The most exciting tenor during the first decade of the new millennium has undoubtedly been Rolando Villazón. He has a charming appearance, is a good actor, has a voice that besides brilliance and beauty can also express all kinds of nuance, he has good taste and a versatility that is stunning. In other words he has all the attributes to make him a star performer. More than once his voice has been compared to that of the young Placido Domingo. In certain repertoire, notably on this set in the two zarzuela arias, the similarities are so close that one has to check who is singing. At the celebrated outdoor concert in Berlin last summer, available on a highly attractive DVD, the two tenors appear together and it is also Domingo whoRead more conducts the zarzuela disc which is the source of the arias on this compilation. Having for some years been under contract with Virgin he has recently moved over to DG. This double CD is a kind of summary or closing of the books for this period of his career.
As can be seen from the track list, we are treated to a large number of the expected standard arias. Few of them have been better sung in recent times. We are also treated to several comparative rarities, which makes this an attractive buy even for those who are already well stocked with the standard stuff. When, for example, did you last hear something from Gounod’s Polyeucte or Massenet’s Le Mage and Roma? The sacred song by Berlioz is also something for the rarity list. Make no mistake: these are high quality pieces that are very likely to become friends to which you will want to return just as often as to the more hackneyed pieces.
On the other hand it is the standard arias that most definitely place Rolando Villazón at the top of the current list of singers. They show clearly not only what a superb singer he is but also that his interpretative insight is hors concours. I used words like taste and versatility at the beginning of the review and would like to add style. There are no excesses: no demonstrative sudden pianissimos or diminuendos of the kind at which Franco Corelli used to excel; there are no eternally-held top notes at window shattering forte in the Pavarotti manner. There are no sobs, no hysterical laughter, no shouts of despair – none of the stuff that was part and parcel of Mario Del Monaco’s ‘style’. Let me just take a few examples that amply demonstrate what I mean:-
• La donna è mobile is light and elegant with refined shadings – this is an aristocrat at work.
• Salut, demeure is stylish and noble. The high C rings out effortlessly and is integrated with the rest of the aria – not an added bon-bon.
• Che gelida manina is conversational and personal and again the high C comes out as just a natural part of the melodic line.
• Mamma, quel vino è generoso from Cavalleria rusticana - this heartrending scene when Turiddu suddenly realizes that his life is shattered and all that remains is death. Too often the aria is distorted and amended by sundry histrionic devices to heighten the intensity. Villazón has despair in his voice and the scene is all the more gripping for that.
• Ah! Lêve-toi from Roméo et Juliette is rendered in a soft and inward way, only to expand gradually to a ringing fortissimo.
• Kleinsach’s aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann becomes a many-faceted portrait of an unhappy person who tries, in vain, to hide the tragedy.
• The final aria from Lucia di Lammermoor where Villazón’s half-voice is so lovely and natural. In this respect he reminds me of Beniamino Gigli – and there is no higher praise. Gigli sentimentalizes with little hiccups and half hidden tears in the voice. Villazon never breaks the musical line; just phrases naturally and the effect is magical.
• The romance from Les Pêcheurs de perles. Here with the preceding recitative included this is impassioned and alive within the restrained dynamic scope.
• He is an ideal Werther. Gedda and Kraus are superb in this role and will never be surpassed but Villazón is certainly in their league. As in every other aria on these two discs he builds this scene so skilfully towards the climax.
I could go on with observations about every single piece but I don’t feel any need. Readers who have followed me this far will know my point of view. Let me only add that his excursion into early baroque is greatly successful. The two Monteverdi pieces feel completely natural and he has the requisite lightness and agility. The juxtaposition of period instruments and a voice honed in music from later periods is not unbecoming.
No criticism at all, then? To be honest – but this is more a personal view than objective truth – Lenski’s aria from Eugene Onegin is slightly over-emphatic, slightly melodramatic. Of course Lenski is extremely emotional here, just minutes before his already anticipated death, but he sings it to himself. Still it is as beautifully sung as almost any other version I know. I also have some misgivings concerning the two Christmas songs on CD 1. Nothing wrong with the singing, quite the contrary, but I find the orchestral arrangements over-done. These are straightforward songs and simplicity should be a key-word – especially when it comes to Stille Nacht which according to legend was first performed as a duet with guitar accompaniment.
I haven’t seen the documentation – the review copies came in simple envelopes with just the titles and who plays what. I hope there is at least some information on the less well-known arias in the collection. Even if there isn’t, these discs should be snapped up by all lovers of great singing. Alternatively, since they are still in the catalogue: get the original discs.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International Read less
Faust: Salut! demeure chaste et pureby Charles Gounod Performer:
Rolando Villazón (Tenor)
Period: Romantic Written: 1859; France Language: French Notes: This selection is preceded by "Quel trouble inconnu".
Werther: Pourquoi me réveiller?by Jules Massenet Performer:
Rolando Villazón (Tenor)
Period: Romantic Written: 1892; France Language: French Notes: This selection is preceded by "Traduire! Ah, bien souvent mon reve s'envole".