Levy Sekgapane: Giovin fiamma
True Rossini tenors are a rare breed. Applicants require a light tenor, pingy top notes and florid ease through the demanding displays of coloratura. Few truly fit the bill. Levy Sekgapane isn’t in the same dazzling league as Juan Diego Flórez or Lawrence Brownlee – who is? – but he ticks many of the right boxes. He has a light, appealing tone and top notes that often hit the mark with real zing. He’s secured appearances at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro and, this summer, sang Almaviva in Glyndebourne’s revival of Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia. Now, Sekgapane makes his recording debut on Marina Rebeka’s label with an all-Rossini programme.
It’s not an easy listen. A sequence of nine high-octane, high-wire Rossini arias isn’t necessarily recommended listening in one gulp, whoever the tenor. Perhaps an overture or two – or a duet – might have varied the diet, especially when the Munich Radio Orchestra under the excellent Giacomo Sagripanti do such sterling work. But Sekgapane has put together an interesting programme, starting out with arias from the popular crowd-pleasers – Barbiere, L’italiana in Algeri and Cenerentola – before throwing in rarities from Otello, Zelmira and Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra among others. With little-known repertoire in the latter half of the disc, it’s disappointing that the booklet doesn’t contain English translations.
Sekgapane is far from a polished ‘product’, alas. The biggest area of concern is his coloratura, which races up and down the staff with dazzling speed, but it can take on a peculiar, buzzy nasal quality which is distinctly unpleasant. ‘A wasp in a jam jar’ is a colleague’s favourite phrase to dismiss such voices. On this occasion, I wouldn’t disagree. He also attacks some of the notes too aggressively, making it a relentless listen. It makes me wonder why so many artists are rushed into setting down interpretations on disc before they’ve had time to develop and mature, but that’s a whole other can of worms. With the right training, Sekgapane could well grow into a Rossini tenor of some stature.