Alex Esposito is a young (born 1975) Italian bass-baritone who has made a name for himself singing bel canto repertoire, mixing Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti, (including being the first native Italian to sing Papageno in German at La Scala). In the near future he will be making his debut as the four villains in Le Contes d'Hoffmann in Oslo, and as Nick Shadow in The Rakes Progress. Last night (5 February 2013) he made is debut at Rosenblatt Recitals at Wigmore Hall, accompanied by Giulio Zappa, in a programme which included arias by Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Mozart, plus music by Cesti, Carissimi, Beethoven and Tosti.
In traditional style, Esposito started with a pair of arie antiche, Intorno all'idol mio from Marco Antonio Cesti's Orontea and Giacomo Carissimi's cantata Vittoria, mio core!. Cesti (1623 - 1669) was one of the most important opera composers of his generation and his best known operas include not only Orontea (1656) but Il Pomo d'Oro (1668). Singing the aria from Orontea Esposito displayed a lovely line, with a dark rounded voice, smoothly produced and perhaps placed quite far back. He rather favoured the line, over the words, preserving the legato. The performance might not have been very historically informed, but it was certainly lovely.
Carissimi (1606 - 1674) is best known for his oratorio Jephte. Vittoria, mio core! is a secular cantata, quite simple in form, with repeats of the verse so that the word Vittoria is sung fourteen times. It is quite a bravura piece. Esposito's passage work was perhaps a trifle heavy, but extremely impressive nonetheless.
Next came Beethoven's song L'Amante impaziente setting a text by Metastasio. Esposito's performance here felt a little book bound, but he displayed his lovely dark voice in charming manner.
Mozart's Per questa bella mano is a concert aria written for Franz Gerl, the first Sarastro; the aria has a contrabass obligato which was played at the first performance by Friedrich Pichelberger, the principal bass player in the Theater auf der Wieden where Die Zauberflote would be premiered. The aria was premiered in 1791 just before Mozart started work on the opera. We had to do without the obligato contrabass, which was a shame and I am now curious to hear a performance of the aria complete with it.
As might be expected, Mozart uses the aria to show off the singers low notes, something Esposito did admirably. For the rest, he displayed a beautiful sense of shape and phrasing, really filling the phrases out with his rich toned voice. He gave hints that made you wonder whether one day this Papageno might develop into a Sarastro.
He followed this with another Mozart aria, Madamina il catalogo e questo, Leporello's act 1 aria from Don Giovanni, a role which is one of Esposito's calling cards. There was no question here of the singer being book-bound, he gave a vividly projected dramatic performance. His Leporello was quite dark and serious, intense rather than fun-loving which suits Esposito's voice. He projected the text quite brilliantly and conveyed it very well, shaping phrases and pointing the text in a fine manner.
Finally we had Pharaoh's act 1 aria from Rossini's Mose in Egitto, a role which Esposito had some success in at Bologna in Graham Vick's production., Again he barely looked at his music, drawing us in with a highly vivid performance. Esposito's voice might be dark and quite substantial, but he can move it with alacrity and all the fiddly passagework was executed brilliantly. In the second part of the aria, where Pharaoh works himself up (albeit in fine Rossinian style), Esposito showed his talent for using the music to create character and not just singing the tricky notes.
Part two opened with a different type of bel canto demonstration, Vi ravviso, o luodhi ameni from Bellini's La sonnambula, Count Rodolfo's aria from act 1. Here Esposito displayed Bellini's long lines, well filled out and shaped, creating just the right sort of atmosphere as the count remembers times past.
A group of songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846 - 1916) came next. Whilst Tosti's songs might veer close to the Victorian and Edwardian parlour ballad, in fact to be performed well they need a strong bel canto technique, sing with a good firm line whilst inflecting the poetry. This Esposito did, very finely, giving simple but beautiful performances of Malia, Non t'amo piu and L'utima canzone. In the touchingly wistful Non t'amo piu he combined beauty of tone with a good sense of narrative.
Finally a vividly vengeful aria by Donizetti, Alfonso's aria Vieni, la mia vendetta from act 1 of Lucrezia Borgia. Vividly expressive, with a fine sense of line, Esposito showed power as well but never blustered and fined the voice down sensitively when required, creating a nice feel of light and shade.
In all the items, Esposito was well supported by Giulio Zappa, who had the unenviable task of trying to make a series of piano reductions sound like music; which he did quite brilliantly.
The recital was warmly received by the audience and we were rewarded with a vivid Non piu andrai (from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro) and a final aria which was a big dramatic scena by (I think) Rossini, but which I entirely failed to recognise. (In fact it was 'Accusata di furto.....Ah, lungi il timore!" from Rossini's "La Gazza Ladra')
Esposito is clearly a talent to watch and in his recital displayed a fine technique combined with a wide range of roles and a vivid stage manner. I do hope to catch him on stage in London soon.
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