Rolando VillazÛn ó Opera Recital

“In music there are no nationalities. In opera, you just go
out there and sing, and music becomes everyone’s home country”
the tenor is supposed to have been saying while recording this album. All
composers on this CD would have had a hearty laugh when hearing this modern
politically correct statement, though it’s possible that some of them
like Verdi, Mascagni, Tchaikovsky and Strauss would have been angry as they
often stressed the importance of national schools and their performance
traditions. All over the Western world, critics and audiences are dead-tired
of that vague international style that is so dear to general managers and
directors as they can easily replace some Chinese soprano by an Argentine
lady without anyone really noticing it. After all that’s why some
American singers, proficient in several languages and musically strong, are
so popular even if their singing talents are somewhat meagre. And singers,
most of whom have to eat and to sleep and to earn the necessary money that
goes with it, comply—even on recordings.

Back in the sixties James McCracken was the first tenor to record a solo
album in three languages. Enter Domingo who added a fourth language on his
first RCA album and, since that time, most singers have slavishly followed
the trend. So does Rolando VillazÛn. Now nobody hearing the tenor would for
one moment believe he comes from the British Isles or is an American of
Anglo-Saxon descent and no known or yet unknown German tenor will ever sing
this way. Even after a few measures of this and any other of his recitals, it
is clear that here is an impassioned tenor with roots in Spain or its former
South-American colonies, as the burnished dark sound of the voice hints more
to those parts of the world than to the clearer sky of Italy.
VillazÛn’s great and deserved success, therefore, derives not from his
international outlook but from his decisively old-fashioned style of singing
that throws us back to the good old days of Lazaro, Cortis or Granda. So it
is no coincidence that his German arias are the least successful and he would
have been better advised to sing “M’appari instead of Ach so fromm”
(like Vickers used to do on his solo album, though his German pronunciation
was far better than VillazÛn’s). Now I won’t grumble too much as
it is still a treat nowadays to hear a top tenor sing the old war horse. But
he remains somewhat mealy mouthed as well in the same composer’s
Stradella though he shows some fine diminuendi. Compare his version
with that of Joseph Schmidt and you immediately hear the difference when the
aria is sung with as good a legato by a tenor steeped in the language and the
performance tradition.

VillazÛn is better in the French repertoire though there too there are
patches like in the Kleinzack aria where he is only mouthing words without a
real understanding. I know he has already sung the complete role but I fear
it is not yet completely under his belt. And he can sing in French. Several
times I watched his Antibes recital of two years ago (with underrecorded
Albanian soprano Inva Mula), which he had carefully prepared and where the
pronunciation and, therefore, the musical phrasing deriving from the feeling
for the words and the situations they tell, was almost perfect. In this his
Carmen aria is far better. But as a Latin tenor, he most comes into
his own in the Italian repertoire. There is some small chink in the armour
too. His passion is more than overwhelming in Ernesto’s serenade and
his forceful top note makes the song sound more like Manrico’s call to
arms behind the scenes than the lovelorn yearning of a young bourgeois.

In the verismo repertoire, VillazÛn is of course at his best. His
delivery, the emotional quivering of the voice he often uses, reminds us of
the best pre-world-war tenors like Merli or Pertile. Contrary to these
gentlemen he has a good fine piano which he has lately refined very much and
which he uses in some excellent phrasing all over this recital like the
recitative of the Ballo aria or the PÍcheurs aria, which
few tenors with such a dark voice have sung better. But old-fashioned he
remains in some of his choices and don’t expect him to sing the high B
of Carmen or the “Tosca, sei tu” from “Recondita
armonia” in pianissimo. There the voice rings out strongly and one
wonders if he doesn’t put too much pressure on the vocal cords to
strive for an effect so that he is in danger of damaging the instrument. At
his dÈbut in De Munt he clearly oversang so much that at the end of
BohËme he lost his voice for a few moments and he was only saved by
Tony Pappano who immediately slowed the orchestra down so that he could
regain his breath and voice. VillazÛn is at his best too in the Lensky aria
(though I cannot judge his Russian) where he uses the whole rich spectrum of
shade and passion in his voice to draw the despair of this young man. There
he is in the tradition of some very Italian or Italianate tenors who
wouldn’t go near German roles but were remarkable in this opera (e.g.
Tucker and Di Stefano). There is only one rarity on this recital: the
alternative aria for Ernani, recorded 26 years ago by Pavarotti but
given here in its entirety with chorus and cabaletta.

This is one of the fine qualities of this record. All choruses or small
comprimario bits are nicely filled in and Michel Plasson, a good and even
underrated conductor, gives his tenor all necessary leeway where he wants it
but never lets VillazÛn slacken the tempi to make an effect. I know some of
this review sounds a little like carping but the length and detail only prove
that I care very much for a tenor who after so many years of waiting is at
least once again a reminder of the new golden age of singing we knew between
1945 and 1975. for the moment though 3 operatic recitals in a few years time
will do and I hope he can convince his recording company to do a zarzuela
recital. He has already sung a few items in concert and he is simply fabulous
in it, combining Domingo’s rich middle voice with young Alfredo
Kraus’ elegance.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Rolando VillazÛn – Opera Recital
product_title=Rolando VillazÛn ó Opera Recital
product_by=Rolando VillazÛn tenor with Theresa Blank contralto, Florian Laconi tenor, Bayerischer Rundfunkchor, M¸nchner Rundfunkorchester, Michel Plasson (cond.)
product_id=Virgin Classics 3447012 [CD]