Boulevard des Italiens
Arias from Cherubini: Ali Baba; Donizetti: La fille du régiment; La favorite; Dom Sébastien, Roi de Portugal; Mascagni: Amica; Puccini: Madam Butterfly; Tosca; Spontini: La vestale; Verdi: Don Carlos; Jérusalem; Les vêpres siciliennes
Benjamin Bernheim (tenor); Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Frédéric Chaslin
DG 486 1964 55:53 mins
If you were to walk in Paris from the Opéra to the Opéra Comique, the quickest route would be to take the Boulevard des Italiens – following in the footsteps of numerous Italian composers who were fêted during the French capital’s operatic heyday. On this disc Benjamin Bernheim sings a selection of their arias as Parisian audiences would originally have heard them – in French.
It’s hard to imagine an international record label releasing a disc of arias as performed in English at Sadler’s Wells, but this isn’t only about opera in translation. Italian composers often adapted their works for Parisian audiences, or composed them specially. Included in the programme are gorgeous, rarely heard Verdi arias, dusted off and brought back to life.
The change of language is in some cases revelatory: familiar Puccini arias sound beguilingly mellow. Bernheim, who has a voice of immense clarity and lyrical attractiveness, sings Puccini like a dream. But there are also rarer delights aplenty here: elegant poise in Donizetti’s La favorite, heroic dynamism in Spontini’s La vestale, and a top-C-packed number from Cherubini’s Ali Baba(who knew?), an ideal vehicle for Bernheim’s effortlessly expansive upper range. Taking a stroll with him down the Boulevard des Italiens is a real treat.