Friday, April 8, 2011

Juan Diego Florez - Arias for Rubini







The title of this CD is somewhat of a misnomer; except for the selection from Marino Faliero, the arias here were not composed specifically for Giovanni Battista Rubini. He did, however, appear in most of the operas, albeit in revivals years after their premieres. (There are doubts as to whether he ever sang the aria composed for Il Turco in Italia.) The point is that Rubini (1794-1854) had a voice that, judging from the scores composed for him and/or the roles he sang, was warm and expressive, of a good size, with an ease in coloratura, and an upper extension to a staggering high-F above high-C. Precisely how he reached these stratospheric tones is still open to debate--they apparently were neither in full chest voice nor weak falsetto. His dramatic intensity made audiences swoon; to be sure, he changed the way audiences looked at tenors.

Giovanni Battista Rubini I'm not certain if people are swooning over Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, but he sings these arias with an ease, grace, and charm that may have been similar to Rubini's, even if he takes even the highest notes in full voice and not in what is known as a voix-mixte, a sort of reinforced falsetto that may have been what Rubini used.

Rubini was Bellini's favorite tenor (both Sonnambula and Puritani were written for him), and indeed, the two Bellini selections recorded here are the jewels in this recital's crown. Gualtiero in Il Pirata is a hero in love; his bold tone and exclamatory style are nicely contrasted with his gentle cantilena. The aria's opening pages have a Spanish/Mediterranean flavor and Florez catches the manner precisely. Later in the recital, he sings an aria from the composer's early Bianca e Fernando, with long lines, a lovely wedding of words and music, and some elegantly florid passages. Florez reaches a high E-flat at one point, and it's quite a feat, with just a bit of stiffness in the notes leading up to it.

Arnoldo's lengthy scene from William Tell (it is sung in Italian) is a great tour de force. It first expresses longing and then turns into a vengeful call to arms, with high-Cs flying left and right. Roberto Abbado's leadership in this scene is particularly heart-stopping, and his chorus and orchestra out-do themselves. A never-before-recorded aria from an 1825 revival of Rossini's La donna del lago is a dazzler (it's a reworking of a piece from his 1819 masterpiece, Ermione), filled with difficult runs and frills, and the Il turco in Italia aria has some fine reflective moments before the fun begins, with high-Ds popping out all over the place. The Marino Faliero piece is a downhearted affair, and Florez sings it movingly, the high notes as expressive as they are impressive, and Norfolk's long scene from Elisabetta catches just the right villainous, manipulative tone.

There are some people who find this type of music tiresome--there are so many notes and it's so showy that it can exhaust the listener. Furthermore, after listening to more than 70 minutes of singing, the wonderful brightness to Florez's tone can be a bit much, but that also was true about recitals by the young Pavarotti. Take a break every 20 minutes and you'll return refreshed enough to revel in Florez's golden tone, intelligent use of text, and impeccable enunciation, phrasing, and musicianship. You won't be disappointed by this recital, and although he sounds nothing like Pavarotti, you'll get a similar sense of sheer love of singing and desire to communicate. As suggested above, Abbado's leadership is right on the money. Bravi!--Robert Levine



flac, covers

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