On Musicweb reviewer Ralph Moore recently wrote on his penchant for tenor recitals. Usually classic music reviewers look down on these recordings, pontificate that arias are taken out of context and make short shrift of recitals. Mr. Moore doesn’t. On the contrary, with each new record he hopes to hear the next great tenor anxiously awaiting for a successor to….you name it. Of course that’s the problem. We less sophisticated vocal buffs who like a great high C have not been spoiled for almost 25 years. Compare our time with the golden age of tenor singing; broadly speaking 1900-1990. Yes, there have been some notable exceptions to the dearth of a breed that seems almost extinguished ( e.g. Florez and Calleja and Kaufmann though only in German repertoire) but I am not the only one wondering what predecessors would have thought of La Scala openings with Meli or Eyvasov. . Anyway there’s recently being a new crop; therefore “incomminciato!”.

Freddie De Tommaso: Passione-Decca

Mr. De Tommaso dedicates this CD to the late Franco Corelli and as a consequence that gentleman’s sound continuous to ring in our ears along the sounds produced by the Italo-British singer. Let’s state it from the start. De Tomaso is no competitor for Corelli or most other tenors from the past who recorded these magnificent Italian and Neapolitan songs. The problem, at least to my ears, is a rather thick sound, shorn of real Italianita in the middle voice. De Tommaso reminds me a lot of those British spinto’s who were acceptable in the house; singers like Tom Burke, Donald Smith, Tom Swift, Charles Craig. Good solid voices though without charm or personal timbre. The surprising thing in this recital are the top notes. There De Tommaso’s Italian heritage comes into full swing and the ringing top register is one of a good Italian tenor. Thus the higher the better. Not that the tenor is a butcher throughout. He produces some nice piano effects in “Addio, sogni di gloria”. His legato is often fine in “I’te vuria vasà”. The phrasing is OK in “L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombre” but how one yearns for a more personal and beautiful sound like Björlings classic interpretation. In other songs like “Marechiare”  and “Lolita” De Tommaso sounds rough and once more devoid of charm. The basic lack of beauty especially strikes one in songs of the early 19th century period like “Fenesta che lucive” or in a pastiche like “Musica proibita”. De Tommaso is at his best in fiercely outpourings of love like “Passione” and “Dicitencello vuje” where he clearly invokes some memories of his idol. Still, even a shameless top note hunter (courtesy of The Gramophone reviewer Philip Hope-Wallace) like Franco Corelli didn’t hurl out an unmusical high note at the end of “Dicitencello” which breaks the musical line. The Puccini songs are well sung but sound strange between the Neapolitan outpourings of love. Renato Balsadonna conducts the London Philharmonic with taste and uses classic arrangements; not souped up ones who often mar such recitals.

Benjamin Bernheimer: Operatic recital (DGG)

I’ve not heard Mr. Bernheimer in the flesh. There are reports he has a strong lyric voice which now and then unsuspectedly bursts out at the top in a big unwieldy sound unconnected to the rest of the voice. Anyway I can only judge him on this record though there are signs of this feature in “Pourquoi me réveiller”. With one exception all aria’s are well-known and the exception comes from Benjamin Godard’s (best known by one aria from “Jocelyn”) “Dante et Béatrice” and it is a rather noisy affair. Mr. Bernheimer follows the modern trend of singing at least in three languages. His Italian is idiomatic; I cannot judge his Russian but it is a pleasure to hear such an incisiveness  in French. At least a native speaker in this hackneyed repertoire. Bernheimer has a clear, penetrating voice with a good top. He doesn’t chops up phrases and the legato is excellent. However there is a chink on his armour. The actual sound is not very distinct. It is not a voice one immediately recognizes due to its colours. In fact he sounds a bit bland to me. Aria after aria is well sung but no strong reminiscences remain. The Cd was recorded in 2018 and maybe he has refined his interpretations. One expects more on a début recital on a prestigious label. Take “Una furtiva lagrima”. Sung straightforwardly but without longing, without that almost undefinable “morbidezza” needed. I expected him to be an excellent Roméo and all is well but the final note is just a loud one. One is happy with a French tenor in “Salut demeure” as one finally hears “ chaste et pure” and not “pire” but I was surprised at the breath he clearly takes before the high C sung forte. I know he is not Di Stefano at the Met in 1949 but even “le bombardier basque” Tony Poncet succeeded to record an acceptable messa di voce. Then there is the question of the right tempi. Real top conductors are not enamoured to conduct vocal recitals. Yes, Karajan did for Price’s Christmas songs and Serafin accompanied Vickers; so did Gavazzeni for Bergonzi. And poor Abbado could only record orchestral pieces if he consented to accompany Alagna and Gheorgiu. But even with these maestro’s there probably was talk of give and take between conductor and singer and probably the singer got the best. On this Cd Emmanuel Villaume conducts the Prague Philharmonia. No complaints on the orchestra’s sound but who decided on tempi? I suppose Mr. Bernheimer had his say and “broad” is the least one can define them. In the recitative of “Lunge da lei” the music almost comes to a standstill. Bernheimer’s “Kuda, kuda” is well sung though so slow one has the feeling of a walk among the flowers instead of a premonition of an early death. Tasteful is “Oh fede negar potessi” but for once I took the pain to compare it with Bergonzi’s spectacular début recital. The Italian goes for exactly 5 minutes and Bernheimer surpasses it with 40 seconds. No problem if Bernheimer tried to decorate it in the 19th century vocal style of De Lucia, Bonci (and Verdi) but on this record he just takes his time. All in all, not a recital one will relisten to a lot of times.

Benjamin Bernheimer: Boulevard des Italiens

The second recital by the French tenor is all in French though the Puccini arias were written on an Italian text while some others are better known in the Italian version though originally composed on a French libretto. No problem with me at all. I live in the heart of Flanders and it takes me three quarters of an hour to reach our also Dutch-speaking cousins in The Netherlands (2 hours to Amsterdam); one hour for Germany (Aachen) and the same time for France (though 3 hours to Paris). That means we are on a cross road between cultures and styles. During the fifties and sixties I heard “Que cette main est froide” and “Wie eiskalt ist dies Händchen” as many times as “Che gelida”. Though Londen is now only a half hour’s flying from Antwerpen the Channel was still an obstruction in those years and therefore I was mercifully spared British “tiny frozen hands”. So Mr. Bernheimer makes a case for singing several chestnuts in his own language and he does so with conviction and a sense of style which reminds me of numerous magnificent French tenors like Thill, Luccioni, Vezzani, Vanzo. Indeed his “O de beautés égales” , his “Adieu, séjour fleuri” and others sound to me more convincing, heart-felt, spontaneous etc. than this would be the case with “Recondita armonia” or “Addio fiorito asil”. Another reason besides language is the sound of Mr. Bernheimer. It has not the richness of a top Italian tenor and suits French excellently. The Cd was recorded in April 2021 three years after the début recital and thus we hear slight differences. From time to time a bit coarseness pops up like in “Pour me rapprocher de Marie”. Other pieces are sung with style. I was especially charmed by his “Seul sur la terre”. He has formidably competition in Luciano Pavarotti’s début recital (Italian version) and Richard Leech’s magnificent rendition on the complete recording of Dom Sébastien. Still Bernheimer holds his own with a less rich voice but the voice conveys loneliness and sounds elegiac. He has not the high C’s of his predecessors and cuts them rather short but wins with an unexpected beautiful piano on the last one.

In Don Carlo the voice sounds a bit dry though the phrasing is imaginative with once more a fine piano ending. However he shakes his voice instead of singing a real trill. He uses his good head voice again in “Je veux entendre encore” (Jérusalem) and the aria sounds almost a different piece of music compared to heavyweight Italian tenors like Corelli and Del Monaco (though Vezzani’s recording matches the Italians. After all a Corsican is more Italian than French). He offers us a nice interpretation of Henri’s substitution aria from Les Vêpres siciliennes though the difference between a good voice and an exceptional one (Pavarotti who recorded the aria on a Verdi premieres album with Abbado) is marked. Interesting are the arias from La Vestale and Ali Baba and then there is (as far as I know) a real premiere: “Amica! Vous restez à l’écart” from Mascagni’s French opera. There is a record by the creator of the role Charles Rousselière but he used the Italian translation. The aria is an example of the composers “excalted vocalism” after 1900: high on emotions, difficult to sing and lacking in melody. All in all, a good though not exceptional Cd.

Julien Behr: Confidence – Alpha Records

Recently neither at the Koningin Elisabeth-wedstrijd in Brussel or at Cardiff a single tenor made it to the finals. Compare that with the famous photo from the vocal competition at Cannes in 1954.  It was a “tenors only” competition (imagine that nowadays!) and the winners in different vocal categories were Alain Vanzo, Guy Chauvet, Roger Gardes, Tony Poncet. All had impressive careers. We always think of Italy as a tenor country but in reality France was not far behind. With Bernheimer and Julien Behr we’ve got a new generation of talented French tenors.

Behr shows a fine lyrical voice, very agreeable to hear. He belongs to that kind of singers who don’t overwhelm you with a god given sound but still one enjoys almost quietly a nice voice that phrases excellently, has legato in the best French tradition. Yes, it’s not over rich but the voice has sweetness though not of the quality of Vanzo or Mallabrera. The voice is homogenous, beautifully rounded with good (not pushed) top notes. No surprise he’s often engaged for Mozart. He’s a worthy successor of lesser known French names in the post war annals like Jean Brazzi, Georges Noré, Georges Liccioni, André Laroze, Henri Legay, Michel Cadiou. Most of them made a few records which are worthwhile searching for (Malibran Records republished some of them).

The Cd has the collaboration from Palazetto Bru Zane (Centre de musique romantique) which has given us already so many  interesting complete recordings of opera’s  we only knew by their titles and for many years we despaired we would ever hear one note from the scores. Thus it comes as no surprise that Julien Behr offers us some unhackneyed repertoire with arias from Cinq-Mars (Gounod), Jean de Nivelle (Delibes), Le Chevalier Jean (Joncières); all pieces well worth hearing. In more traditional repertoire Behr keeps up remarkably well though the competition is fierce. Still he performs that magnificent elegiac “J’aime la veille maison grise” (Fortunio) well though he has not the individual noble sound  of Georges Thill. His “Cachés dans cet asil” (Jocelyn) is aptly dreamlike though one remembers Jussi Björling all too well. And his “Elle ne croyait pas” (Mignon) is fine though one cannot forget the superior versions of Di Stefano and Vanzo. That fiendishly difficult “Prendre le dessin d’un bijou” (Lakmé) is mostly sung forte and lacks the honeyed sounds of Vanzo (Highlights on Véga more than the complete Decca) or D’Arkor. Behr follows the tradition of French lyric tenors (and baritons-martin) to add a few operetta aria’s. What a fine Sou-Chong he would be in Le pays du sourire (though once more Vanzo’s magnificent recordings pops up when hearing “Je t’ai donné mon coeur”). There is only one small fly in the ointment. The last track on the record is a song by Charles Trenet. It’s a noisy piece and Behr makes the mistake of some operatic voices (e.g. Price on her cross over album with Previn) to revert to half speaking, half crooning instead of using their straight operatic voice which Lanza did with success.

The Cd has an extra attraction. Don’t expect a reviewer to listen to each piece with judicious attention and a note book on hand. The first time I just like to be washed over by the music before going into detail on second hearing. Nevertheless I sat up at first hearing of track number 5. “They have discovered a hidden gem by Massenet” was my first thought: a magnificent sensuous and nocturnal elegy. Not Massenet at all, but part of an ‘ode-symphony with spoken verse’ by Augusta Holmès (1847-1903). Recently a biography of the lady appeared (with collaboration of Bru Zane too). She wrote four operas; only one  was performed and though she was influenced by Wagner, Wagnerites thought her work smacked too much of Massenet. Moreover she was not a man and like Helen Rhodes (Guy d’Hardelot) she initially used a male pseudonym. Her symphonic poem Andromède is to be found on the 8 Cd-box Compositrices (female composers only) from Palazetto Bru Zane.  It’s probably an illusion to expect Paris Opéra to revive or create an Holmès opera but judging from what we already know we are in for a treat.

Javier Camarena: Signor Gaetano – Pentatone

This all-Donizetti recital has in common with Bernheimer and Behr that it is a judicious mix of a few familiar items and a lot of unhackneyed material. Not that there are world premières to be found. Most belcanto lovers collect Donizetti on Opera Rara or on more unfamiliar labels and it often takes just a few clicks to find complete recordings of Marino Falieri or Caterina Cornaro. I yield to no one in my admiration for the maestro from Bergamo (I once had his museum opened for me and my wife) but I have to admit that not every tenor scene is divinely inspired. It’s always a pleasure to listen to but even after several sessions I cannot hum the tunes and that’s the great difference between a formidably talented composer like Donizetti and a tune-smith genius like Verdi where two or three listening moments are sufficient to recognize Il Corsaro, Alzira or I Masnadieri.

Javier Camarena hails from Mexico. We all know those magnificent voices that came from Castilian or Catalan speaking countries in Europe and Latin-America.  Almost always these voices were and are dark-hued, less bright than Italian tenors. Usually they are distinct from each other by colours and by personal timbre. Lazaro, Granda, Civil, Dal Monte and the after war crop Domingo, Carreras, Araiza, Vargas, Villazon  etc. are easily recognizable. Mr. Camarena is an exception to the rule. He is the possessor of a strong penetrating evenly scaled and homogeneous voice though without much personal colours. His strength are his formidable top notes; not a specialty of Mexican or Spanish tenors (Alfredo Kraus is half Austrian) unless one thinks of Ipolito Lazaro but lucky for us Camarena sings without the elder tenor’s pronounced nasality. Such a formidable top is an asset for Donizetti’s cabalettas, even though some of these were originally written to sing in falsetto and not forte as Camarena does. To me Camarena sounds a lot like Luciano Pavarotti on that first sensational début record from 1968 though without the Italian’s warmth and charm.

The Cd is an example of careful preparation and execution. Every piece is fully executed, without a cut, and with chorus and accompanying soprano or second tenor were the score asks for it. When one  looks at the timing, one understands Donizetti’s exigencies and the virtuosity of the singers in his time. Aria and cabaletta from Roberto Devereux takes 12 minutes and 34 seconds to perform; Marino Faliero clocks just one second less than 12 minutes. Many thanks to the production team, the Pentatone team and Mr. Camarena. The tenor is at his best in the cabaletta’s, more than in the arias though they are carefully and stylishly sung with exemplary legato; only lacking in honeyed tenor sound. Compare Camarena’s version with Gianni Raimondi’s singing in Roberto Devereux and immediately the difference between a singer versed in early ottocento and an all purpose tenor is clear. A pity too, Mr. Camarena came too late to record the tenor roles for those cherished Opera Raras’s and his singing is superior to Bruce Ford’s drier sound  or to the almost emasculated shrieks by Maurice Arthur and Christian du Plessis on early Donizetti recordings. The real treat however is reserved for the high C and high D collector. Camarena’s D’s in Faliero are jaw dropping and I can imagine the house coming down after such a display in the flesh. Mr. Camarena’s (relative) weaknesses are obvious in the few war horses. He cannot compete with Caruso, Gigli, Tagliavini in “Una furtiva” (Who can?). He has not the dolcezza Ugo Benelli displays in Don Pasquale. All in all a fine Cd.

Piotr Beczala: Verismo-Pentatone

Where angels fear to tread, Piotr Beczala steps in. As a young boy I first started listening to great tenors (Lanza’s first movie That Midnight Kiss was the first movie I ever saw). At that time Gigli, Schipa and Melchior were still singing. At the same time records by Caruso, Pertile, Lauri-Volpi, Tauber, Schmidt were still frequently played on radio. I grew up with the three giants of the fifties: Del Monaco, Björling and Di Stefano (Richard Tucker was not very much known in Europe). And when I was thirteen Corelli and Bergonzi made their first recitals. Therefore it is almost impossible to judge this Cd objectively when one has in mind the sounds of the most illustrious voices of the 20th century.

Beczala was 52 years old when he recorded this Cd after a career that started in Linz in 1992. He has a nice strong lyric tenor though he is not a spinto. He is in good voice and sings straight out. And that is the problem for me. I strongly doubt Mr. Beczala speaks Italian. I don’t hear specific phrasing and you cannot hear the difference between jubilation (“Viva il vino”), regret (“E lucevan”) or anger (Un di all’azurro). I heard both Beczala and Di Stefano in the theatre. The older Italian tenor didn’t have a bigger voice and on his 1958 recital there already is a marked decline. But the way Di Stefano pronounces the words in “Un di” convinces us of his feelings and he creates a real person and that’s the difference between a native speaker and someone who just recites words. It all sounds the same  with Beczala though the feelings of the heroes differ markedly. Beczala doesn’t sob, doesn’t cough, doesn’t use glottal stops and that’s all the better, but he doesn’t make you sit up and take notice. Take the Tosca arias. “Recondita” is routine singing and in “E lucevan” one at least expects a morendo on “discogleia”. Nothing happens. This is no “poeta” singing “La dolcissima effigie” and one hears no regret, no prayer for forgiveness in “L’anima ho stanca”. Of course Beczala has not the means of Franco Corelli but even less gifted tenors than Beczala can make something special from this aria: witness the same aria sung almost piano by Nicola Filacuridi in the complete recording with Mafalda Favero. And Beczala’s voice lacks brilliance and heft in that murderous “Il russo Mencikoff” that asks for the torrent of Corelli or Del Monaco. Sometimes it isn’t even a question of heft but of the right colour. Björling probably didn’t have more decibels than Beczala but his “Mamma, quell vino” sounds far more convincing. The Polish tenor is at his best in lyrical outpourings like “Amor ti vieta” and “Come un bel” where he just recites André de Chénier’s last poem (in Illica’s translation). Beczala’s “Avete torto” lacks youthful exuberance and it strikes me that the tenor uses 50 seconds more than Sandor Konya on this short last homage to Firenze and Tuscany by Puccini. Though the voice sounds fresh I get the feeling, and maybe it is a personal one which others don’t share, that nowadays it has a more whining quality than on Beczala’s earlier Cd’s. Moreover the Polish tenor was never a knight of the high C. I’d say that a high B flat is his last comfortable note though even there one hears strain. As with Camarena’s recital this Pentatone production is once more an example of perfect respect for the score; chorus and other parts included. Even the short “hahahaha” chorus in “Tra voi belle” is recorded.

I cannot recommend the Cd. This is for fans only or for younger people who learn their operatic trade during a Beczala performance and are not hampered by souvenirs from the past.

Jonathan Tetelman: Arias – DGG

If I didn’t know better, I would say a new gifted Italian tenor. Well, he is American but was adopted as a baby and he was born in Chile. So his genetic heritage is probably Latino and thus derives originally from countries below the Alps and the Pyreneans that gave us many top tenors. He has in common with Giovanni Zenatello, Carlo Bergonzi and Bruno Prevedi that he started as a lyric baritone, didn’t feel comfortable in this range, studied and came out a tenor. Like his predecessors his voice shows its origins in the warmth of the middle voice and the good but not outstanding top. Still it is a personal and not a generic sound one first notices. The voice shows an agreeable vibrato; even quivers a bit in the verismo style of the thirties but never becomes sobbing or a real tremolo. And most important he goes with the flow of the music and knows how to phrase. He and conductor Karel Chichon (Mr. Garanca) prefer broad tempi though the music never comes to a standstill.

Take Tetelman’s “Cielo e mar”: exquisitely sung with a magnificent pianissimo at the right place which reminds me of Bergonzi’s version (encore included)  at Verona in 1973. He shows his mastery of mezza-voce and piano in “La dolcissima”, “O tu che in seno” and especially “Pourquoi me réveiller”. With Tetelman it is not a gimmick like the crooning of Kaufmann and Vickers (both never should have sung Italian or French repertory). At full voice Tetelman sounds like a cross between a lyric and a spinto. I don’t think he is as yet a tenor for the big Verdi parts. In “Non maledirmi” he is overtaxed and at the close of “O tu che in seno” the voice sounds a bit tired. He sings a magnificent Turiddu but is less successful in “M’appari” where he sounds too angry and his top note is rather rough. His “Di quella pira” is not for eternity. Granted it is one of the few versions on record (on recital at least) where we get both verses plus soprano and secondo tenore. The high C lasts an eternity but is pinched and not on the same sound level as the rest of the cabaletta. I wonder if some electronic wizardry was needed. Nor is Tetelman a perfect technician. His “Ah! Si, ben mio” is fine and on a recital he is right to interpolate the high B  not to be found in the score. But in the post-Bergonzi age one expects the tenor to sing the trill and Tetelman reverts to a little shaking but no real trill. Tetelman restricts himself to French and Italian repertory and doesn’t try to impress us with Russian or German arias. Both his Italian and his French are excellent though there is a small pronunciation glitch in “La fleur”. His messa di voce at the end of that aria is not fully successful and I think he should have been bettered served by singing in full voice and not trying to emulate Kaufmann. I very much appreciated the wonderful 12 minutes of “Paola, datemi pace”; magic music. Tetelman is accompanied by Vida Mikneviciuté and the voices match particularly well. Granted Domingo’s voice sounded smoother and in 1960 Olivero and Del Monaco at La Scala (not on the Decca recording) still come first.

In short, I enjoyed the Cd and heartily recommend it. Remains the question Ralph Moore asked at Music Web. Is Tetelman the answer to our long wait for the next great tenor? Not really if by “great tenor” is meant that at last there is a true successor with the voice of Caruso, Gigli, Björling, Lanza, Del Monaco, Corelli, Bergonzi, Pavarotti. Mr. Tetelman is now 35 years of age and at the height of his powers. Probably he will further refine his singing but the chances are small his voice will improve to reach the level of the greatest tenors in history. Nevertheless we all sigh when we hear those tenors of the fifties and the sixties who didn’t become a divo as competition was too strong. Take Campora and Raimondi and the best of them all Flaviano Labo. I’d rate Mr. Tetelman as a “voce parallele”. Don’t’ we all sigh and say when we listen to one of Labo’s many Cd’s (live on Bongiovanni): nowadays he would have been a world star.

Pene Pati, Warner classics

Mr. Pati hails from Samoa in the Pacific (until 1962 Western Samoa was part of New Zealand). He is living proof of the universality of classic Western music (no matter what woke racists tell). Due to Western technology early primitive instruments developed into highly sophisticated ones and voices had to follow this evolution. Whereas almost nobody thought of singing Japanese or Chinese operas or Indian war cries except members of these lands (and before woke racists started their lies of “cultural appropriation) singers from all continents were and are stirred by Western operatic music. 

Pene Pati has a lean light lyric voice, rather opaque and it takes some time to get used to it. In fact he sounds a lot like some lesser French provincial tenors of the fifties; witness Pierre Lani or Pierre Fleta. His French is excellent and he sings stylishly without sobs. Sometimes I am reminded of a poor man’s Pavarotti as in “La donna è mobile” where he almost copies the elder tenor. He has clearly listened to the Italian’s famous second recital published in 1971 (my wife’s first gift) where the tenor tries to beat the world record in clinging to a high note in “Corriam, corriam”. Well, Pati succeeds in beating Pavarotti with a 14 seconds long  “ah aaaah” in stead of “Aux armes”. It sounds to me as the cry of a strangulated capon and the sound picture is somewhat murky; proof I think the top note was recorded separately and not too well inserted. Moreover Pati hasn’t Pavarotti’s incisive and bigger sound.  Pati’s voice is better suited to the fisherman than to Arnold von Melcthal. Pati uses the same “ah aaaaah” in “Possente amor” though there it sounds better though definitely not a rival for the high D we first got acquainted with in Alfredo Kraus’ Duca in the 1959 Rigoletto (Bastianini, Scotto). Never two without three. Mr. Pati repeats the trick in “Plus blanche” though this time the aria as a whole sounds better as Meyerbeer’s light scoring helps the tenor.

More important is the reality that Pene Pati sings along without any special phrasing. Judging from this recording no one can deduct different feelings in Patti’s rendition of “Una furtiva”, “Ah lève-toi”, “Cachés dans cet asile” or “Ella mi fu rapita”. Polyeucte’s magnificent “Source délicieuse”, brilliantly recorded by José Luccioni in 1947 and a promise of great things when sung by young Rolando Villazon, goes here for nothing. Best are a nice “Instant charmant” where for once Patti shows charm and a vigorous full version of “Ed ancor” from Roberto Devereux. It seems to be a rule now on all tenor recitals under review that at least more than one or two unhackneyed pieces are included. Apart from Devereux we hear too a La Battaglia aria, a Moïse et Pharaon duo and L’étoile du nord. Another rule which is to be appreciated is the recent habit of labels to record full versions with chorus. In Tell we even get the middle section with chorus between “Aisle héréditaire” and “Amis, secondez ma vaillance”; you will never find it on another tenor recital (not culled from a complete performance). Tenor lovers get full value on this record: almost 80 minutes (compare it with De Tomasso’s 51 minutes).   

Michael Fabiano: Verdi-Donizetti

Though the recital was recorded in 2018, it was never reviewed on this site. Several items on this record may be praised though basically and once more -I know I’m repeating myself- there is the same flaw almost all modern tenors (with the exception of Calleja) show: a lack of a personal and immediately recognizable timbre. Mind you, I would feel happy at a Fabiano performance but “ein Aha-erlebnis” his voice is not as colours are lacking. The tenor shows a strong lyric sound, in my opinion better suited to late Donizetti and early Verdi than to a heavyweight like Alvaro and the aria “Qual sange” from the 1862 first version of the opera (the aria is on a recording of Bergonzi’s 1973 Amsterdam concert). Fabiano is at his best in Il Corsaro where he can compete with Bergonzi; stylishly sung though he pushes his voice in the cabaletta. His “Ciel pietoso” from Oberto too is as fine as you can find on another recording. Particular praise I reserve for his Luisa Miller where he shows excellent phrasing, surprising us with a few diminuendo where other tenors go straight for the jugular (even Bergonzi does). Pentatone produces recordings without cuts (chorus and “Si, rivederti, Amelia” are included in “Forse la soglia attinse” and even the smallest utterance by another singer usually is recorded. Therefore I was surprised “un christiano’s” remarks are lacking in Poliuto. Of course there are as much as versions as there are tenors who recorded it. Fabiano’s has 5 minutes 56 seconds while Franco Corelli’s heavily cut aria lasts only 4 minutes 23 seconds. Chris Merritt’s plebeian version even takes 8 minutes and 4 seconds as he repeats part of the first verse. Mr. Fabiano’s version has the problem that the good is the enemy of the best. Though Votto and Corelli used scissors it is the famous live La Scala performance of 1960 (with Callas and Bastianini) where most of us heard the aria for the first time. And unless you were a hopeless prejudiced bigot like Opera Magazine’s Rosenthal, your mouth dropped at the glorious sound of Corelli and his amazing high D which sets fire to La Scala. It is one of the most amazing pieces of live recorded tenor singing and at every sound Fabiano utters you hear Corelli in the your inner ear and you sigh. Fabiano redeems himself with a fine “Tombe degli avi miei” and an even finer short but memorable aria from Maria di Rohan. But his Ernani (not “Come rugiada” but the extra “Odi il voto – recorded by Pavarotti as well) and his I Due Foscari reveal a voice a shade too light. He sounds overtaxed and has a tendency to thicken his tone in the passaggio. All in all, it still is a fine Cd.

While listening to all those tenor recordings I switched to sopranos now and then. I hadn’t heard Margherita Grandi (née Marguerite Bard in Australia) for a while and on her Bongiovanni LP she is accompanied by tenor Antonio Salvarezza. He is almost forgotten unless one possesses the rare LP Maurizio Tiberi once produced with his 6 Cetra 1949 recordings. I was immediately and once again struck by the warmth, the fulness, the personal timbre of the voice and less impressed by his style of singing. Nowadays tenors definitely don’t chop up phrases, use sobs sparingly but as to personal recognizable sound they cannot compete with the old Italian school. Keep in mind that between 1946 and 1953 we got the debuts of (you’re in for a ride): Di Stefano, Campagnano, Misciano, Penno, Picchi, Poggi, Raimondi, Valetti, Berdini, Savio, Campora, Puma, Babini, Ortica, Ferrari, Corelli, Bergonzi, Monti, Zampighi, Zambruno, Borso, Loforese, Labo, Antonioli, Bardi, Gavarini, Gentile, Nobile, Romano, Sarri, Turrini, Barrati, Gismondo, Formichini, Ventura, Vicentini, Vertecchi. Not all were world stars or deserved to be but they unmistakably had their own sound which you would immediately recognize as Italian. Nowadays and with tenors galore this seems to be replaced by musical but generic utterances without much personality.

Jan Neckers, September 2023