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"The Tokyo Concerts"

Franco Corelli: "The 1971 Tokyo Concert"
spacer Arias and songs by di Capua, Giordano, Massenet, Meyerbeer, Puccini, Tosti, Verdi and others. Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Ventura.
Alfredo Kraus: "The 1996 Tokyo Recital"
spacer Arias and songs by Cilèa, Donizetti, Gluck, Massenet, Obradors, Scarlatti, Sorozábal and others. With Suga. Polo, cello. Arnaltes, piano. Dynamic 33718 (2 DVDs), 114 mins., no subtitles

Video Tokyo Concerts cover 812

Renowned opera artists have always been warmly welcomed in Japan, as demonstrated by the reception accorded Franco Corelli in 1971 and Alfredo Kraus twenty-five years later. In their demeanor on the concert platform, neither of these late, great tenors could be considered a natural communicator — both were restrained to a fault — but the performances from Tokyo documented on this two-DVD set nonetheless offer a valuable souvenir of their artistry.

The fifty-year-old Corelli, handsome as ever, tends to stare very intently at the audience as he finishes each number. Only after a good deal of applause does he manage to smile, and even then he does so somewhat awkwardly. Two of the six arias fail to come off: "Questa o quella" is energetic but graceless; "O souverain," generalized interpretively, thins out in quieter phrases. Total conviction, however, blazes in every moment of the "Improvviso" from Andrea Chénier. "O paradiso" is suitably fervent (although the rapt wonder of the opening section doesn't quite emerge), and Corelli offers an endearing "Che gelida manina." The famous upper register, resplendent throughout this program, brings a unique thrill to "Ch'ella mi creda." Alberto Ventura, the frustratingly sluggish conductor, is at the piano to accompany Corelli in four popular songs, of which the most enjoyable is Ernesto de Curtis's "Tu, ca' nun chiagne."

Audio and video quality improves significantly when we jump forward in time to Kraus's 1996 recital. At age sixty-nine, the Spanish tenor was celebrating the fortieth anniversary of his debut, and it's hardly surprising at this point in his career to find some elements missing from his vocal armory. The bottom octave, for example, has lost much of its "juice," and the mezza voce doesn't spin with its previous ease. The compensations come in Kraus's legato and his security at the top. One is left awestruck by the confidence with which he produces the optional high B in Federico's lament from L'Arlesiana, avoided by most tenors.

The tenor uses music for much of the program. Looking typically elegant, he begins with two arie antiche, delivered in appealingly old-school style. The steadily flowing line of Gluck's "O del mio dolce ardor" is beautifully sustained by Kraus's famously rock-solid breath support. Two Massenet songs do not find him at his most emotionally persuasive, but he gives his usual eloquent rendition of "Pourquoi me réveiller." The Spanish numbers are delivered with predictable authority (especially notable are the melismatic sections of Obradors's "Las coplas de Curro Dulce"), even if Kraus's timbre isn't really the darkly smoldering one needed for Sorozábal's familiar "No puede ser."

The Spaniard's legendary command of bel-canto style kicks in for the Edgardo–Lucia duet, where he proves that he can still take each of the first two phrases of "Verranno a te" in a single breath. Kraus can't help showing up the rudimentary phrasing and fluttery vocalism of his soprano partner, Emiko Suga.

Pianist Edelmiro Arnaltes offers Kraus less than optimal support. Cellist Asier Polo assists satisfactorily for several pieces, with a particularly soulful contribution to Massenet's "Elégie." spacer 

ROGER PINES

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Current Issue: September 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 3