Roberto Alagna: Caruso 1873 (CD review)

Roberto Alagna, tenor; various other artists; Yvan Cassar, piano & conductor, Orchestre National D'Ile-de-France. Sony Classical 19075950482.

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"

Roberto Alagna
The first item, "Caruso," a tribute written to the singer by Lucio Dalla and modified by Alagna and conductor Yvan Cassar, is the only song Caruso himself would not have sung. But it opens things well enough in setting the tone for the album. From there it's a roller-coaster ride of differing tunes--some favorites of Caruso, some favorites of Alagna, some from opera, some from pop culture--all taken pretty much as Caruso did them up. Although Alagna recorded the bulk of the album using current recording technology, he concludes things with a bonus number recorded with the equipment Caruso himself might have used. It's a charming gimmick.

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.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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Meet the Staff
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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa