WORKS: Arias from Tamerlano, Rodelinda, Serse, Ariodante, Tamerlano & La Resurrezioni
PERFORMER: Rolando Villazón (tenor); with Rebecca Bottone (soprano), Jean Gadoullet (countertenor); Gabrieli Players/Paul McCreesh
CATALOGUE NO: 477 8056
Rolando Villazón claims to have long wanted to record Handel, reporting that ‘Ombra mai fu’ drove him ‘to get closer to the Baroque tenor’s music’ – an odd inspiration, given that the aria, like others on this disc, was written for a castrato.
His performance is similarly uninformed, lacking any sense of the repertory’s need for ‘true intonation, messa da voce, shakes, divisions and recitatives,’ to quote the Baroque singing master Pier Francesco Tosi.
Villazón blazes through aria after aria, scooping, ‘sobbing’, articulating too aggressively, pushing his top notes, lingering far too long over phrases, leaving charred remnants of Handel’s music in his wake.
He ignores the band; tenor and instruments might as well inhabit different planets. As a result, entries are clunky and coloratura sometimes shatters into jagged, out-of-tune singing. The Gabrieli Players dodge in and out of Villazón’s huge gestures, rescuing what they can.
The cumulative impact is a lack of intimacy between vocalist, instrumentalists and imagined listeners. Intimacy is key to Handel’s music: no composer used silence, nuance or exchange of ideas to greater dramatic effect. Here the only real drama seems to be how shamelessly the Handel anniversary year can be leveraged to exploit sales among a star singer’s fans. Berta Joncus