supply and Kristian Benedikt is a valuable addition to that supply.
Contents Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
1. Datemi ancor l’eburnea mano ... Dio mi potevi [5:36] Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
Samson et Dalila:
2. Arrêtez, ô mes frères! [6:45] Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948)
3. Colpito qui m’avvete ... Un di all’azzurro spazio [5:01] Fromental HALÉVY (1799 – 1862)
4. Va, prononcer ma mort ... Rachel, quand du Seigneur [8:54] Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
La Fanciulla del West:
5. Una parola sola ... Or son sei mesi [3:31] Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
6. Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater [6:22] Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857 – 1919)
7. Recitar! … Vesti la giubba [3:44] Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Queen of Spades:
8. Chto nasha zhizn? Igra! [3:03] Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)
9. Ah! Tout est bien fini … Ô Souverain, ô Juge, ô Père [5:04] Giacomo PUCCINI
10. Nessun dorma [3:34] Camille SAINT-SAËNS
Samson et Dalila:
11. Vois ma misère, hélas [9:05] Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834 – 1886)
12. Esultiamo nome del Signor [3:39] Vytautas KLOVA (1926 – 2009)
13. Ašpapuošiu žirgo galvą pinavijom [3:50]