Voce D’Italia - Arias for Rubini
Vincenzo Bellini: “Ascolta. Nel furor delle tempeste” “Del disastro di questi infelici” “Per te di vane lagrime” (Il Pirata) – “Tutti siam? – Si, tutti uniti” “ Eccomi alfin, guerrieri” “ Al udir del padre afflitto” “ Degna suora di Fernando” “ Odo Il tuo pianto, o padre” (Bianca e Fernando)
Gioachino Rossini : “Che intesi!”, “Deh! Troncate i ceppi suoi”, “Vendicar saprò l’offesa” (Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra) – “Intesi: ah! tutto intesi … Tu seconda il mio disegno”, “Se il mio rival deludo!” (Il Turco in Italia) – “Pace no trovo”, “Tu sorda ai miei lamenti”, “Ah! come nascondere” (La Donna del lago) – “Non mi lasciare, o speme di vendetta”, “O muto asil” “Vendetta!” “Corriam, voliam” (Guglielmo Tell)
Gaetano Donizetti: “No, no, d’abbandonarla senza un addio” “Di mia patria o bel soggiorno” “Ma un solo conforto” (Marin Faliero)
Juan Diego Flórez (Tenor), Coro ed Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Filippo Maria Bressan (Chorus Master), Roberto Abbado (Conductor)
Recording: Davide Abbruzzese, Sala Santa Cecilia, Roma (08/29-09/10/2006) – Recording time: 71’07
Decca B0010302-02 – Booklet in English with original Italian texts and English translations. (Distributed by Universal)
For me, the most unusual aspect of Juan Diego Flórez’ meteoric rise to a position of “super-stardom” on the international opera scene is the simple fact that he is the only tenore leggiero to do achieve this status since John McCormack and Tito Schipa.
Tenors like Cesare Valletti, Luigi Alva, Rockwell Blake, or John Aler were all gifted and famous singers who made many recordings, but never received the stardom and acclamation that has been accorded Mr. Flórez, seemingly overnight. I do not include Nicolai Gedda or Alfredo Kraus in this group as their voices and careers far exceeded the boundaries of the leggiero repertoire. This recording, Voce d’Italia – Arias for Rubini is a testament to why Juan Diego Flórez has been awarded this amount of fame.
It is a most extraordinary document for two primary reasons: the unusually rare and demanding repertoire it contains, and the alarmingly brilliant vocal virtuosity with which it is executed! Let us consider first the repertoire. These are all arias composed for or sung by Giovanni Battista Rubini, the most famous tenor of the 19th Century. Rubini was the first tenor to employ the “full tone” we are so accustomed to hearing today, which greatly enhanced the dramatic and emotional impact of the music upon his listeners. His voice also included an upper extension in “head voice” that prompted composers like Vincenzo Bellini to write the infamous High F, now seldom performed, in the last act of I puritani. His popularity with the public and press far outdistanced his noted contemporaries like the tenors Adolphe Nourrit and Gilbert Duprez. Rubini also possessed an extraordinary technique. To avoid a long technical explanation let us just say that anything a coloratura soprano could do, so could he. Scales, diatonic and chromatic, ascending or descending, trills, acuti, staccati, octave leaps, mesa di voce, etcetera, etcetera, were all part and parcel of Rubini’s arsenal of vocal technique. If you randomly opened, let us say, the score to Donizetti’s Marin Faliero and chanced upon one of the two tenor arias composed for Rubini, you would more than likely assume it was a soprano aria. These two arias are unlike anything ever composed for the normal tenor voice, and require the demands usually placed upon a soprano. And so goes the rest of the material in this recording. By today’s standards, they are all endurance feats: long, high, and excruciating in their vocal demands. Juan Diego Flórez is up for all of this!
Let us now consider the virtuosity of Mr. Flórez. If Luciano Pavarotti was formerly known as the “The King of the High C’s,” Juan Diego Flórez is certainly his successor!
There are more High C’s and brilliant High D’s on this recording that I have ever heard amassed by any tenor of any generation on any single recording. He does this with astounding accuracy and never with a hint of strain. To say that this is an amazing feat is simply an understatement. Let us now consider his execution of scale passages. All of the Rossini arias in this recording demonstrate his facility. Rossini’s coloratura is the most difficult to negotiate of any bel canto composer. Virtually all of the great Rossini singers resort to some form of “gimmickry” to execute them. The great Marilyn Horne and tenor Rockwell Blake used what became know as “cluckatura.” Tenor Luigi Alva aspirated all of his scale passages. These are all clean and musical techniques, but annoying nonetheless as they compromise the required legato so prized in the delivery of belcanto.
The most perfect execution of Rossini scale passages is to be found in the singing of Maria Callas. And it is Callas only, to whom Flórez can be compared. There are simply no male singers to whom he can be equated. His delivery is flawlessly accurate and smoothly legato; no aspirations or “gimmickry” can be found anywhere. He achieves this with such seeming ease that it could go virtually unnoticed by the untrained ear. If there is anything missing in Mr. Flórez’ technique it is his apparent lack of a pianissimo on the high notes. This causes a certain amount of monochromatic tone and lack of color variance in his singing. Floated and soft high notes are usually stock items of the leggiero tenor. It is puzzling that he either does not embody this technique or chooses not to employ it. He will be singing La sonnambula next season at the MET, and that alone should answer the question as the role of Elvino, also composed for Rubini, abounds in piano passages in the head voice.
My favorite performances on this disc are the Bellini and Donizetti arias. These are the arias composed expressly for Rubini and they perfectly suit Mr. Flórez’ style and virtuosity. Although Rubini had a close association with Rossini and often performed in his operas, he premiered none of them and Rossini expressly for Rubini composed nothing. The recitative, aria, and cabaletta from Bellini’s Bianca e Fernando runs just under fifteen minuets in length and demands every display of virtuosity imaginable. To hear Juan Diego Flórez breeze through the octave leaps, staccati, trills, acuti sostenuti (sustained high notes), and alarmingly difficult scale passages is hair-raising at the very least. The aria from Donizetti’s Marin Faliero, although shorter in length, is even more demanding, containing as it does two sustained High D’s and several High C’s.
I can hardly say more to recommend this recording other than the playing of the Orchestra of the Saint Cecilia Academy is superb and Maestro Roberto Abbado’s direction is authoritative and stylish. The orchestrations of the three composers represented here, especially Bellini, have often been unjustly maligned by proponents of the German School. Maestro Abbado does a great deal to bring out the expressive sensitivity in the woodwind scoring so characteristic of this music. Donizetti was particularly sophisticated in his orchestral writing, employing as he did not only elements of the Italian School, but also those of the French and Viennese Schools. If you enjoy the art of Bel Canto, you will find this recording, as they say, simply a “blast!” I give it a five star rating.