Vittorio Grigolo, tenor; Evelino Pido, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI. Sony Classical 88883 76658 2.
Here is the next installment in a series of recordings by the Italian operatic tenor I've only recently heard of. That's still not saying much, however, because I know very little about the current state of things operatic. Whatever, The Romantic Hero is Vittorio Grigolo's fifth solo album, most of them devoted to short operatic selections rather than full-length operas. It doesn't seem to matter because audiences appear to love him, and maybe the brevity of the tunes appeals more to a mass audience.
Grigolo grew up in Rome and was singing by the time he was four. He was nine when he started doing his own version of "Ave Maria," at which point his father had him audition for the Sistine Chapel Choir. There, Gigolo become a soloist with the choir, also studying for several years at the Chapel's Schola Puerorum. By his early teens he was singing at Rome's opera house; and at eighteen he joined the Vienna Opera Company, by age twenty-three becoming the youngest man to perform in Milan's La Scala.
Today, Grigolo is in his mid thirties and apparently a heartthrob the world over. Or so people tell me. On the present album he sings heroic roles from French opera. Why French opera? As Grigolo explains, "The Italian way of singing is native to me. But sometimes in life we change course to follow a sign that is not the one of our birth; instead we go forward in the ascendant. The French hero is my ascendant. It's the hero that makes me feel alive when I am on stage." Fair enough.
The tenor sings twelve selections on the disc, accompanied by Evelino Pido and the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, plus on several tracks by soprano Sonya Yoncheva and speaker Alessandra Martines. The numbers include "Toute mon ame...Pourquoi m reveiller" from Jules Massenet's Werther; "L'amour! L'amour!...Ah! leve-toi, soleil!" from Charles Gounod's Romeo et Juliette; "La fleur que tu m'avais jetee" from Georges Bizet's Carmen; "Quel trouble inconnu...Salut, demeure chaste et pure" from Gounod's Faust; "Instant charmant...En fermant les yeux" from Massenet's Manon; "Pays merveilleux...O paradis" from Giacomo Meyerbeer's L'Africaine; "Rachel, quand du Seigneur" from Jacques Fromental Halevy's La Juive; "Et moi? Moi, la fidele amie...O Dieus! de quelle ivresse" from Jacques Offenbach's Le Contes d'Hoffmann; "Va! Je t'ai pardonne...Nuit d'hymenee," again from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette; "Ah! tout est bien fini...O souverain, o juge, o pere" from Massenet's Le Cid; and "C'est la! Salut tombeau sombre et silencieux," yet again from Gounod's Romeo et Juliet.
Grigolo gets plenty of chances on the program to show off not only his power, tone, and control but his lyricism. That latter quality is probably the keynote of the present album, the selections carefully chosen to highlight the tenor's sweet intonation and well-judged inflections. In this regard, French opera seems perfectly suited to his voice, Italian or not.
For me, being but a fledgling in the field of opera, Grigolo's voice seems fine, although I thought at times there was a little more vibrato in it than I'm used to. Still, it adds to the lyric characteristics of most of the music. Otherwise, he floats the notes in fairly pure fashion, and when he needs to pour on the strength, there is plenty in reserve. The Faust selection demonstrates this ability to good effect, the hushed, quiet moments most telling. He hasn't perhaps the ability (yet) completely to thrill a listener and make one's hair stand on end the way a Domingo or Pavarotti have, but he does provide compensating dramatic skills that make his performances pleasurable.
The orchestra under the directorship of Maestro Pido does its best merely to stay out of Grigolo's way, and rightly so as this is his show from beginning to end. Soprano Sonya Yoncheva accompanies Grigolo on the "Instant charmant" and "Va! Je t'ai pardonne" tracks but, again, one hardly notices (although, to be fair, Ms. Yoncheva fares better in the second number).
Favorites? Everyone who listens to the disc will have favorites, and they will invariably be different. I enjoyed the Meyerbeer and Offenbach selections the most, but I am perhaps overly sentimental. They come through with a poignant spirit and moving grace.
One thing's for sure: Grigolo will not leave his fans disappointed with this album. There's enough romance to go around and enough force and conviction to reach almost any heart or mind.
Producer Chris Alder and engineer Douglas Ward recorded the songs at the Auditorium RAI "A. Toscanini," Torino, Italy in June and July, 2013. The voice is full and round, smoothly realistic, with very little shrillness or edginess except a trace in loudest passages. However, it is very close, up front, with the orchestra well behind. The orchestral sound is warm, slightly soft, and comfortable, often not even noticeable. The accompaniment, in fact, seems mostly perfunctory, the voice being the main thing here.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer
For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.
For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst
I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.
Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio
Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to email@example.com.