The Art of Alessandro Valente
The most famous record comes first; the best comes last. This (the best) is from Wolf-Ferrari's Sly, an opera which begins in delight and ends in disgust, its protagonist based on Shakespeare's Christopher and performed originally by the great Pertile whom it may have suited ideally. Valente has conviction in his singing but no subtlety. His distinctive timbre and clean attack are welcome and he impresses with his confident mastery of a difficult score. But returning then to the recordings which won his fame, the solos from Turandot one is simply left wondering why they ever became so popular when there were such better versions by Antonio Cortis available at the time. Certainly the high notes ring out well and the voice has a recognizable individuality about it. But if something (tone and repertoire) momentarily call his contemporary Cortis to mind, it is essentially for the purpose of contrast, for the shading and moulding which characterized Cortis's art have no place in Valente's. He is really very crude roughly declaming the recitative to ''Celeste Aida'' and then sounding stiff and short-breathedin the aria itself.
Excerpts from the Pagliacci recording do him little credit either, beyond that due to a routine performance in the then-accepted Italian style. In the Manon Lescaut duet his voice lacks the bright projection of his partner, Emma Lattuada, and at several points on these records he becomes dull and foggy in the lower range. The second solo from La cena delle beffie (Giordano) does something to restore faith, but then I am suspicious of recitals in which the only performances I admire are of the music with which I happen to be least familiar. The recordings (some of them rare) catch the voice with impressive vividness, and despite a few scrunchy sounds towards the centre of the old originals, transfers are of the usual high standard. I have not seen the sleeve-notes, but they should have something interesting to say about this strange career which I believe ran from appearances, under another name, in London musicals to the invention of a device for cleaning curtains.