French-Italian tenor Roberto Alagna (b. 1963) has been one of the leading lights in opera for the past forty years, so it's interesting to hear him say that although his grandparents had met Enrico Caruso in New York, he first became interested in his fellow tenor when as a child he saw the biographical movie The Great Caruso (1951) starring Mario Lanza. Apparently, he's been a fan of Caruso (and other historical tenors) ever since then, and he decided to do this album as a tribute to the legendary star.
Alagna also says that he didn't want to try to imitate Caruso on the recording, but rather to suggest Caruso's style, especially the way the iconic tenor combined the best of the bel canto tradition with that of the newer verismo trends. Alagna explains that he tried "to adopt as accurately as possible Caruoso's style of singing, of emitting sound, his individual manner of phrasing--an exercise in subtlety." His aim was to celebrate Caruso, not imitate him, while still hanging on to his own identity. Alagna appears to do just that in a program that doesn't really include Caruso's greatest hits, most of which Alagna has already recorded. Instead, Alagna has chosen Caruso favorites that show off the versatility of his idol.
Here's a track list of the album's contents:
1. Dalla: "Caruso"
2. Rossini: "Domine Deus" (from Petite Messe solennelle, IGR 51)
3. Handel: "Frondi tenere e belle ... Ombra mai fu" (from Serse HWV 40)
4. Gomes: "Mia piccirella" (from Salvator Rosa)
5. Pergolesi: "Tre giorni son che Nina"
6. Niedermeyer: "Pietà, Signore"
7. Rubinstein: "Ô lumière du jour" (from Néron)
8. Cottrau: "Santa Lucia"
9. Puccini: "Vecchia zimarra" (from La bohème)
10. Gomes: "Sento una forza indomita" (from Il Guarany)
11. Tchaikovsky: Sérénade de Don Juan, Op. 38/1
12. Massenet: Élégie
13. Rhodes: "Parce que" (Because)
14. Verdi: "Qual voluttà trascorrere" (from I Lombardi alla prima crociata)
15. Nutile: "Mamma mia, che vo' sapè?"
16. Bizet: "Mi par d'udire ancora" (from Les Pêcheurs de perles)
17. Leoncavallo: "Mattinata"
18. Cilea: "No, più nobile" (from Adriana Lecouvreur)
19. Massenet: "Chiudo gli occhi" (rom Manon)
20. Curtis: "Tu ca nun chiagne"
As with most collections, the listener will no doubt like some of the material and not like others. In this regard, Alagna tells us that Caruso would often record a song at a faster-than-normal tempo just to accommodate it on discs of the time that would not hold more than five minutes per side. Whatever, there is no doubt about Alagna's throwing himself into each and every song with gusto.
The various other artists involved besides the Orchestre National D'Ile-de-France under Maestro Yvan Cassar are Aleksandra Kurzak, soprano; Rafal Siwek, bass; Stephanie-Marie Degand, violin; Julien Martineau, mandolin; and Nicholas Montazaud, percussion. But mostly this is Alagna's show.
Personal favorites? The Gomes and Verdi numbers Alagna does with soprano Aleksandra Kurzak and bass Rafal Siwek. They sing well together and complement one another's voices, especially in the Verdi.
Now, I'm no expert in or connoisseur of opera, Caruso, or Alagna, so I can't tell you if Alagna captures the older singer's style or not, or whether it's even great singing. What I can say is that Alagna has a clear, clean, rich tenor voice, and he sings with heart, even if he's channeling Caruso. His arias are moving and well phrased. If they're Caruso's phrasing, all the better; if not, they mainly still work.
1873? The date of Caruso's birth.
Producer, arranger, and conductor Yvan Cassar recorded the music at La maison de l"Orchestre national d'Ille-de-France and at Ondif Studio, Paris in June-August 2019. The sound is kind of in the pop category, with the soloist very close up and the orchestral accompaniment clear and wide behind him. The voice does have a nice, round, realistic quality to it, although it tends to get a trifle strident at higher frequencies in louder passages. There is also a wide dynamic range involved, so things do get very loud very quickly. Still, the sound emphasizes the voice, and that's likely all Alagna's fans will care about. So it works.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: