Amore e Tormento

Kraus was perhaps the last of the truly
great tenors to enjoy a tremendous career in a repertory that was by the
standards of most of his contemporaries quite small: Kraus’s understanding of
the capabilities of his own voice was legendary, and he maintained the fluidity
of his upper register and the agility of his voice to the end of his career by
only singing rÙles that were within his technical comfort zone.† In this age
in which operatic productions are conceived along cinematic lines, when the
attractiveness of faces and figures sometimes take precedence over the quality
of voices and techniques, versatility is perhaps the primary requirement for
making a significant career in the world’s major opera houses.† Too many of
today’s promising young singers are squandering their natural gifts in
pursuit of the sorts of fame and celebrity that are, except in the rarest of
instances, elusive to opera singers, stretching their voices to fit whichever
rÙles they are told that they need to sing in order to achieve a
well-publicized television appearance, a cover story, or that next high-profile
engagement.† Among all of this arrogance and cut-throat competiveness, it is
gratifying to encounter a young tenor whose versatility is genuine, a product
of artistic curiosity and exploration of the capabilities of his voice rather
than an exercise in commercialism.† The singing of Massimo Giordano recalls
the open-throated, heart-on-the-sleeve style of previous generations, and his
artistic versatility—a choice informed by his adherence to his own artistic
standards rather than an act of necessity—is a refreshing recollection of
great singers of the past who expanded the boundaries of their artistries
without overextending their vocal endowments.† Amore e Tormento, Mr.
Giordano’s dÈbut recital disc, alluring explores nearly seven decades of
Italian tenor repertory, ranging from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra to
Puccini’s Turandot.† It is not uncommon for a modern tenor’s
active repertory to include both Gabriele Adorno and Cal‡f, along with many of
the rÙles that were created between them, but it is rare for performances of
the arias from many of these parts to be sung as beautifully as Mr. Giordano
sings them on this disc.

Born in Pompei, Mr. Giordano has already lent his talents to performances in
many of the world’s major opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera,
where he dÈbuted as des Grieux opposite RenÈe Fleming in Massenet’s
Manon in 2006.† In subsequent MET seasons, he has sung Nemorino in
L’Elisir d’Amore (in which rÙle he had the unenviable task of
replacing the indisposed Rolando VillazÛn, a favorite of New York audiences),
Alfredo in La Traviata, Rodolfo in La bohËme, and Rinuccio
in Gianni Schicchi.† These assignments reveal the variety that has
shaped the first decade of Mr. Giordano’s career.† This variety is also in
evidence in this recital, but few other performances of these arias have
displayed the unbroken musical lineage among the works of Verdi, Ponchielli,
Puccini, CilËa, and Giordani with such clarity.† Particularly in Europe, Mr.
Giordano is celebrated for his portrayals of bel canto heroes, and he
has been acclaimed in Europe and America in lighter Verdi rÙles: Edoardo in
Un giorno di regno, Alfredo in La Traviata, the Duca di
Mantova in Rigoletto, and Fenton in Falstaff.† In this
recital, he takes on arias from heavier rÙles; rÙles that he is perhaps
wisely reserving for later in his career or will ultimately forgo altogether.†
All of these arias are ‘chestnuts,’ but they offer tantalizing glimpses at
how Mr. Giordano’s career may progress as his voice expands and darkens.

This disc was recorded in live takes, and Mr. Giordano’s performances of
the arias benefit excitingly from the immediacy of these circumstances.† The
acoustic in which the voice is recorded is natural and avoids the closeness
which inaccurately reproduces the voices of many singers and mars their
recordings.† The players of the Ensemble del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino,
instrumentalists associated with one of Italy’s most venerable musical
institutions, have this music in their blood, and it shows in their spirited,
idiomatic playing.† The demands of the accompaniments of these arias are quite
different, but the members of the Ensemble adapt their playing to every
style.† Also advantageous is the insightful leadership of young conductor
Carlo Goldstein.† With successes in Boris Godunov in Valencia and
Carmen at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice to his credit, Maestro Goldstein
is one of the most promising conductors to have emerged onto the musical scene
in recent seasons, and his sensitive support of Mr. Giordano’s performances
on this disc portends a notable career in opera.

Mr. Giordano pays homage to Verdi with performances of arias from Don
and Simon Boccanegra.† In Carlo’s aria ‘Io la vidi,’
Mr. Giordano finds especially congenial vocal territory, Verdi’s melodic line
recalling the bel canto models of earlier generations.† Mr.
Giordano’s diction in his native language is excellent, and his phrasing is
unfailingly musical.† There is an audible element of aristocratic grace in his
singing of ‘Io la vidi,’ but there is also a bracing dose of Italianate
passion.† Gabriele Adorno’s aria ‘Sento avvampar nell’anima’ from
Simon Boccanegra is an explosion of fury that punishes the tenor with
tessitura that centers in the passaggio.† Traditionally, the
rÙle has attracted dramatic voices, but Mr. Giordano’s more lyric tone fills
the vocal lines gorgeously.† Mr. Giordano’s vibrato and method of producing
an even, balanced tone across his range recall the singing of Giuseppe Campora,
who successfully took on a carefully-selected handful of dramatic rÙles with
his essentially lyric voice.

Francesco CilËa undeservedly remains in the shadow of Puccini, and aside
from productions of Adriana Lecouvreur mounted for self-indulgent
divas his operas are now seldom performed.† Perhaps surprisingly considering
the esteem in which he was held in Italy in the first decades of the 20th
Century, CilËa completed only five operas, two of which are represented on
Amore e Tormento.† Adriana Lecouvreur is CilËa’s most
popular opera and arguably his best: its synthesis of Italian verismo
with elements of French Impressionism conjures a decadent musical setting in
which an ambitious soprano can chew the scenery like a genuine luminary of the
ComÈdie-FranÁaise.† The tenor rÙle of Maurizio, created by Caruso, received
from CilËa a number of pages of fine music, and Mr. Giordano here sings ‘La
dolcissima effigie,’ an impassioned outpouring of Maurizio’s love for
Adriana.† The urgency of Mr. Giordano’s vocal expression is invigorating,
and the spin of his tone is magical.† The ‘Lamento di Federico’ (‘» la
solita storia del pastore’) from L’Arlesiana receives from Mr.
Giordano a similarly ardent performance.

The operas of Umberto Giordano, like those of CilËa, are infrequently
performed—with the exception of Andrea ChÈnier, of course.† Few
operas in the Italian repertory are more obvious vehicles for tenors than
Andrea ChÈnier, but few performances in recent years have justified
the faith shown in the drivers of this vehicle.† His singing of ‘Come un bel
dÏ di maggio’ suggests that Mr. Giordano’s ChÈnier will be unusually
poetic.† His phrasing of the aria displays a mastery of the text, and his
placement of the tone as the vocal line builds to the climactic top B-flat is
authoritative.† Loris’s brief aria ‘Amor ti vieta’ from Fedora
is a favorite number in many tenors’ recital and concert repertories.† Like
Adriana Lecouvreur, Fedora occasionally turns up on the
boards when there is a soprano—a soprano of a certain age, in most cases—on
hand who wishes to show off her histrionic command of the verismo
repertory.† It is a score with many felicities, however, and ‘Amor ti
vieta’ is a refulgent eruption of Italianate melody.† Mr. Giordano sings the
aria spaciously, rising with fervor to the top A.† Marcella is a
veritable operatic ghost town: long uninhabited, it awaits a repopulation by
singers capable of revealing its unique charms.† Giorgio’s aria ‘Dolce
notte misteriosa’ is included on Amore e Tormento as a ‘bonus
track,’ and it receives the finest performance of any of the arias on the
disc, Mr. Giordano’s voice glowing with subtle inflections inspired by the

Not unexpectedly for a recording by an Italian tenor, the music of Puccini
is at the core of this disc.† The arias that Mr. Giordano selected cover the
entire span of Puccini’s creative activity, from Le Villi, the
composer’s first opera, to Turandot, the final masterpiece of his
maturity.† Mr. Giordano opens the disc with ‘Donna non vidi mai’ from
Manon Lescaut, the sort of flowing, melodic aria that seems so easy
until one actually attempts to sing it.† Mr. Giordani’s attempt is a
triumphant one, his phrasing of the aria long-breathed and evocative of young
love.† Both of Cavaradossi’s arias from Tosca are included.†
‘Recondita armonita’ is particularly successful: so artful is Mr.
Giordano’s depiction of Cavaradossi’s hymn to picturesque beauty that the
listener can practically smell the drying paint on his portrait of the
Maddalena.† The top B-flat is ringing but not over-emphasized, the note
serving as the natural climax of the phrase rather than being sustained merely
for show.† The singer’s voicing of ‘E lucevan le stelle’ is moving, the
sound of death in the voice even as recollections of Tosca’s love warm the
vocal line.† ‘Torna ai felici dÏ’ from Le Villi is, despite its
early place in the composer’s output, a quintessentially Puccinian tenor
aria: Mr. Giordano sings it broadly but with with rhythmic vitality.†
Pinkerton’s ‘Addio fiorito assil,’ added to the score to give the rÙle
greater balance when Puccini revised Madama Butterfly after its
lackluster premiËre, is another aria that is typical of its composer, but the
emotional directness that Mr. Giordano lends the number in this performance is
very moving.† Mr. Giordano is to be congratulated for preferring Cal‡f’s
‘Non piangere Li˘’ to the over-familiar ‘Nessun dorma’ for his
selection from Turandot.† ‘Nessun dorma’ is a fine aria, undone
to an extent by its popularity: musically, ‘Non piangere Li˘’ is the
superior number.† Cal‡f might prove a perilous rÙle for Mr. Giordano,
especially in larger theatres, but his singing of ‘Non piangere Li˘’ is
gorgeous, the tone at once robust and carried on the breath.† Dramatically,
Mr. Giordano seems to connect with the sentiments of the aria on a very
personal level, and he gives a scintillating performance with an unaffected
morbidezza that often eludes larger-voiced tenors who sing Cal‡f.

Enzo’s ‘Cielo e mar’ from Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda
is also a gem of the repertory that is often included by tenors in their
concerts and recitals.† The irony is that, for so popular and musically
straightforward a piece, it is frequently poorly sung.† In this performance,
the aria is anything but poorly sung, Mr. Giordano bringing rare mastery to the
music and singing the aria as though it has been in his voice since birth.†
Something in the phrasing of the aria seems to unnerve many tenors, but its
unhurried climax and ascent to an exposed top B-flat make it irresistible.†
While the aria is often the least successful portion of many tenors’
performances of the rÙle of Enzo, Mr. Giordano’s singing of the aria
constitutes several of the finest minutes on this disc.† As in ‘Recondita
armonia,’ the top B-flat crowns the aria not as an act of tenorial
showboating but as an inevitable resolution of the penultimate phrase.† Mr.
Giordano encounters no difficulties with phrasing, and his timbre provides
intriguing layers of richness to the performance.

In both the basic sound of his voice and the way in which he sings, Massimo
Giordano is a welcome reminder of the tradition of Italian tenors that
developed with Caruso and Gigli and has been lamentably endangered since the
retirement of Ferruccio Tagliavini.† There are minor imperfections in Mr.
Giordano’s singing in this recital, but he shows the same wisdom and
cognizance of his vocal abilities in his selections of the arias on this disc
that he has thus far exhibited in his career in the world’s opera houses.†
Amore e Tormento offers an ambitious programme, and Mr. Giordano
explores every vocal and dramatic nuance of the ‘amore’ and ‘tormento’
expressed in these arias with virility and sensitivity.† Ample torment there
is in these songs of men bolstered and betrayed by love, but no torment is
there to be had from hearing Mr. Giordano’s singing.† His is the sort of
voice, and this the sort of singing, that is balm to wounded hearts and ears
offended by the vacuous performances of singers pursuing acclaim rather than

Joseph Newsome

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901), Amilcare Ponchielli (1834 – 1886),
Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924), Francesco CilËa (1866 – 1950), &
Umberto Giordano (1867 – 1948): Amore e Tormento – Arias from Don Carlo,
Simon Boccanegra, La Gioconda, Le Villi, Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Madama
Butterfly, Turandot, L’Arlesiana, Adriana Lecouvreur, Andrea ChÈnier,
Fedora, and Marcella—Massimo Giordano, tenor; Ensemble del Maggio Musicale
Fiortentino; Carlo Goldstein [Recorded ‘live’ in the Teatro del Maggio
Musicale Fiorentino, Florence, Italy, in 2012; BMG 53800781 2]

image_description=BMG 53800781 2
product_title=Amore e Tormento
product_by=A review by Joseph Newsome
product_id=BMG 53800781 2 [CD]