THE ART OF THE BASS • Carlo Colombara (bs); György G. Ráth, cond; Swiss Italian O; Vladimir Ghiaurov, cond;1 Bulgarian Natl SO & Op Ch;1 Fabrizio Milani, cond;2 Prague Tchaikovsky O2 • NAXOS 2.110612 (DVD: 68:28)
TRADITIONAL Flamenco introduction. Read more class="SUPER12">1BIZET Carmen: Toreador Song. BOITO Mefistofele: Ecco il mondo. GOUNOD Faust: Vous faites l’endormie. 2ROSSINI Il Barbiere di Siviglia: La calunnia. VERDI 2Don Carlo: Ella giammai m’amo. 1Simon Boccanegra: Il lacerate spirito. Nabucco: Tu sul labbro. Attila: Mentre gonfiarsi l’anima parea. RACHMANINOFF Aleko: Aleko’s Cavatina. 1MUSSORGSKY Boris Godunov: Farewell of Boris
This rather unusual DVD on the Naxos label features a series of opera aria videos like you might see for rock music on MTV. The arias, featuring Italian basso cantante Carlo Colombara, appear to have been recorded over a span of three years with three different orchestras and conductors and lip-synced on the videos. The productions are all top-notch, with sumptuous period costumes, appropriate and appealing sets, a good chorus, and several dancers and extras who also appear throughout. The music is well sung by Colombara, a seasoned performer now in mid career and known particularly for his Verdi roles. Colombara premiered at the Metropolitan Opera as Ramfis in Aida in 1995 and has subsequently appeared there quite often in that role. This season he has appeared as Zaccaria in the Met production of Nabucco.
Colombara sings an aria from Nabucco here, “Tu sul labbro de’ veggenti” from the second scene of act II, as well as three other Verdi works: Jacopo Fiesco’s aria from the prolog of Simon Boccanegra, King Phillip’s act III aria from Don Carlo, and an aria from the title character in Attila. They are all sung very well indeed and serve to showcase the bass’s Verdian credentials. Opening the video is a nonsinging segment with flamenco dancers performing to a rapid percussion beat and their own rhythmic clapping, but this proves to be a natural and excellent introduction to Colombara’s opening presentation of “Votre toast,” the matador Escamillo’s aria from Carmen, unusual fare for a bass, but richly and excellently sung here. We also get two devils, one from Gounod’s Faust and one from Boito’s Mefistofele, the latter of which includes more fine dancing, a bit of it topless. Colombara also sings Aleko’s Cavatina from the rarely performed one-act Rachmaninoff opera Aleko, the composer’s Russian answer to Italian verismo, as well as another Russian-language aria from Boris Godunov. I can provide no assessment of the singer’s pronunciation. In one oddity Colombara sings “La Calumnia” from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia with his head completely bald and painted white while he is bobbing around in a giant bowl of white and red balls on a red velvet liner, like a giant centerpiece on a table. It seemingly has nothing to do with Rossini’s opera or the meaning of the aria, but is certainly eye-catching.
It all proves to be quite entertaining, both for the rarely collected bass opera repertoire and for the fine performances of Colombara, both musical and dramatic. You might think listening to an hour’s worth of bass arias would prove about as entertaining as a tuba recital, but not so, to my ears at least, and the cleverly staged visual elements add greatly to the total package. Subtitles can be selected in the original language, in English translation, or can be left off entirely. Original texts are also available on the Naxos website. My only quibble is the somewhat miserly 68-minute duration of the DVD, which is capable of holding much more.