Wednesday 12 December 2012

CD Review - Villazon Verdi

On this ambitious new disc from Rolando Villazon, the tenor traverses 10 of Verdi's operas from the earliest, Oberto, to the last, Falstaff, taking in some well known arias but also some lesser known ones. Supported by Gianandrea Noseda and the Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino it is an ambitious undertaking, because few tenor voices can do justice to every tenor role that Verdi wrote. Whilst Villazon does not include Otello, he does include both lyric roles and the more dramatic title role in Don Carlo.

Starting at the very beginning we get the act 2 scena and romanza from Oberto. Here Villazon displays some lovely shading of the top notes and fabulous long line. The voice does not have quite the lovely burnished quality it had when he was younger, but it has a firmness and vibrancy which he uses with great intelligence. Another rarity follows, the act 1, scena and cavatina from I due Foscari. Here we do start to become aware that the voice has quite a wiry strength with a narrow focus. Highly expressive, he encompasses both the long-breathed melody and the later rather martial section.

Next come a pair of Verdi's songs, Brindisi, and L'Esule; the first giving hints at operatic Brindsi and the latter wandering in a slightly curious manner. Both are well done, but I'd rather have had some other arias from the early operas. Though for some people the long, and relatively rare, L'Esule will be well worth the price of the disc.

The cavatina from I Lombardi alla prima crociata is rather short. It goes with a brilliant swing, rather brindisi-like. But if you look at the opera itself, the cavatina is followed, as was the custom, by a caballetta O madre mia and it seems a shame that this was not included.

We get more hints of well known operas, notably Il Traviata, in the song In solitaria stanza. Then follows the final lesser known aria, the act 3 scena from Il Corsaro a very moving and finely sung account of the aria, with a lovely cello solo and some fine accompaniment from the orchestra.

The two arias from Rigoletto have quite a dark, serious edge to them. Villazon's Duke isn't quite as carefree as some which adds an interesting layer to the music. Unfortunately his voice does not quite move as freely as it once did, the passagework sounds a little strenuous. But in other passages he lightens his voice beautifully, introducing lovely shading and the top notes are admirably ringing.

The same comments apply to the two arias from La Traviata. The recitative at the opening of the act 2 is beautifully done but in the cabaletta you notice that the voice is not as mobile as it could be.  And for some reason that dialogue between the arias has not been recorded, which seems a little odd so that the cabaletta comes out of nothing.

Moving to Un ballo in maschera we are turning to roles which seem to suit Villazon's voice more naturally. Its strength coming into its own here with the long-breathed nature of the melody. Here, and in the following scene from Don Carlo, you are simply aware of the extremely fine performance with no management of the voice. These arias are the ones which fit the voice like a glove.

The Ingemisco from the Requiem is equally fine, and the set concludes with a highly successful account of Fenton's sonnet from act 3.

That Villazon cannot coast along on the back of an effortlessly glorious voice is perhaps an advantage. What comes over in all these arias, whatever the occasional technical limitations, is the intelligence at work. (Though his tendency to aspirate runs is, however, a little unnerving and there are a couple of moments which sound alarmingly akin to yodelling). Each aria is a  distinct dramatic entity, you don't just get Villazon singing the same thing 15 times. That said, he is capable of some highly beautiful singing and lovely tone, when needed. But he will also darken and thicken the tone for dramatic purposes as well.

Vincente Ombuena provides support in the scene from I due Foscari and Mojca Erdmann doubles as Oscar and Nanetta.

The disc includes full texts and translations, copious pictures of Villazon plus a short introductory article from Villazon and one from Roger Pines on the tenor voice in Verdi. There is no further background or synopses so for the lesser known pieces you have to do some digging elsewhere.

The Teatro Regio Torino orchestra are on fine form under Gianandrea Noseda's direction, and provide some really fine playing. At 56 minutes long, the disc is slightly short and in one or two places I felt that the aria would have benefited from a little more dramatic context or even the complete scene. Villazon is a great vocal actor and when given the chance provides gripping vocal theatre. 2013 will inevitably disgorge more discs in celebration of the centenary, but it will be interesting to see whether any other tenor quite manages to do justice to the variety and complexity of Verdi's writing for the tenor voice.

There is an introductory video to the CD on the Amazon website

Rolando Villazon will be appearing in Covent Garden's classic production of La Boheme from 17 December conducted by Mark Elder, further details from the Covent Garden website.

Giuseppe Verdi - a musical journey
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - Chiel pietoso (Oberto) [4.09]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - Scena and cavatina: Odio solo (I due Foscari) [7.39]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - Brindisi [2.05]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - L'Esule [8.14]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - La mia letizia infondere(I Lombardi) [1.58[
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - In solitaria stanza [3.51]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) -  Eccomi prigionero (Il Corsaro) [3.43]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - Questa o quella (Rigoletto) [1.55]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - La donna e mobile (Rigoletto) [2.07]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - De miei bollenti spirit (La Traviata) [3.36]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - O mio rimorso (La Traviata) [1.55]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - La rivedra nell'estasi (Un Ballo in Maschera) [3.24]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - Fontainebleau foresta immensa e solitaria (Don Carlo) [4.13]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - Ingemisco (Requiem) [3.38]
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901) - Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola (Falstaff) [4.01]

Rolando Villazon (tenor)
Mojca Erdmann (soprano)
Vicente Ombuena (tenor)
Coro Teatro Regio Torino
Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino
Gianandrea Noseda (conductor)
Recorded Turin, Auditorium della RAI, September 2012
DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHON 477 9460 1CD [53.36]

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