In March 2004 I entitled my Amazon review of Rolando Villazón's CD of Italian arias, 'Is he the one?', meaning is he the Italianate tenor we've been waiting for, the one to fill the shoes of Domingo and Pavarotti? I was tentatively positive that he was. Well, boys and girls, this CD of arias by Massenet and Gounod confirms it as far as I'm concerned. Indeed, he sounds better here than he did in the earlier recording. Further, although I have not heard him in person I have been assured by several operaphiles who have heard him -- some of them traveling some distance to have the opportunity -- that he is indeed the genuine article. I only hope that I can catch a live performance of Villazón's soon. I think he's that good. As to the material he sings here, it is splendid for another reason, and that is that it isn't the hackneyed and trite tunes we all have heard a jillion times. Here we have some rare but lovely arias by two of the greatest French opera composers. Just listen to the heroic glint in Villazón's voice as he winds up 'Voix qui me remplissez d'une ineffable ivresse' from Massenet's 'Le roi de Lahore.' I found myself harking back to the glorious singing of Georges Thill, the fabled tenor vraiment français. Villazón is not yet another in the seemingly endless chain of tenorinos we've had foisted upon us in the post-Domingo/Pavarotti era. He's got heft, metal, gleam in the voice. The higher he sings the brighter the sound, precisely the sort of the thing that makes for exciting tenorial frisson. Making it all the more worthwhile is Villazón's obvious intelligence and taste. He seems to be living the words, not merely singing them. His phrasing is subtle and stylistically apt. He even uses a credible voix mixte, as any tenor singing French opera should. Any operaphiles interested in grand singing by a tenor with an innnately beautiful voice handled with style and excitement should treat themselves to this disc. And investigate when Villazón might be singing anywhere near them. As I said before, he's that good. Scott Morrison
I thought I'd re-visit this recital album, given that this was recorded almost exactly ten years ago and the time elapsed since has been eventful for its singer.
I heard Villazón sing Verdi's Duke live and was certainly impressed, although the temptation to over-sing in big houses was already there and the ravages incipiently apparent. This combined with Villazón's naturally (over-?) exuberant personality - in his recent TV documentary on performing authentically the last scene of "Don Giovanni" in Prague he could barely stop prattling long enough to allow any other interviewee to get a word in - perhaps made a fateful combination and sure enough, he ran into difficulties, underwent an operation and an enforced period of resting his voice. He has since happily re-emerged, re-incarnated as a Mozart tenor. For some, the jury is still out on that but I love his Don Ottavio in the otherwise indifferent "Don Giovanni" for Nézet-Séguin and he is contracted with DG to record a total seven Mozart operas with that conductor, so clearly he has set his course and I wish him well.
On the evidence of his singing of the lyric French repertoire here, he could and should have easily have kept to this Fach. The smoky, slightly grainy and Latinate colouring of his beautiful tenor fits the music like a glove and his French his excellent. His Massenet heroes are ideal; aria after aria is sung with just the right pathos and plangency and although nothing is over-stated, he rises nobly to the moments of passion. Perhaps because I am less enamoured of Gounod's music generally, I favour the Massenet tracks but the tenderness of his phrasing suits Gounod's sentimentality and melodiousness. He hasn't the patrician elegance of Vanzo, Thill or Clément and is more in the Mediterranean mould of the young Alagna but in these days of dearth we should be grateful.
It is also good to see a balance between the war-horses and more obscure items like the arias from "Polyeucte", "Roma" and "Le mage"; while the operas themselves probably won't stand revival, some of the music in them bears repeated hearing.
In track 2, Natalie Dessay makes a welcome and breathily passionate appearance as Manon herself; the conducting, playing and sound are without flaw.