Tenor arias by Dalla, Rossini, Handel, Gomes, Pergolesi, Puccini, Bizet, Verdi et al
Roberto Alagna (tenor); Orchestre National d’Île de France/Yvan Cassar
Sony Classical 19075950482 68:13 mins
The great tenor Enrico Caruso issued many recordings between 1902 and 1920 (the rather odd ‘1873’ in the title here refers to the year of his birth). On this disc Roberto Alagna aims to replicate Caruso’s exact mannerisms, such as breathing patterns, tempos, vocal slides, flourishes and so on. But he also aims to reproduce not just a generalised historical style but some very particular past performances, even though Caruso recorded some of the pieces more than once and differently. So what exactly is the listener supposed to be judging or appreciating here?
Alagna comes closest to a kind of pleasing mimicry in pieces in the ‘popular’ style, like ‘Santa Lucia’, ‘Parce que’ – made famous by Mario Lanza as ‘Because you’re mine’, and ‘Mamma mia’. The latter matches Caruso’s speed exactly; indeed, I have compared the tracks with the complete Caruso recordings on Naxos Historical, though the latter have some re-mastering issues. Alagna has also recorded one of his performances, ‘Tu ca nun chiagne’, using the old wax cylinder method: although this replicates past acoustic properties, it also reveals that Caruso’s distinctive vocal luminosity cannot be suppressed or matched. Sometimes Alagna outdoes Caruso at his own game, as with his spectacular falsetto at the end of ‘Mi par d’uire’, but he usually seems less technically secure and nuanced, as evidenced by some unstable tuning and vocal colouring in ‘Pietà, Signore’.