Villazón & Abdrazakov: Duets
The press notes that came with this disc invoke celebrated duo recitals of the past, but the combination of tenor and bass is not often to be found among them. That means Rolando Villazón and Ildar Abdrazakov are venturing into somewhat more unusual territory, at least once they are past their opening track, the evergreen duet from Les pêcheurs de perles.
Putting the programme together must have been a case of sharing out the spoils, one for you, then one for me. Villazón’s choices focus on two operas by Donizetti he knows well both as singer and director, L’elisir d’amore and Don Pasquale (he directed Don Pasquale last year in Düsseldorf). Although his voice seems to have less body than it did, he remains charming in Nemorino’s Act 1 meeting with Dulcamara and spins a shapely line through Ernesto’s Act 1 run-in with Don Pasquale. The bel canto comic patter of the two buffo roles is not Abdrazakov’s forte (nothing beats a native Italian in these) but he does well enough in support.
A return trip to the Underworld is Abdrazakov’s choice, featuring a double encounter between Faust and Mephistopheles as imagined first by Boito, then by Gounod. Neither of these extracts quite comes to life, mainly because Abdrazakov is short on the charisma they require, missing most of Mephistopheles’s satanic relish (do not even think about making comparisons with Boris Christoff). Villazón finds little to engage him in the Boito but is vivid in the Gounod. It is one of the attractive features of this disc that each duet is set in context with the scene-setting that precedes it.
The rest of the recital includes a dull meeting between Gabriele Adorno and Fiesco from Simon Boccanegra and a high-energy punch-up between Don José and Escamillo in Carmen, where much of the excitement comes from the scintillating playing Yannick Nézet-Séguin gets from the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal. As a double encore, the singers join forces for a pair of songs from each other’s homelands, ‘Granada’ from Mexico and ‘Dark Eyes’ from Russia. Both go with infectious panache and I have to say I enjoyed them rather more than the rest of the disc.