Gounod; Massenet Arias
This is a mostly well-planned and executed recital, mixing favourites by both composers with extracts from operas that have remained rarities, even with the increased interest in late 19th-century repertory. The disc begins with Rodrigue’s great prayer, ‘O souverain’ from Act 3 of Le Cid. Rolando Villazón sings this with an attractive quiet introspection to start with, but then there is metal and passion in his voice for the climax. Although the chorus is present for some of the other items, it is absent here; this is the concert reduction – it has a much more spectacular finish in its complete version.
Of the other well-known Massenet items, it is good to hear Werther’s ‘Lorsque l’enfant’, the section I always feel is the heart of the role, as well as the show-stopping ‘Pourquoi me réveiller?’. In ‘En fermant les yeux’ from Manon, Natalie Dessay provides Manon’s brief phrases (no more than 20 words), and Villazón makes a really sensitive dreamer. ‘Ah, fuyez’ goes well too, but it will be the arias from Roma, Grisélidis and Le Mage that will attract most listeners. They are all known to collectors from old recordings by such stalwarts of the Opéra-Comique as Léon Beyle, César Vezzani and Louis Cazette. In all Massenet’s output is there a more seductive tune than the one that forms the centre of the Roma scene, ‘Soir admirable’? This is done very well by Warren Mok in the complete recording (5/00), but Villazón outshines him. ‘Je suis l’oiseau’ from Grisélidis is lovely, though it hasn’t got quite the allure of the famous Cazette recording. The CD ends with the ecstatic call to the heavenly Anahita from Le Mage.
Of the Gounod arias, Faust’s ‘Salut demeure’ fares the best, but again it will be the extracts from Polyeucte and La Reine de Saba that will please immediately. Villazón has established himself as one of the most promising among the new generation of tenors. The name of Janine Reiss appears on the CD credits as ‘Directrice des études musicales’ and Villazón’s French has improved since I heard him as Hoffmann at Covent Garden last year. There is the odd difficulty still with certain vowels, ‘ensemble’ emerging as ‘ens-amble’.
Accompaniment, recording and presentation are first-rate. Evelino Pidò directs the French Radio Philharmonic with excellent feel for mood, mostly in this repertory, of course, veering between agony and ecstasy.