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Arias and duets from:
Gaetano Donizetti: La figlia del reggimento, La Favorite, L’elisir d’amore, Linda di Chamounix, Lucrezia Borgia
Vincenzo Bellini: I puritani
Gioachino Rossini: Il viaggio a Reims, Otello

Juan Diego Flórez (tenor), Mariusz Kwiecien (baritone), Patrizia Ciofi (soprano), Anna Netrebko (soprano), Daniella Barcellona (mezzo-soprano), Plácido Domingo (tenor), Orchestra and Chorus of the Comunitat Valenciana, Daniel Oren (conductor)
Recorded in Valencia (November 2007) – 76’50
Decca 12445-02 – Booklet in English with English translations of the Italian and French lyric texts

The title of this latest CD recording by Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez may at first sound like a lot of production “hype” or “spin”. It is neither. It is in fact a celebration of the Art of Bel Canto with spectacular repertoire, spectacular artists, and spectacular singing. It is a joy and a thrill to listen to from beginning to end.

When Maria Callas began her revival of Bel Canto operas in the 1950’s she was partnered by the greatest tenors of her day. Unfortunately, none of them, with the possible exceptions of Nicolai Gedda, Cesare Valletti, and Luigi Alva were very well equipped technically to handle the virtuosity demanded by Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. As great as they were, Di Stefano, Del Monaco, Corelli, Poggi, Raimondi, and many others with whom La Callas partnered for Lucia, Norma, Anna Bolena, Armida, Il pirata, La sonnambula, Poliuto, Il Turco in Italia, etc., resorted to many cuts in the bravura passages of their roles in order to sing these operas with her. There was simply no tenor like the magnificent Juan Diego Flórez in Callas’s heyday to sing these tenor roles as written. Mr. Flórez’s arrival on the international opera stages is a real cause for celebration to the admirers of Bel Canto. In fact, Mr. Flórez is the first leggiero tenor of superstar status since the days of Tito Schipa and John McCormack.

Much of the repertoire on this recording will be unfamiliar to many listeners. But rest assured that the soaring melodies of Donizetti, Bellini, and Rossini will never fail to captivate, even upon first hearing. And what a brilliant idea it was to share the recording with some of the finest singers of our time in some truly dazzling duets.

There are some surprises too, in Mr. Flórez’s choice and interpretation of arias. Starting with the famous aria of the nine high C’s from The Daughter of the Regiment. Mr. Flórez has been singing in productions of La Fille du Régiment throughout Europe, and starred in a new production at the New York Metropolitan Opera opposite Natalie Dessay. However, for this recording, he has chosen to sing the aria in Italian! Donizetti sounds just as delicious in Italian as in French, and Mr. Flórez’s high C’s are as brilliant as ever.

His rendition of Donizetti’s most popular tenor aria, “Una furtiva lagrima” from L’elisir d’amore is unusually expressive and tender with his phrasing and use of dynamics. In the second verse, he employs a set of variations to great effect, and then finishes the aria with a new cadenza making the aria entirely his own personal version. Wish that more tenors were this attentive to details and originality.

Many tenors have recorded the great aria “Spirto gentil” from Donizetti’s La favorita but few can sing its high lying tessitura as easily as Mr. Flórez, who has chosen to sing it in the original French. Even fewer tenors attempt the haunting aria from Linda di Chamounix. Donizetti wrote this opera in Vienna, when he was court musician to Empress Eugenia. Linda became overnight one of the most popular operas on the international stages as every Prima Donna was anxious to sing the famous aria “O luce di quest’anima”. Donizetti was quick to absorb the orchestral techniques of von Weber and the Austrian School. This tenor aria is delicately scored for harp and woodwinds, and boasts a most memorable melody. It is one of the highlights of the album. The aria from Lucrezia Borgia, “T’ama quel s’ama un angelo”, is also a rarity. It is not in the printed score as it was an interpolation written for the Russian tenor Ivanoff, who had come to Italy to study the Italian vocal technique with Donizetti. Nonetheless, it is a major Donizetti tenor aria and was a favorite of Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus. It is documented splendidly in this recording.

The duets and the accompanying artists are what really distinguish this recording.
Anna Netrebko is somewhat notorious for her portrayal of Bellini’s pathetic heroine Elvira. Her performances in I puritani last season at the MET were greeted with mixed reception to say the least. Many felt she did not have the requisite arsenal of techniques to surmount the virtuoso hurdles of the role. Juan Diego Flórez was scheduled to partner her but dropped out of the production early on. Here, we at last have them together for the final duet “Vieni fra queste braccia”, and can have a glimpse at what might have been. This is not a duet for those timid of heights! Indeed, they are quite thrilling and breathtaking in their fearless exchange of high D’s and C’s.

Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien has made a career at the MET in recent years as a distinguished Donizetti baritone, most notably as Dr. Dulcamara in Don Pasquale and Enrico Ashton in Lucia di Lammermoor. He brings out all of the humor in Sergeant Belcore as he enlists Nemmorino in the army for “Venti scudi” (twenty dollars).
Yet for all of its champagne humor it is duet fraught with vocal bravura. It is performed here completely uncut with added high C’s thrown in for good measure. You don’t hear it like this in the opera house!

Soprano Patrizia Ciofi has a most beautiful quality to her voice. It has what I would term the “Old School” sound, a completely individual timbre like Scotto, or Olivero, or Gencer. The duet from Linda di Chamounix is as lovely and as exciting as the famous one from Lucia di Lammermoor (“Verrano a te sull’aure”). It should be better known. Pavarotti and Sutherland recorded it, and this performance is of equal distinction. The music is again marked by Donizetti’s brilliant orchestration and soaring melodies. It lifts my heart and makes me want to sing just hearing it. You will especially enjoy this duet. It is really lovely.

The two Rossini duets, which round out the recording, are virtually unknown. Singing the Rossini passages is always difficult but leaves a great impression when negotiated brilliantly. It is amazing that Rossini would go to such vocal lengths just to get a laugh as he does in this duet from . Mezzo Daniela Barcellona is a singer in the tradition of Marilyn Horne, Giulietta Simionatto, and Fedora Barbieri … robust and gutsy. The way she roller coasts from head voice into chest will rattle the dishes on you kitchen shelf. Even if you don’t know Italian, you will get a chuckle from this duet. It is completely delightful.

The duet for two tenors from Rossini’s Otello is, of course, a complete rarity, and what a coup to enlist the favors of none less than Plácido Domingo! Who would ever imagine that this great Lyric/Dramatic tenor could wiggle his way up and down the Rossini scales? He does so with maximum impact and authority. Otello is a dramatic character he is well familiar with, but Rossini’s demands are completely different from Verdi’s. It is a real eye opener to hear him in this call to arms (“All’armi”), and the contrast of his burnished tone against the spun silver of Juan Diego Flórez’s voice is simply arresting.

If you enjoy Italian Bel Canto your will want to own this CD. It is beautifully recorded and Maestro Oren and his Valenciana forces accompany most admirably. All around it is a cause for loud celebration, and it is most certainly a Bel Canto Spectacular!

Micaele Sparacino




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