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Leoncavallo: "La Nuit de Mai" Opera Arias & Songs
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Conductor Alberto Veronesi’s inspiration to celebrate Leoncavallo’s work unites Plácido Domingo, the world’s most celebrated living tenor, with virtuoso pianist Lang Lang. A relatively unknown masterwork recounting the passionate vis-à-vis of a poet with his muse, "La Nuit de Mai" is a romantic symphonic piece for tenor based on Musset’s poem of the same name. Plácido Domingo’s emotion laden tenor is accompanied by a selection of short songs; Lang Lang concludes this novel album with two dazzling solo piano pieces.
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Domingo, his voice as compelling as ever, imbues the part of the Poet with an almost childlike openness of soul, inviting us to share in the feelings of disquietude, sharp fear, relief, exultation, adoring admiration, defiant bitterness and unbearable pain. There is something extra special about all his work in these latter years (2007 on this disc). Voice and heart together have become so utterly exposed, so true. A beautiful thing.
I am grateful, too, that Domingo helps bring such rarities as this to light. Why not try something new? Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" is a very dear, very pungent opera and it keeps its own place, in my affections, alongside all the greats of Verdi or Wagner. Now, having heard "Nuit de mai", I may never hear the opera without a thought for this earlier manifestation of the theme of public demand for the deepest feelings of the artist (whether poet or clown! or singer??). For, the "Entrance of the Clowns" in the opera is taken right out of "Nuit de mai" and the rather brutal association in "Nuit" lends something of tragic horror to the already comic/grotesque clamor as the crowd hails the clowns' arrival. I think the music actually works better in "Pagliacci" but it is fascinating to be aware of its history and earlier imagery for the composer.
Then, for any tenor who may envy Silvio's passionate appeal to Nedda, there is "La Chanson des Yeux" to his music. I love having all these songs with piano: quite a treat to round out the disc. (Puts me in mind of those by Puccini; there is a lovely album of them sung by Domingo, with piano: "The Unknown Puccini"). Domingo makes his sensitive commitment felt in each song, saving the most introspective one for last. A couple of charming, light piano pieces close this wonderful program.
Liner notes include a nice essay and all texts in original language and English.
I just noticed Leoncavallo's I Medici is due to release in June 2010, again with Domingo. Looking forward to that!
Domingo is in amazingly good voice for someone who has morphed himself into a sometime baritone as he ages. But the vocal range here isn't technically taxing (the soaring sixth movement being a notable exception). All but the highest notes are totally secure and beautiful. One marvels at how phonogenic Domingo's voice remains. What's mainly required is a feeling for ardent verismo style, and he certainly possesses that. The singer's commitment goes far beyond a run-through by a star tenor to please his record company. The amorous texts, varying from dreamy to fervent, by Alfred de Musset are delivered in good-enough French, but fluency hardly matters. The soul of this work is thoroughly Italian. Conductor, orchestra, and recorded sound are fine.
The disc is filled out with five songs and two solo piano diversions by Leoncavallo, for which Lang Lang has been drawn in (he had a free hour in his schedule and ,of course, is well known for his abilities accompanying Italian song). These songs are in the vein of Tosti but with a more verismo slant as they heat up. The ardent 'Hymne a la lyre' is especially heartfelt and will make many listener's think agreeably of Chenier's final aria, "Come n bel di di maggio." Lang Lang does a lovely job and ends the album with elegant, restrained readings of a charming barcarolle and waltz.
In all, this is my nomination for the album from which I expected the least and gained the most.
I remember his Il Pagliacci well - sung with the immaculate Teresa Stratas and Feodora Barbieri.
As 'King of Verismo', PD now ventures into genre of vocal works by Leoncavallo beyond his opera Il Pgaliacci.
The first work in this album is exceedingly well brought out, being recorded in January 2007. PD is in very good voice. You'd not believe that he was already 66 when he recorded this. The orchestra is luscious throughout.
The next bundle is a group of short compositions by Leoncavallo.
I wonder why it has taken DG 3 long years before releasing this album. And one overriding reason is probably because Lang Lang has already left DG for Sony, since it was Lang Lang who accompanied PD in this group of songs, to be rounded off by two short piano pieces, one barcarolle and one waltz.
PD's voice in this group of short songs did not fare as well as in the symphonic poem recorded half a year earlier. Probably, for 'big' voices, to sing exposed solo songs accompanied by a pianoforte is a real challenge (see Jonas Kaufmann's recent daring attempt at the recording of 'Die Schone Mullerin'). And in this group, PD is not aided by Lang Lang.
Still, a rare gem of a recording by one of the most endearing artist of all times.
La Nuit De Mai is only forty minutes in length and the remainder of the album is fleshed out with five songs for tenor and piano, and here Domingo tries another avenue in electing to have the young Lang Lang be his accompanist. Lang Lang plays well if not always sensitive to balance. But as is typical of Domingo's sense of propriety he offers the last two works on the album to be piano solos for Lang Lang and here the pianist plays very well indeed. All of the songs - both the accompanied tenor songs and the piano solos - are by Leoncavallo making this a truly unique recording for the collector who 'has everything'. It is a very fine diversion into the lesser known repertoire. Grady Harp, November 10
Leoncavallo's works are, apart from the obvious Pagliacci, still not that well known, yet he was more than a one hit wonder. His opera La Bohème, for instance, was eclipsed by Puccini's and obviously inferior, but still a splendid work, as is his second most often performed work Zazá (I have yet to hear Domingo's recording of I Medici). In short, Leoncavallo's music deserves exposure. Unfortunately Nuit de mai does not really present him in the best possible light. Although it is billed as a symphonic poem, it is really more of a vocal-orchestral setting of a dialogue between Poet and Muse (the tenor takes both parts) in the form of a poem by Alfred de Musset.
It is a passionate work, true, full of sentimentally gushing strings and glittering harps (and mandolins, in fact), but although there is plenty of atmosphere there is little to remember. The melodic material is relatively undistinguished and there is little clear sense of development. In short, this is really a second- or third-rate work, nice enough and definitely worth hearing - but that is primarily for Domingo's contribution, which is really a stunning success (although even I can hear his accent when singing in French, and I don't speak French). The orchestral accompaniment is sensitively done with plenty of color and nuances and even some dramatic impact. The work has in fact been recorded before, on an Accord disc with Salvatore Fisichella and while I have not heard this (and may, in principle, be prejudiced) I doubt it received the same lavish production.
As fillers we get some songs; salon works, for the most part, but once again sung as if they were something far more. Lang Lang, who provides the piano part throughout, does a good job but there is only so much he can really do - the solo piano pieces never rises above the mediocre either, though Lang wrenches every drop of content out of them. Still, this is a worthwhile acquisition; the music is charming if rather empty, and the effort to present it in the best possible light yields intermittently captivating results (and the effort itself is commendable). And then, of course, there is Domingo's singing. So go ahead and enjoy it, but don't expect anything that will change your life or perception of the composer.