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A big voice but nowhere to go
on 22 January 2006
This album is okay, Villazón isn’t that bad a tenor really, but I was left with slight disappointment as to the whole package – I felt that it could have somehow been much better than it was. Maybe the repertoire could have been a bit more suited to his voice. He sings arias from Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, with two obscure Mascagni arias and one from Cilea’s L’arlesiana. The repertoire is in the main obvious, stock-tenor stuff. Any number of tenor albums feature Federico’s lament, Che gelida manina, etc etc. I had the distinct impression that he could have done much better with a different set.
His voice is quite large, in the same manner of Jose Cura. In fact, the two have a very similar tone, possibly due to their shared Latin-American roots. While Cura has a very distinctive tone, however, Villazón is an interesting blend of Domingo with a hint of Pavarotti. There is definitely the space-filling capacity of Domingo, but without his baritonal qualities. Pavarotti’s very strong top is in evidence in many of the Verdi arias on the disc, but without Pavarotti’s power to move. But this is a debut disc, he has plenty of time to persuade us all otherwise.
To start with, Federico’s lament. Its sung very idiomatically, although Villazón’s diction is excellent. The aria is no different to many other middle-of-the-road recordings of it. Pavarotti's recording just will not be beaten. Then there are four Donizetti arias that he just doesn’t really have the voice for. His Nemorino is too heavy, and there is the curious matter of his Edgardo. The orchestra seems to be very strange, as if its trying not to swamp the voice. Don’t get me wrong, Villazón’s is a big voice, but it’s a very thin sound from the orchestra that distracts – the horn arpeggios that are meant to be virtually inaudible are very much present, the strings sound too thin, etc etc. And the whole thing is sung completely dispassionately.
His Verdi is passable but, again, he seems to have sacrificed emotion for verbal accuracy. It’s a problem sometimes even with native singers that you can’t always make out what they’re singing, but here we have total clarity. But while native Italian singers can inject so much passion and emotion into their singing, Villazón doesn’t. His Macduff is just a tenor singing an aria, not a father who has had his whole family murdered. And the same is true of his Don Carlo (although I’d accept this guy over Andrea Bocelli) and Alfredo. And another thing about Alfredo. Villazón sings both De’ miei bollenti spiriti and the caballeta, O mio rimorso. But not the intervening recitativo with Annina. There are plenty of mezzo-sopranos out there who wouldn’t have objected to that job! For the sake of maybe two more minutes of music (the CD itself is barely over an hour, so they weren’t pushed for time) we have this disjointed number where, having just said he feels like he’s almost in heaven, he suddenly wants to “wash this stain from his honour” etc. To someone unfamiliar with La traviata (apparently some people are…) it would seem Alfredo has some sort of bipolar disorder. His Duca di Mantova is a little dull, too. Parmi veder le lagrime is shorn of any emotional content, and La donna è mobile is too static. The singer should really sing it with something of a wry smile in the voice, a little swagger and a lot of character. Instead, Villazón sounds like the tenors of old, standing spread-eagled on stage with arms flung wide for his big showpiece. And he sings the cadenza which is not by Verdi. Tut tut.
Villazón’s voice, as I’ve said, can be big. Which is often what Puccini tenors need. It’s a shame then that in his two Puccini arias, he needed to be a bit softer. Rodolfo is a romantic poet in his aria Che gelida manina, with the voice swelling only periodically at climaxes. Villazón seems to be teetering on the edge of this – he’s not quite as soft as some tenors have sung it – but when the time comes, he’s slightly off and doesn’t rise to the occasion. As such, both “l’anima ho millionaria” and “la speranza” are not as hair-raising as, say, Carreras or Alagna have sung them. E lucevan le stelle, sadly, is also devoid of emotion, which, frankly, ruins it.
Finally we have the Mascagni arias. These, I must admit, are the main reason I bought this CD. I’d heard and read that the guy had a good voice, but he’s also possibly the only modern tenor to have sung these arias. They are from L’amico Fritz, a sentimental-lovelorn style number, and from Nerone, a wonderfully italianate serenade-type aria. The last one really vindicates Villazón in my opinion. Its always the same with debut discs, we compare the singer to all the hundreds that have come before because they sing largely the same pieces, but when they branch out for even just one or two rarities, we really see their worth, and the same is true here. Villazón has shown he has a big voice before, and it is in the works of the giovane scuola that he really belongs, in my opinion. Hopefully he will sing a disc of more of this repertoire, like Alagna and Cura have done before him, and he will shine, possibly obliterating those two as he does so.