The Great Italian Arias
The booklet promises us a ''synthesis of baritone arias'' from Italian opera, which in fact turns out to be far from the case. Leaving aside the delightful prospect of what such a 'synthesis' might entail (a medley perhaps, a pot-pourri?) this selection of arias is hardly standard fare for the average baritone.
According to Grove, Jose van Dam is a bass. This disc suggests a category in between, a bass-baritone as happy to sing Rigoletto as he is Boito's Mefistofele or Verdi's Philip II. There is little sign of strain in the baritone arias, although he omits the traditional top notes both in Rigoletto's ''Cortigiani'' and the Prologue to Pagliacci, which leaves them going no higher than some of the bass arias. In Zaccaria's ''Tu sul labbro'' he sounds fairly impressive until the last phrase, when the vocal line descends to the bottom of the stave and the strength of the voice rather fades away.
In general, this is a very capable, but not an exciting disc. Van Dam does suggest the varied personalities to whom the arias belong (a hissed 's' on ''sibilando'' gives us the comic malice of his Basilio, an extra dynamism the force of his Attila) but the listener is not likely to learn much about these characters that was unfamiliar before. When such a leading singer of the French language is on hand, it is also a shame that the arias from Don Carlo and Guillaume Tell are sung in Italian. The accompaniments under Marc Soustrot are short on Italianate sparkle.'