Berlioz: Arias from Les troyens, La damnation de Faust, Béatrice et Bénédict, L’enfance du Christ,

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Arias from Les troyens, La damnation de Faust, Béatrice et Bénédict, L’enfance du Christ,
PERFORMER: Roberto Alagna (tenor), Angela Gheorghiu (soprano), Gérard Depardieu (speaker); Les Éléments Choir, Maîtrise de Paris, French Army Chorus, ROH Orchestra/Bertrand de Billy
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57433 2
Expectations ran high, of course, especially after Alagna’s acclaimed mixed French recital (reviewed in April 2001). In the event rapture was distinctly modified. Positives first, though. The bright, cleanly defined voice is in splendid shape, negotiating Berlioz’s often cruel tessitura fearlessly and ringing out thrillingly in the climactic high notes. Beyond that, Alagna can create a vivid sense of character: in, say, Aeneas’s heart-rending farewell from Les troyens, or the impulsive love song in Béatrice et Bénédict. Elsewhere, though, his singing is long on generalised ardour, too often short on delicacy, poetry and specific insight. I hear no rapture or wonder in Faust’s twilight meditation ‘Merci, doux crépuscule’, where, as elsewhere, Alagna tends to be too loud and forthright (compare the excellent Thomas Moser on Nagano’s Erato recording). There is little tenderness or grace in the narration from L’enfance du Christ and Benvenuto Cellini’s nostalgic pastoral song; and while Alagna despatches Mercutio’s Queen Mab solo neatly enough, I don’t sense any real verve or wit. The accompaniments are efficient but no more, and certainly not in the Colin Davis or Nagano class for rhythmic subtlety. Angela Gheorghiu, in gorgeous voice, makes a cameo appearance for the Faust duet, while Gérard Depardieu, no less, is the speaker in the Lélio extracts and acts as Alagna’s spoken ‘double’ (albeit about an octave lower – a disconcerting mismatch) in the rarely heard Mephistopheles serenade from the first version of Faust (where the devil is a tenor). Paid-up Alagna fans will, of course, disregard anything I write here. But the uncommitted may like to sample before they plunge in. Richard Wigmore