Roberto Alagna - French Arias

A fine recital by Alagna which finds him in good voice and exploiting a sensitive feeling for the byways of French opera

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Roberto Alagna - French Arias

  • Maître Pathelin, Je pense a vous quand je m'éveille
  • (La) Damnation de Faust, Nature immense (Invocation)
  • (Les) Pêcheurs de Perles, '(The) Pearl Fishers', ~, A cette voix
  • (Les) Pêcheurs de Perles, '(The) Pearl Fishers', ~, Je crois entendre encore
  • (L')Attaque du Moulin, Le jour tombe
  • (Les) Abencérages, ~, Suspendez à ces murs
  • (Les) Abencérages, ~, J'ai vu disparaître l'espoir
  • Iphigénie en Tauride, ~, Quel langage accablant
  • Iphigénie en Tauride, ~, Unis dès la plus tendre enfance
  • Mireille, ~, Mon coeur est plein d'un noir souci!
  • Mireille, ~, Anges du paradis
  • (Les) Fausses apparences ou L'amant jaloux, Tandis que tout sommeille (Sérénade)
  • (La) Juive, ~, Rachel, quand du Seigneur
  • (Le) Roi d'Ys, ~, Puisqu'on ne peut fléchir
  • (Le) Roi d'Ys, ~, Vainement, ma bien-aimée! (Aubade)
  • Joseph, ~, Vainement Pharaon dans sa reconnaissance
  • Joseph, ~, Champs paternels
  • (L')Africaine, '(The) African Maid', ~, Pays merveilleux
  • (Le) Cid, ~, Ah! tout est bien fini
  • (Le) Cid, ~, O souverain, ô juge, ô père
  • Samson et Dalila, Vois ma misère
  • Mignon, ~, Elle ne croyait pas

This, it seems to me, is one of the best recitals Alagna has recorded. By juxtaposing familiar with somewhat lesser-known arias, he offers a survey of French operatic style from 1778 (Gretry’s L’amant jaloux) to 1893 (Bruneau’s L’attaque du moulin). As John Steane points out in his booklet, the French tenor, and what was expected of him, shifted from the haute-contre type of the late 18th century, through heroic antics of the 1830s and 40s, when Nourrit and Duprez launched the fashion for stentorian high notes, to the more modern elegance demanded by Massenet and his successors.
Of the operas that will be curiosities to all but the most travelled music-lovers, Cherubini’s Les abencerages and Mehul’s Joseph are both worthy of revival. In the first, the hero is a battle-scarred warrior who has to try and retrieve the lost flag of his army. When we meet him, he is facing up to the idea of his life of exile, far from his beloved. The text is based on Chateaubriand, and Alagna deals with the climactic cry of ‘Je te perds; mon ame fletrie t’adresse d’eternels adieux’ most effectively, the high notes taken softly, as the composer would have expected. Joseph, which is officially called ‘Drame mele de chants’, stayed in the Opera-Comique repertory from its premiere in 1807 until 1910. Here Joseph is lamenting his father, Jacob, far away. This whole era of French opera, between the Revolution and the end of Napoleon’s Empire, is almost entirely neglected, so any chance to hear a snatch of it is welcome. Alagna sounds tormented enough.
Bazin’s Maitre Pathelin from 1856 also knew a lot of success in its time, mostly because of the aria sung here, ‘Je pense a vous quand je m’eveille’. This used to be a favourite concert item with French tenors and Alagna begins very well, establishing the ardent mood. A comparison with two singers of the past, Gaston Micheletti in a 1931 disc, and Gerard Friedmann in an abridged version from French Radio (Musidisc Gaiete Lyrique, 4/94) finds the older singer more vehement, almost hectoring, and the sadly little-recorded Friedmann more gentle. Alagna falls somewhere between the two; I would have welcomed more of a variation of tone in the reprise of the haunting melody.
Gretry’s L’amant jaloux is a jolly little piece – there was a complete EMI recording of it in the 70s which had Charles Burles as the hero. In this mandolin-accompanied serenade, he is singing to the wrong woman as it turns out. These lovely songs from Gretry’s operas whet the appetite, which is then rather let down when one hears them all the way through.
The final item is also one of the best, Dominique’s farewell to the forests from L’attaque du moulin. This is based on Zola’s tale (the author later provided Bruneau with original librettos). In this scene, the noble-hearted Flemish soldier has been captured by the Germans and accused of helping their French enemies. As he anticipates being shot at dawn, the young man sings this almost ecstatic song to the sky and the trees. It’s a captivating moment, and Alagna gives it for all its worth, in the score the composer asks for a very full-out treatment of the climaxes.
In the better-known numbers, Alagna is predictably suave as Wilhelm Meister in Mignon, a delicate ‘Elle ne croyait pas’. The Bizet, Lalo and Gounod all find him on form too. In the other pieces that are associated with more heroic voices, he sometimes uses a rather throaty sounding effect, especially noticeable in the aria from Le Cid, but although I was expecting more of the same, as Vasco in L’africaine he rises to a really thrilling ‘O paradis’. There has never been a satisfactory recording of this opera. On this evidence, perhaps it should be Alagna’s next project.'

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