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Piotr Beczała (tenor) Vincerò!
Evgeniya Khomutova (mezzo-soprano)
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana/Marco Boemi
rec. 2019, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, Spain
Sung Italian texts and English translation provided in booklet PENTATONE PTC5186733 SACD [52:56]
Piotr Beczała’s previous album, a collection of songs by Polish composers Moniuszko and Karłowicz, was awarded a prestigious Diapason d’Or. Now with Vincerò!, his debut album for the Pentatone label, the Polish lyric tenor has returned to the world of opera. The album takes its title from the final words sung by Calaf in his famous aria Nessun dorma from Puccini’s Turandot - All'alba vincerò! vincerò, vincerò! (At dawn, I shall win! I shall win! I shall win!)
One of the leading opera singers of his generation, Beczała seems sensibly circumspect when entering into new more adventurous tenor repertoire. I recall in May 2016 at the Semperoper, Dresden, reporting from a revival of Christine Mielitz’s acclaimed production, rather traditional in style, of Wagner’s Lohengrin. Making their Wagner debuts, both Piotr Beczala and Anna Netrebko were triumphant in the principle roles of Lohengrin and Elsa. Deutsche Grammophon subsequently issued a video of the live 2016 Dresden Lohengrin performance on DVD/Blu-ray (review). In 2018 Beczała accepted the accolade of singing Lohengrin in Yuval Sharon’s controversial production at Bayreuth which was also filmed (review).
With Vincerò!, Beczała is again broadening his scope by recording a collection of Italian verismo arias renowned for the depth of emotional conflicts which unfold in them. He has decided to record this heavier, more declamatory repertoire which includes arias from some of the most celebrated heroes on the opera stage, such as Canio, Turiddù, Maurizio, Mario and Calaf. Beczała explains his carefully curated move from verismo to his more traditional lyrical roles as ‘precisely to stretch my voice during the transition to my future repertoire – bigger, darker, and more heroic roles which I haven’t done very much on stage yet.’
Rooted in the Italian post-Romantic opera tradition, verismo sought to portray the ‘realism’ of gritty everyday life scenes, warts and all, as exemplified by Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Verismo integrated the distinctive musical and dramatic components on which it centred. It has become almost customary for star opera singers to record all-verismo collections. In the last decade, notable examples include Renée Fleming/Decca (2009), Jonas Kaufmann/Decca (2010), Anna Netrebko/DG (2016) and Angela Gheorghiu/Warner (2017). Going further back, there have been splendid verismo collections from Franco Corelli/Urania, Mirella Freni/Decca, José Cura/Erato, Luciano Pavarotti/Decca and Roberto Alagna/EMI. In addition, compilation albums of Verismo arias by Maria Callas and Placido Domingo have been issued.
Beczała’s new album comprises of eighteen tenor arias written by five of the most celebrated verismo composers, namely, Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo, Giordano and Puccini, with the latter taking the lion’s share with nine. Vincerò!, like most Verismo collections, is compiled, perhaps understandably, to focus on the best-known repertoire. To provoke additional interest in this type of album, it would have been efficacious to have included two or three rare arias from, for instance, Leoncavallo’s Zazà and La bohème, Mascagni’s Iris and Amica or Giordano’s Siberia and Mala vita.
Beczała delivers his trademark warm, attractive tone which, thankfully, is not given to edgy over-brightness. It comes as no real surprise that, given the weightier nature and dramatic character of these verismo arias, when he pushes hard, one senses some strain in his voice production. There are other tenors who have recorded some of the individual arias here and demonstrate the level of Italianate style that I prefer. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable, well-performed album which shows Beczała tackling new, challenging repertoire head on.
Standing out, is Vesti la giubba (Put on your costume) from Pagliacci, a celebrated aria and one of the most moving in all opera. In this short aria, Canio expresses his vulnerability, pain and distress on discovering his wife’s infidelity while having to prepare for a performance as Pagliacco, the clown. Beczała seems to relish the opportunity of singing this renowned aria, a cornerstone of the verismo repertoire, demonstrating singing of utmost sincerity and suitable finesse. His interpretation does not quite rank alongside Carlo Bergonzi, Giuseppe di Stefano and Luciano Pavarotti, who have all made acclaimed recordings of Vesti la giubba, yet in my opinion no-one generates the intensity of Canio’s torment like José Cura in his 1999 studio recording of the opera.
Noteworthy, too, is the justifiably famous Nessun dorma (No one shall sleep), sung by the resolute hero Calaf, expressing his jubilant assurance that he will marry the princess. Beczała provides stylish, polished singing and beauty of tone, yet without the dramatic impact of several other recordings, notably Franco Corelli, Jussi Björling and Luciano Pavarotti. In truth, nothing shines out as brightly as Pavarotti’s spine-tingling 1972 studio recording that popularised the aria even further when adopted by the BBC as its theme music for the 1990 World Cup.
Under Italian conductor Marco Boemi, the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana plays to a commendable standard producing countless subtleties of colour in the scores. Creditable, too, is the expressive and unified performance of Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana. This Pentatone hybrid SACD was successfully recorded in 2019 at Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia. Auditioned using my standard unit, this disc offers sound quality of clarity and presence, achieving a satisfying balance between tenor and orchestra. Appreciation is owed to the label for providing sung Italian texts and English translations in the booklet and to Kasper van Kooten for his excellent essay, ‘Vocal portrait of a golden age’.
In an album containing numerous heart-breaking arias, Piotr Beczała braves the challenge of the heavier verismo repertoire.
Contents Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
1. Recondita armonia
2. E lucevan le stele Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur (1902):
3. La dolcissima effigie
4. L’anima ho stanca
5. Il russo Mèncikoff** Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria rusticana (1890):
6. Intanto amici... Viva il vino spumeggiante * **
7. Mamma, quel vino è generoso* Giacomo PUCCINI
Manon Lescaut (1893):
8. Donna non vidi mai
9. Tra voi, belle** Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)
Andrea Chénier (1896):
10. Come un bel dì di Maggio
11. Un dì all’azzuro spazio
12. Amor ti vieta Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)
13. Recitar... Vesti la giubba Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La fanciulla del West (1910):
14. Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano
15. Orgia, chimera dall’occhio vitreo
Gianni Schicchi (1918):
16. Avete torto... Firenzo è come un albero fiorito
Madama Butterfly (1904/07):
17. Addio fiorito asil
18. Nessun dorma**
Evgeniya Khomutova (mezzo-soprano)*
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana**