ALBUM TITLE: Collection: French Arias
PERFORMER: Roberto Alagna (tenor); ROH Orchestra/Bertrand de Billy
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 57012 2
The ‘supertenor’ Roberto Alagna is testing not just himself but his audience with this recital of arias from mostly obscure and in some cases justly neglected French operas: Grétry’s tiresome L’amant jaloux; Méhul’s Joseph, Bruneau’s L’attaque du moulin. Even the booklet cannot summon much enthusiasm for Bazin’s mediocre Maître Pathelin, from which the disc’s opening number comes, dismissing it as an opéra comique containing ‘some moderately charming and amusing numbers’ (I’m not convinced ‘Je pense à vous quand je m’éveille’ counts as either). And even a singer as lauded and capable as Alagna is challenged (and found wanting) in his efforts to make a case for them.
But give him something good to sing, and the results are sensational: his voice burnished, seamlessly modulated and thrillingly expressive. Among the highlights here are an invigorating ‘Unis dès la plus tendre enfance’ from Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, poignant in its nobility and thrillingly impassioned; the delightful Breton-influenced aubade ‘Vainement, ma bien-aimée’ from Lalo’s Le roi d’Ys; a tormented, emotive ‘Vois ma misère’, from Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila; and a rapturous ‘Je crois entendre encore’ from Les pêcheurs de perles, with its taxing mezza voce high Bs à point. Best of all, though, is his towering account of ‘Nature immense, impénétrable et fière’ from Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust. Claire Wrathall