Verismo Arias

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Boito,Cilea,Giordano,Leoncavallo,Mascagni,Ponchielli,Refice & Zandonai
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Tenor arias by Boito, Cilea, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Ponchielli, Refice & Zandonai
PERFORMER: Jonas Kaufmann (tenor); Orchestra e coro dell’Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: 478 2258

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This is a wonderful disc, the most exciting and enterprising operatic recital that I have heard for a very long time. Jonas Kaufmann widely agreed to be the finest German tenor since Fritz Wunderlich, explores that part of the Italian repertoire called verismo, though that word (implying truth to everyday life) means little here.

Neither Romeo lamenting over the body of Juliet, nor the legendary Faust, are characters from ordinary life. Rather verismo refers to a style, one displaying passionate abandon in which characters feel as much as possible and prefer not to think at all. Yet Kaufmann and Pappano have explored and come up with some gems which are surprisingly restrained, as well as including some of the famous set pieces, such as ‘Vesti la giubba!’ from I Pagliacci – sung here with an inward intensity that Italian tenors tend to disdain.  

Kaufmann has everything, and at the age of 40 his voice may well be in its finest shape. He brings a Classical training to these arias, and yet he doesn’t in any degree stint on the passion. He rations his sobs and gasps, but is far more moving and much less inclined to provoke giggles than tenors who indulge in them. And he shows what a range of emotions and idioms there are under the heading verismo, which we often use so lazily to mean Italian opera roughly contemporary with Puccini.

In the last item, he is joined by the thrilling Eva-Maria Westbroek for the ride to the guillotine in Andrea Chénier, and they leave one gasping. I can only hope that this revitalises a repertoire which we have allowed to shrink to a few familiar works. Michael Tanner