Michael Spyres — A Fool for Love

As he launched into the first cut, “Ah! mes amis” (Daughter
of the Regiment
) I found his sweet tone reminiscent of Javier Camarena,
the poised musical line similar to Lawrence Brownlee’s, and the panache
comparable to Juan Diego Florez. Not a bad triple threat combination there! And
a very ballsy selection to start with since bel canto poster boy JDF not only
had a very recent blockbuster success with Daughter in every major
house and on DVD, but we also still have over-sized memories of the legendary
Pav in the part.

Spyres seems to have a bit more heft going on than his immediate
contemporaries, and while he squarely nails the requisite high C’s he
doesn’t quite manage the varied colors and sassy ‘tude at the top that
others bring to the part. Still, while his core voice may not exactly
‘live’ up there, he zings out the money notes with accuracy and skill. As
he progresses directly to “Here I stand” (The Rake’s
), we immediately hear a more weighted quality, slightly rounder,
discernibly fuller. If richness at the very top eludes him by a hair, he makes
as much musical sense of the piece as anyone I have heard, keeping the angular
dips and leaps admriably connected and focussed. The penultimate held note
(“Ride”) is thrilling, gleaming, substantial. Moreover, Mr. Spyres has
impeccable diction, and a dash of wit as he speaks “I wish I had money” as
the tag.

As the tenor then segues into “Cessa di piu resistere” (The Barber
of Seville
), I am beginning to get the idea that he is looking to show his
full aresenal, with sharp contrasts between the selections. Here, Michael
utilizes a light-voiced approach for the most part, and scales back
considerably to negotiate the fiendishly tricky, awkward, melismatic writing.
His take-no-prisoners approach to Rossini and Donizetti, while commendable,
makes him pull back on the very top notes, keeping everything very focused so
that color and variety are somewhat slighted. In the stretto section where
things get rhytmically heated, some of the fireworks are fudged ever so
slightly. Spyres did astonish with a few very solid descents to the depths of
his range and he has an unusually responsive lower middle.

The pendulum swings back to more full-bodied singing with “Una
furtive lagrima” (L’elisir d’amore), in which he once again
rounds the tone, lets it turn over, and brings it more into the speaking mask.
He makes this aria anything but an old chestnut, lavishing it with creamy lines
in which everything is solidly hooked up. This was excpetional vocalism,
incorporating a masterful melding of the registers. For the first time, the
voice seemed to have significant presence and power, so it made me curious just
how much size he can convey in the house. With “Il Mio Tesoro”
(Don Giovanni), Mr. Spyres seems to be affecting a “Mozart” style
which came off a little bloodless compared to his other, more theatrically
realized set pieces. There was absoltuely nothing wrong with it but he seemed a
bit removed for the first time, when lo, he rallied for a solidly realized
finish. I wish he could inform the first nine tenths of that piece with his
final personalized commitment.

As for “Je crois entendre encore” (The Pearl Fishers)
and “Pourquoi me reveiller” (Werther), based on this
recorded evidence, Michale Spyres seems born to sing these French roles. He
commands a well-controlled ‘messa di voce’ and an understanding of ‘voix
mixte’ that are suavely deployed and exceptionally pleasing. In both, Spyres
keeps the forward motion going with intensity and introspection. In the
Werther he starts off with a slightly darkened tone and sober coloring
that serve him quite well. By now I am seriously beginning to think his strong
suit is not the florid singing (which seems more a party piece, just cuz he can
do it). Both French pieces draw forth all his best instincts and elicit his
most sonorous vocal approach. It would be a real pleasures to hear him in
either of these roles.

Speaking of party pieces, I am not sure I have ever encountered the Italian
Tenor’s solo from Der Rosenkavalier (“Di rigori armato il
seno”) on a recital disc although plenty of star tenors have taken
their turn at it on stage (fond memories here of Pavarotti at the Met during
the “Luciano” season). Mr. Spyres sings it with a surging sense of line and
an easy squillo that could be a preview of his own star turn in this role some
day. I wondered what anyone could bring to “Che gelida manina”
(La Boheme) that was fresh? How about simply an absolutely fresh new voice
that is possessed of a solid technique. He convinces me even more with this
aria that such roles are his eventual forte. He knows what he is singing and
conveys it with directness, not as easy as it sounds. Michael unearths absolute
truthfulness in the uncomplicated poet’s exposition.

Inviting another comparison with Florez, “La Donna e
mobile” (Rigoletto) is a piece that JDF does most usually only in
recital and it does push the brilliant Peruvian’s outer limits. But no such
limitation exists for Spyres who delivers all the goods with bravado. Many a
lyric tenor has come to grief over Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor) in
general and “Fra poco a me ricovero” in particular. Spyres suggests a
decent amount of gravitas and summons up a burnished tone for the long recit
intro, then he doles out good but rather generic vocal lines in the
wide-ranging aria. I wonder if he might discover the same wonderful variety
that he brought to the recit and carry it forward into the aria?

“Kuda, kuda” (Lenksy’s aria, Eugene Onegin) is similarly
characterized by a gorgeous tone but seems to lack a specifitiy evident
elsewhere. He may speak Russian like a native for all I know but he finds less
individualized drama in the text on this piece, which is well coached but not
just yet his own. (When it is vocalized this well, and is so well-intended, am
I just carping?) The reliable Moscow Chamber Orchestra really shines here under
Constantine Orbelian’s efficient and supportive baton. The final selection
“E la solita storia” (L’Arlesiana – Cilea) also really showcases
Spyres interpretive gifts. The haunting, well-calculated musical build wedded
to a splendid display of well accented parlando segued easily into beautiful
arching lines.

This young tenor really knows where the music and the story are going, with
each tale having a beginning, middle and end. He appears to be a conscientious
and intelligent interpreter, coloring and tailoring his instrument and
technique to make each genre as stylistically pure as possible. While he does
tend to slightly cover or brighten top notes as needed for the varying demands,
his is a reliable, freely-produced, imminently enjoyable timbre.

As for the structuring of the program, in the liner notes Michael makes a
case for the sequence of the arias, selected to document a man’s life journey
from first love to love lost. I do appreciate the thought that went into the
content and the ordering of the pieces, but this is not after all
Frauenliebe und -leben which is composed specifically with such a
journey in mind. Rather it is more jukebox concertizing no better or worse than
the shoe-horned songs of Mamma Mia! and the like. There is such a
change in demeanor, such a departure of styles from one selection to the next
that it just doesn’t communicate that this is one man on one journey.
Admiring the scholarship, I demur that it does not play out to its intended
effect. And really, with such diverse and wondrously effective singing on
display, who cares?

As if a “Bonus” were needed, an encore of Dein ist mein ganzes
caps the disc, complete with dreamy, oozing, honeyed lines that drip
Viennese enchantment, and featuring the very best climactic top notes of the
compilation, ringing, forward and free.

Michael Spyres is on the fast track to being ‘the’ versatile, in-demand,
go-to tenor in several different fachs. He promises much and, as evidenced by
this debut solo effort, is already delivering handsomely on that potential.

James Sohre

image_description=A Fool for Love
product_title=A Fool for Love
product_by=Michael Spyres, tenor. Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Conductor: Constantine Orbelian.
product_id=Delos DE 3414 [CD]