Opera's Next Wave
Javier Camarena's Met debut last season gave New York audiences a chance to hear a tenor who has been attracting a healthy amount of attention in Europe (and on YouTube) in recent seasons. In Zurich, Paris, Vienna and other cities, Camarena has been admired for the beauty of his performances in a repertory that has very few international-rank practitioners. When La Sonnambula opened at the Bastille in 2010, OPERA NEWS's Paris correspondent Stephen J. Mudge hailed Camarena's Elvino as "a great success. He has a clear, transparent tenor capable of a wide range of dynamics above the staff and a sense of phrasing that singles him out as a new star in the bel canto repertoire." Just a few seasons later, Camarena arrived at the Met as Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Judith Malafronte told OPERA NEWS readers that Camarena's house debut was "sensational.… Boasting accurate and exciting coloratura, variety of attack and clarion top notes, the young Mexican tenor brought plenty of stage charisma and a winning charm to Almaviva's disguises."
Camarena stopped the show cold with "Cessa di più resistere," an aria often cut from Barbiere performances unless there is a virtuoso Almaviva on hand. The Met has heard virtuoso performances of Almaviva before Camarena's, of course: the company's current production has showcased the bravura singing of Juan Diego Flórez and Lawrence Brownlee, unquestionably the current era's two top Rossini tenors. Camarena does not execute coloratura runs with the gleeful, unerring precision of Flórez or the winning sweetness of temperament and timbre that Brownlee owns, but his performance was completely successful on its own terms. A highly musical artist of accomplishment and authority — he is especially incisive in recitative — Camarena has a warm, solid heft to his sound, and his Almaviva was persuasive as nobleman, lover and comedian, meshing deftly with the winsome Rosina of Isabel Leonard and the robust, take-no-prisoners Figaro of Peter Mattei.
Born in Vera Cruz, Camarena made his debut in 2004, as Tonio in La Fille du Régiment at Mexico City's Palacio de Bellas Artes. He added Belmonte, Nemorino, Ernesto and Dorvil in LaScala di Seta to his repertoire while still in Mexico and took on more bel canto roles after he joined the ensemble of Zurich Opera in 2007. OPERA NEWS's longtime Zurich correspondent, Horst Koegler, was an avowed Camarena fan, praising the tenor's "exquisite finesse" as Comte Ory (2011) and the "melting beauty" of his Osiride in Mosè in Egitto (2009). Other Zurich successes for Camarena included Almaviva, Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri — a role he has since sung in Paris, Vienna, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Dresden — Ferrando in Così Fan Tutte and Rodrigo to Cecilia Bartoli's Desdemona in Rossini's Otello.
Another Zurich triumph for Camarena was Nadir in Jens-Daniel Herzog's 2010 production of Les Pêcheurs de Perles, conducted by Carlo Rizzi. Clips of the staging are available on YouTube and on the Zurich Opera website. The production's industrial factory setting has little flavor of Ceylon, but Camarena's performance of Nadir's "Je crois entendre encore" is perfection — tender, fluid and haunting. Check it out.
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