Well, Villazon gives it his all, doesn't he -- and it's painful to read reviews of some of his more recent performances, which suggest that the old freedom has gone and that the voice has now to be carefully husbanded. But ten years ago, at age 31, when the material with Viotti was recorded, it was a different story; we had a good sized voice, with an attractive dark coloring that didn't preclude freedom at the top, and an approach to singing that captured the intensity of desperate men. It's very exciting, and if I say that it lacks some nuance and refinement, that doesn't mean that it's crude. The gems here are from the Viotti recital -- nice work from "Rigoletto" and "Traviata especially, an ardent "La mia letizia" from "Lombardi," and a rather inexpressive but still nicely voiced "Ah la paterno mano" from "Macbeth." The "Ballo" and "Ernani" excerpts from 2005 (with Plasson) aren't bad, though some of the warmth has gone from the voice, and the "Ingemisco" (2009) is a bit careful at the climax. Still -- at his best, he could be ardent without singing through his tone, as Di Stefano did too often, but he doesn't match the ideal blend of refinement, beauty, and ardency that marked the best work of Carreras in the 1970's. But let's face it -- you would love to hear singing like this on the stage.
Villazon has had vocal problems, some requiring surgery, since 2007. I don't know enough to say whether or not this was just bad luck or a result of defective technique, but prior to these troubles, he had something that Grigolo, and even Calleja, hasn't shown me yet.
It is only in recent times that I have found myself listening to Rolando Villazon more frequently. He has an immense voice but his singing will not be to everyone's taste. He is no Carlo Bergonzi. Compared with Villazon even Mario del Monaco could be described as subtle voiced. Like del Monaco, however, Villazon tends to start singing loud and then works upwards. Fifty or so years ago we were treated to an abundance of great tenors — such as Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli, Guiseppe di Stefano, Jussi Bjorling, Nicolai Gedda, Mario del Monaco and others. It seems incredible that today singers of similar vocal stature are few and far between. Villazon comes as a refreshing reminder of how Verdi's heroic roles should be performed. So this disc, which brings together various recordings over a five year period is well worth a listen and deciding for yourself — and at a bargain price. Villazon singing Handel arias — as he does on a DG disc — is however, a completely different matter and best avoided.