Peter Mattei: "Great Baritone Arias"
by Mozart, Gounod, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Verdi, Britten. Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Renes. Texts and translations. BIS SACD 1749
Even without the help of a powerhouse recording label, charismatic Swedish baritone Peter Mattei is enjoying a fine international career, and this new aria album, a potpourri of "Great Baritone Arias," showcases his versatility, handsome vocalism and musically astute characterizations.
Although the recital ranges into works by Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner and Britten, Mozart serves as a touchstone, opening and closing the disc and providing other grounding points along the way. Mattei possesses a lean sound with a narrow vibrato and a deceptively simple phrasing approach that caresses Mozart's lines with beautiful ease; his tip-of-the-tongue delivery of Don Giovanni's drinking song ("Finch'han dal vino") and the soft seductiveness of the serenade ("Deh, vieni alla finestra") are sensual without sounding vulgar. When the Don, in disguise as Leporello, sends search parties off in the wrong direction ("Metà di voi"), Mattei's elegant, sly delivery is perfect. Both Figaro ("Se vuol ballare") and the Count ("Hai già vinta la causa") are represented, with the prize perhaps going to the latter, due to Mattei's especially fine recitative singing. (His dramatic line of thought makes such shouts as "Perfidi!" quite acceptable.)
Mattei is not one of those performers who sing every piece the same, either from limited technique or from lack of imagination. His vowels are suitably darker in the Russian repertoire, one of Mattei's specialties, and he brings uncommon musical refinement to Eugene Onegin's two set-pieces and Yeletsky's "Ya vas lyublyu," from The Queen of Spades.
Billy Budd's prison monologue shows Mattei's command of English (though he has yet to master the short "i" vowel of "silver" and "bit"), as well as his ability to sustain Britten's atmosphere of quiet apprehension. Rodrigo's final scene from Verdi's Don Carlo lacks the breadth of a heavier-voiced approach, but conductor Lawrence Renes keeps the tempos moving, and Mattei's gorgeous portamento, easy top and long line highlight the pathos and urgency of this moving scene of friendship and sacrifice.
Mattei's characterizations are never overdone but always language-based and dramatically specific. Wolfram's two arias from Tannhäuser ("Blick'ich umher" and "O, du mein holder Abendstern") are nobly delivered and always propelled with simple lyric clarity and concentration. Bartlett Sher's staging of Il Barbiere di Siviglia (pictured on the CD cover) was Mattei's breakout vehicle at the Met; here, as Rossini's irrepressible barber, Mattei peppers "Largo al factotum" with energy, wit (a perfect dose of falsetto) and bold, ringing high Gs.
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