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Customer Review

12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the Villazon Comeback I was hoping for - Opera Now 2 Star Review, 12 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Massenet: Werther (Audio CD)
I'm sorry to say that Rolando Villason's voice has lost the X Factor since his throat troubles. He now has a somewhat gravelly character and undertone to what was a beautiful clear voice. This is his major comeback on CD, recorded live at the Royal Opera House last May. I think I have all of his CD's and Opera sets and I suppose we have to be grateful he was able to record a reasonable selection before the throat troubles.

Sophie Koch's Charlotte, is sung with tenderness and clarity and matches Villazon quite well. Unfortunately her performance isn't enough to save this recording for me.

Antonio Pappano is the real star of this recording. His conducting is first rate, lifting Massenet's work with a dynamism and excitement while at the same time not damaging the essential French qualities of the score.

I would suggest listening to the sample tracks Amazon have supplied us with, you may find that Villason's 'new' voice is OK and perhaps if this is your first time buying one of his recordings you may not notice anything wrong at all. Sorry my review has been mostly about Villazon but I think this was meant as a vehicle for his comeback.

Updated 30 April 2012 - May edition of Opera Now only gives a 2 Star Review to this recording. I would caution against believing everything the 5 star reviewers have written as every professional review I have read about this set seems to agree with the Opera Now review.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Mar 2012 10:55:33 GMT
Peter says:
What on earth is "the X factor"?

In reply to an earlier post on 2 May 2012 17:50:30 BDT
Trev-R says:
If you listen to his recordings from 2002 - 2006 (ish) his voice has something extra special that was lost after his throat trouble. I have most of his CD's and DVD/Blu-ray's from the pre-throat trouble period and there is a definite difference. I don't seem to be the only one with this view. It is unfortunate that this recording was not the comeback his fans had hoped for. All of the professional reviews of this set I have read come to a similar conclusion with the current edition of Opera Now only giving it 2 stars. Anyone reviewing this and giving it 5 stars either has not heard his earlier recordings, has hearing issues or is just such a big fan they are blind to the obvious deficits in his voice.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 23:17:22 BDT
Adalgisa1969 says:
Trev-R: Having expressed your own view, one I'm sure many people will agree with - because, let's face it, Villazon has always polarised people - don't you think it's a little lame, attempting to dismiss as clueless those who are of a different opinion to yourself? Is it really necessary to evoke so-called 'professional' reviewers in support of your own verdict? Do you not feel that your observations carry enough weight to stand on their own?

I, too, own practically every CD and DVD Villazon has ever recorded, and I've also heard him live several times, both before and after his throat surgery, including more than one performance of this Werther. I do not have hearing difficulties. I'll admit that I'm a big fan, but there's a reason for that: it's because I love his singing, and I've already elaborated briefly in my review on why I rate his performance on this recording, and in this role, so highly.

The audience response to Villazon in this production was one of the warmest I've seen for a singer at Covent Garden, and I know of at least one person who, despite never having been a particular admirer of his in the past, went back to see it three times.

In short, there are as many different opinions on opera as there are opera singers. What one person finds sublime, another might find execrable, and that's absolutely fine. I, for one, stand by my five-star review, but I certainly won't accuse people of being deaf if they want to disagree with me.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 May 2012 00:05:57 BDT
Trev-R says:
I have to say that I do not believe my opinions on anything I review are any more or less valid than anyone else. I do however feel it is necessary to point out to those who may not be familiar with his work, the issues with his voice post throat problems.

I posted my original review before Opera Now and other professional reviews and feel justified to pointing to those to support my original review. When someone is looking at reviews with the view to making a purchase I think it is only fair to write a review that is not tainted by a particular preference (or otherwise) of an individual performer.

As someone who has been an opera fan for over 50 years I have always been happy to agree to disagree on many areas of opera from performances to staging. I believe the audience at Covent Garden were willing him to have a 'fairy tail' comeback and may have given him a warmer reception than other less popular singers may have been afforded.

My review is based on the simple fact that his voice is not as good now as it was. I can hear the difference, my friends can hear the difference, most professional reviewers can hear the difference so I must assume something else is responsible for those who do not hear it or who are prepared to ignore it.

I have no wish to get in a back and forward about this so thank you for your feedback on my review and comments, we will just have to disagree on this occasion.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2012 00:37:46 BDT
Adalgisa1969 says:
I don't really have any desire to go backwards and forwards on this, either. However, while you say that you don't consider your own views to be any more or less valid than anyone else's, this apparently isn't the case, because you then go on to describe the deterioration in Villazon's voice (as perceived by you, and others known to you) as a 'simple fact', and my own, contrary view (also shared by others) as 'tainted' by admiration. A little condescending, don't you think? Villazon has had some tricky moments in the past, and I've experienced several of them first-hand, so I'm perfectly clear-eyed on the subject, I can assure you.

Villazon's voice has certainly changed - although not overly much, I don't think. However, whereas you think he's lost something (youthful clarity and brightness, perhaps?), I think he's gained something (depth, maturity and an increased subtlety). Perhaps we just admired different qualities in his voice to begin with. I find it now to be slightly darker than it was, a little rougher (perhaps that's what you mean by 'gravelly'), far more expressive and infinitely more controlled. I mentioned his beauty of tone and ability to shade and sculpt the vocal line in my review, so I won't repeat myself here, but these are the qualities I've always valued most highly in his singing. His instrument has never been particularly large and is now smaller than it was, but this isn't an issue for me. He has no trouble reaching to the back of an opera house, and his voice is richly textured, not remotely reedy.

As you feel justified in citing reviews to support your own opinion, I'll conclude by doing the same. These refer to the live performances, but could be applied equally to the recording:

Tim Ashley (Guardian): 'Villazon gives one of his most remarkable performances to date. His voice has lost some of its sheen, though you also notice a newfound security in his singing, particularly at the top. His artistry, however, is as astonishing as ever, fusing sound, sense and gesture in an uncompromising quest for veracity.'

Richard Fairman (FT): 'The voice sometimes sounded opaque in the middle range and there is nothing at all left in reserve at the big moments. But where some singers in his position might simply have spent their time pushing for volume, Villazón took care to spin long, expressive phrases, lighting upon words and colours that created a living musical portrait. This was Werther the poet at work and there was hardly a corner of the character's soul that he left unexplored.'

Stephen Jay-Taylor (Opera Britannia): '[Villazon was] more cautious, certainly with a diminished volume of voice at his disposal, and a definite need to tread rather more carefully in altissimo. But within those new parameters, he strikes me as pretty much wholly successful, singing with a magnificently firm focus, evenly-knit textures and registers, and much gloriously warm, effortlessly full-bodied tone. ... I thought Villazon's Werther, on balance, the most convincing I've ever seen.'

In reply to an earlier post on 19 May 2012 09:12:25 BDT
Trev-R says:
Thanks for posting the reviews of the live performance. Unfortunately I did not attend and therefore I am unable to comment as to whether the live performance and the CD are similar. After reading the above reviews I did a bit more research and would have to agree that the majority of reviews of his actual live performance are more favorable than the recorded performance. However for balance, firstly the live performance:

Fiona Maddocks - The Observer

"Now he is back. And? In short, after that initial frail start he survived Werther, and at times excelled. The voice is much smaller, the tone not always sweet, and prone to reediness, but he can still excite in climactic moments. He had warm support from the ROH music director Antonio Pappano, who reined in the orchestra, on particularly strong form last Thursday with finely shaded playing throughout and some riotous brassy fortissimos. Villazón was never quite drowned out, though at times came perilously near."

Rupert Christiansen - The Telegraph

"Villazón started the evening sounding constricted and cautious: the top has lost its bloom and he was unable to ride the orchestral climaxes. But by the time he reached "Lorsque l'enfant", his cords seemed to have moistened and he struck confident form, declaiming the aria's climactic peroration with dignity and spiritual force."


"The admirable control came of course with a price. There's some loss of brightness throughout the range, with the result that his sound, which was never fundamentally large anyway, failed to cut through and carry with the power of earlier years. A sometimes bottled tone hinted at capacities kept under leash. Gone too was the reckless bravado that hinted anything might happen. Probably sensing that he was under acute observation, Rolando measured carefully how much he gave, never quite emptying his reserves.

In all, I heard a still-great voice, managed - for perhaps the first time ever - in a thoroughly mature and professional manner. But in the process some of the do-or-die individuality that made Rolando a star in the first place has seeped away. Can he bring it back without risking his instrument again? We'll have to see."

Now the CD

Anna Pickard - Independent

"As with so many crucial points in Massenet's opera, this is the Clair de Lune, and what follows is misery. The role of the orchestra is brilliantly realised in Antonio Pappano's performance with the Orchestra of the ROH. Vocally, this live recording is less assured. Sophie Koch's Charlotte persuades but Roland Villazón's hypersensitive Werther has more sob than suavity."

Rupert Christiansen - The Telegraph

"As the suicidal hero Werther, Rolando Villazón sounds worryingly tremulous in the opening scene, and intermittently continues to suffer problems sustaining pitch: the role stretches his lyric tenor beyond its natural compass. Yet by the time he falls in love with Charlotte in "Rêve! Extase! Bonheur!", his voice has warmed up and the tone opened out."

Classical Source

"The immediate attraction of Villazón's voice and its application to the music he sings is the quality of the sound (a mixture of sweetness and tears) and the way he puts the communication of feeling first, above the deployment of a reliable technique. He relies on the emotional, visceral quality of his tone to transmit the meaning of melody and text. His admirers are only too happy to surrender to the seductiveness of this appeal and to ignore technical flaws, a crack here, a strained top note there, so readily are they swept away by the emotional commitment. Unfortunately the belief that a shortcut to emotional communication can be achieved by simply pressing harder on his tone, without making any adjustment to the technical means of vocal production was predicted by some to be the road to perdition and his vocal problems have become obvious, despite attempts to disguise them by cultivating an image of himself as a hero of popular culture. "

For those reading these comments and wondering who is right Adalgisa1969 or myself I would say both of us and neither of us. I agree with the many negative reviews of the CD but never having seen the live performance I can only assume that it polarized the critics based on some positive and some negative reviews by the various newspapers and magazines. I would just add that IMHO what you hear in the acoustically dry ROH and from a recording, even though from a live performance, is different.
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