Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Roberto Alagna - Viva l'Opera!







All in all, a wonderful experience from a singer at his peak

...I wonder sometimes whether by concentrating too much on the new generation of singers we haven’t lost sight of those who have been plying their artistic trade for a lot longer. I am not talking here about the Domingos, Pavarottis and Carrerases but the excellent crop that blossomed after them. I am talking about the Curas, the Margisons, the Hadleys and the Alagnas. All are excellent in their own way but it wasn’t until I was asked to review this particular double albumPoster for a circa 1896 American production of Georges Bizet's Carmen, starring Rosabel Morrison that I realised what a supreme singer Alagna is. He’s been singing professionally since he won the Pavarotti Philadelphia competition in 1988 and has had his share of publicity not least from being part of the Alagna-Gheorghiu pairing. Then there was the controversy following his recent walk-out while singing in La Scala’s Aida. This album comprises one CD devoted to the French operatic repertoire although track 1 on CD 2 is an elaborate musical rendition of La Marseillaise which in its largesse would have brought a smile to the Andrew Lloyd-Webber production team. My one complaint is that Alagna, in trying to prove his versatility, has tried to sing some arias that are not suited to his voice. Some tenor roles require a certain type of voice. I am thinking here of singers like Fritz Wunderlich, the Peruvian Luigi Alva and even the legendary Tito Schipa. Singers of their ability tend to sing lyrically, with hardly any passion in their voice and with a wonderfully rounded tone. Their voices are admirable in all of Mozart’s roles, all of Rossini’s and some French tenor roles. The Italians call it un filo di voce – a thread of a voice. Amongst his many talents Alagna, alas, does not possess this filo. His voice is suited to more ardent characters. Consequently when he sings Bizet’s ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’ from Carmen and ‘Je crois entendre encore’ from Les Pecheurs de Perles he has to rely on a considerable amount of sotto voce and falsetto. This combination of full voice and head voice doesn’t work satisfactorily. Similarly Alagna uses falsetto in the climax of ‘Un ange une femme inconnue’ from Donizetti’s La Favorite and in ‘E la solita storia del pastore’ from Cilea’s L’Arlesiana. The French arias that do suit Alagna’s voice are ‘Pourquoi me reveiller?’ from Massenet’s Werther and ‘Rachel quand du Seigneur’ from Halévy’s La Juive because they allow the singer to give full rein to the character’s ardour. Paradoxically, Don Jose’s singing in Bizet’s Carmen does start off suitable for a Wunderlich type voice but finishes by being more apt to an Alagna type voice. It’s enough to make you take up schizophrenia! Apart from the few glitches, Alagna’s singing is passionate, endearing, full-voiced and very musical. Plus he is courageous and talented enough to follow Verdi’s markings in the ‘pppp’ ending of the aria ‘Celeste Aida’. There are not many tenors who can do that. I still think del Monaco’s ringing tones sound better in Otello’s dying scene ‘Nium mi tema’ but Alagna’s ardour and vocal acting ability almost win the day. Certainly, his high Cs in ‘La donne e mobile’; ‘Di quella pira’ and ‘Pour mon âme’ are completely secure and show what marvellous technique he has. What I especially enjoyed from this album were the pieces by little known composers and arias from long forgotten operas. Composers like Lalo, Bruneau, Halévy and Alfano and operas like Le Roi d’Ys, L’Attaque du moulin, La Juive and Cyrano de Bergerac. Alfano, incidentally, was the composer who completed Turandot after Puccini died. All in all, a wonderful experience from a singer at his peak.--Randolph Magri-Overend


flac, cover

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