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.


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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Meet the Staff

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 Jon 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

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

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa