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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Amici e Rivali
Lawrence Brownlee (tenor), Michael Spyres (tenor), Tara Erraught (mezzo-soprano), Xabier Anduaga (tenor)
I Virtuosi Italiani/Corrado Rovaris
rec. 2019, Teatro Ristori, Verona, Italy
ERATO 9029526947 [79:02]

It is a golden age for lyric tenors and two of the finest are Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres. Their new recording for Warner Classics and Erato, Amici e Rivali, finds them in excellent form as they face off as friends and rivals in the music of Rossini. For those who just want to bask in the splendor of their singing, little introduction is necessary. If, however, your curiosity extends beyond the aural delights, some insight into the evolution of the tenor voice in the early nineteenth century comes in handy, as well as a spreadsheet.

Few, if any, composers exploited the ranges, color and flexibility of the tenor voice more than Rossini did in the 39 operas that he wrote in a career of less than 20 years, but it was an evolutionary process. When he arrived on the scene as an aspiring young opera composer, the use of castrati to portray young lovers and heroes in opera seria, was passing, although it was still the ideal for him and many others. (The last castrato role in opera was Armando in Meyerbeer’s Il crociato in Egitto which premiered in 1824.) The trend was to substitute women, especially contraltos, in pants roles as the more dashing male leads, leaving tenors to sing the roles of fathers or rivals.

Rossini followed suit at first, eschewing men as the romantic, heroic types in his operas and creating tenor roles that called for a baritone-like quality. Gradually, however, he began to write for an emerging voice type, the tenor contralino, which although comparable in range to the baritenor, sang in a higher tessitura and was required to be more brilliant and agile. The tenor contralino quickly became the romantic or heroic lead in Italian opera, gaining vocal heft and color as the era of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti subsided and Verdi emerged on the scene.

Necessity was the mother of invention for Rossini, as he tailored his roles for the singers that were on hand. His operas, especially those composed for Naples, would feature tenors of both types who populate his operas; Armida notably has six tenor roles, although double casting required that only half that many had to be hired, one of whom did double duty as a bass. Three Italian tenors typified the different types of Rossini tenors: Giovanni Davide, Manuel García and Andrea Nozzari.

Garcia typified the baritenor, who although he straddled the baritone and tenor ranges favored the higher fach. Rossini referred to Davide as ‘tenorino’ and exploited both his wide range and brilliant top, while Nozzari was the prototypical baritenor due to his ability to invest the lowest notes of his range with a dark, dramatic color without sacrificing his top notes. This is where the spreadsheet comes into play.

If you chart who sings what in the various roles, duets and ensembles on this recording, Spyres, with his somewhat darker timbre and marginally more dramatic heft to his voice, is the baritenor, while Brownlee, who has achieved international renown for the brilliance and flexibility of his lyric tenor, is the heir to Davide. Before the two tenors duel vocally in scenes from Rossini rarities, such as Riccardo e Zoraide and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, however, they engage in light-hearted banter in ‘All’idea di quel metallo’ from Il barbiere di Siviglia, with Spyres going full baritone as Figaro.

The ensembles where they join forces with mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and the rising young Spanish tenor Xabier Anduaga, however, are the dramatic meat of the recording. In the Act 2 terzetto, ‘Qual pena in me già’, from La donna del lago, Brownlee, Erraught and Spyres dazzle with rapid fire coloratura and blazing high notes, a feat repeated when the three tenors join forces for an exhilarating romp through the Act 3 terzetto from Armida, ‘Inquale aspetto imbelle’.

Some of the most beautiful singing to be heard on the recording is in French, however, rather than Italian. Le siège de Corinthe was the first of four operas that Rossini wrote to French librettos. At its 1826 premiere in Paris, the lead tenor roles were sung by Louis Nourrit and his son Adolphe, one of the most acclaimed singers of the time, who defied his father by studying with Manuel Garcia. With Spyres as Cléomène, the role created by the elder Nourrit, Erraught as his daughter Palmira, and Brownlee as Néoclès, the man she will marry, the vocal pyrotechnical displays yield to sublime legato singing as they call upon divine providence to protect them.

Corrado Rovaris elicits transparent, scintillating playing from I Virtuosi Italiani. He is particularly adept at instilling dramatic urgency into Rossini’s music regardless of the mood or tempi, Although Rovaris is more than willing to indulge the singers in this bravura music, which seems to demand excess, he ensures that each aria or ensemble is an integrated musical whole.

Amici e Rivali fuels dreams of Brownlee and Spyres performing these roles together on stage. The sheer beauty and excitement of these top notch performances, however, will delight anyone who just wants to find an escape from the cares of the day and luxuriate in the vocal alchemy that only Rossini could create.

Rick Perdian

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Act 1: All’idea di quel metallo [8:42]
Riccardo e Zoraide, Act 1: S’ Ella mi èognor fedele … Qual sara maila gioia [7:03]
Riccardo e Zoraide, Act 2: Donala a questocore … Teco or sarà [9:25]
La donna del lago, Act 2: Nume! Se a’mei sospiri [4:10]
La donna del lago, Act 2: Qual pena in me già [1:45]
Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, Act 2: Deh! Scusa i trasporti [4:20]
Otello, Act 2: Non m'inganno: al mio rivale [7:02]
Otello, Act 2: Ah! vieni, nel tuo sangue vendicherò le offese … Che fiero punto e questo [11:37]
Le siège de Corinthe, Act 3: Grand Dieu, faut-il qu'un peuple [4:49]
Le siège de Corinthe, Act 3: Cher Cléomène … Céleste providence [11:09]
Armida, Act 3: Inquale aspetto imbelle [8:57]

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