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Roberto Alagna - Bel Canto
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Poliuto: Veleno è l’aura ch’io respire! … Sfolforò divino raggio (Scena ed aria – Atto II)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
La sonnambula: Prendi, l’anel ti dono (Duetto – Atto I)*
La Favorite: Un ange, une femme inconnue (Cavatine – Acte I); La maîtresse du roi? … Ange si pur (Récitatif et romance – Acte IV; Don Pasquale: Sogno soave e casto
Vincenzo BELLINI
Norma: Meco all’altar di Venere … Me protegge, me difende (Cavatina e cabaletta – Atto I)
Roberto Devereux: Ed ancor la tremenda porta … A te dirò negli ultimi (Scena ed aria – Atto III); Dom Sébastien: Seul sur la terre (Cavatine – Acte II)
Vincenzo BELLINI
I puritani: A te, o cara (Parte I)*
L’elisir d’amore: Quanto è bella (Cavatina – Atto I); Una furtive lagrima (Romanza – Atto II)
Vincenzo BELLINI
Il pirata: Ascolta. Nel furor delle tempeste (Cavatina – Atto I)
La Fille du régiment: Pour me rapprocher de Marie (Romance – Acte II); Ah, mes amis … Messieurs son père … Pour mon âme (Cavatine – Acte I)
Roberto Alagna (tenor), Angela Gheorghiu (soprano)*
London Voices, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Evelino Pidò
rec. September-October 1999, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London; May 2001, Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6273 [67:13]

As John Steane points out in his short booklet notes, Roberto Alagna has been mainly associated with Italian and French operas from the later part of the romantic era (see review). When he moves a half century backwards in time he turns out to be almost as well suited to this “lighter” repertoire. I put quotation marks around “lighter” since it is neither more lightweight nor more easily executed than Verdi and Puccini; quite the contrary since it requires even greater technical accomplishment, more light and shade, more flexibility. Moreover there are also a couple of quite heavy arias here, often sung by dramatic tenors in the Otello class. The recital starts with a scene from Poliuto, a role in which Francesco Tamagno, the first Otello, also excelled. Alagna copes well enough with the dramatic recitative and the aria proper but he has to push his voice to achieve the wanted effect. Maybe today, five or seven years later, his voice has grown into this part more naturally. The scene from Norma is also impressive, lacking a little in poetry.
The rest of the recital is what could be labelled ‘Pavarotti repertoire’, at least the repertoire through which the great Luciano first became known. It has to be said at once that among latter-day tenors Alagna is the one who comes closest to challenging Pavarotti. He has a glorious voice which he uses with the utmost sensitivity. He can sing the most exquisite pianissimos imaginable and he is an intelligent interpreter. He also has those important top notes, high Cs and even C sharps, that ring out fearlessly even though he can’t quite compete with Pavarotti’s ease of production. The last track of the disc, the cavatina from La Fille du régiment with those nine high Cs, reveals the difference – but only when making a side-by-side comparison. Heard on his own, Alagna is in the top flight. And listening through the whole well filled recital one can’t help admiring the care and insight with which he tackles these taxing arias. Possibly the best number is the duet from La sonnambula, which is sung so beautifully and with such loving tone. Here he is partnered by his wife, Angela Gheorghiu, who also sings like a goddess. A te, o cara from I puritani is another highlight and the arias from La Favorita are also sensitively sung.
Having known many of these arias for decades in both historical and modern recordings I naturally have ideas about how they should ideally be sung, and when it comes to comparisons, Alagna sometimes comes only second best, if only by a hair-breadth. One instance is Ernesto’s Sogno soave e casto from Don Pasquale, which seldom has been sung with such care. Cesare Valletti on the old Cetra recording from 1950, with a smaller and lighter voice, caresses the phrases even more magically. He is of course let down by the primitive sound and an orchestra that can’t challenge the LPO, who play wonderfully for Evelino Pidò. The choice of programme is interesting with old warhorses rubbing shoulders with relative rarities like Roberto Devereux, Il pirata and Dom Sébastien, even though the aria from the last-mentioned has been performed and recorded by some of the greats, mostly sung in Italian as Deserto in terra. Caruso recorded it in 1908 and it says much for Alagna’s capacity that he need not feel ashamed to be compared to the great Enrico. What I miss every now and then is a bit more poetry but as a whole this is tenor singing on a very high level.
Great care has been taken to present the material as authentically as possible: French arias are sung in French and of course Alagna’s French is spotless, London Voices are called upon to provide chorus backgrounds and several comprimario singers are employed, for example in the Puritani excerpt, which actually is a quartet. As for the ordering of the programme I am unable to find anything logical about it, no chronology, no thematic grouping, nothing. Maybe the producer just pressed the random button and voilà!  Besides John Steane’s notes on bel canto in general, Roberto Alagna provides some personal comments on each of the arias. John Steane again gives even more background material to the music and there are full texts and translations – all of it printed in black on white, as should always be the case.
This is a distinguished issue and can be warmly recommended.
Göran Forsling


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