Roberto Alagna - French Arias
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
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.
The final item is also one of the best, Dominique’s farewell to the forests from
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