Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

GOUNOD: Roméo et Juliette

spacer Alberola, Stroppa, Traversi; Bocelli, Nacoski, Luongo, Mastroni; Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova, Luisi. Text and translation. 
Decca 478 4372 (2)

RomeoCD

Fabio Luisi and Andrea Bocelli … oil and water? Though born within a hundred miles and one year of each other, on the musical globe the Metropolitan Opera principal conductor and the pop star are poles apart. Yet here they are, in a recording assembled from their live run in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Luisi's hometown of Genoa in early 2012. 

The tenor records and performs operas with some regularity, although critics disapprove. Even staunch fans might prefer him in a role that requires less pliancy and finesse than Roméo. The French language remains a barrier — not just the distorted vowels he produces but his inability to vary a string of words and give it coherence, let alone nuance. Still, there's a long tradition, not just among Italians, of neutralizing and distorting French opera, inflating it to verismo grandstanding, and Luisi sometimes allows that tendency in climactic scenes such as the wedding ceremony in Act III and the searing finale. Yet this remains a conscientious performance and a brisk one, held together and given impetus by the conductor's judicious control. 

While Bocelli has always been inconsistent and rough-grained, at this mature stage in his career (and at age fifty-four) his voice retains a hearty throb up to high C, and he gives clear signs of honorable artistic intentions. For the most part, Luisi's pacing is tight and strict, and the tenor is all compliance, barring some out-of-sync lines with the Juliette, Maite Alberola. The conductor has shaped the hero's big scene that opens Act II, with the aria "Ah! lève-toi, soleil," in a straightforward yet fairly dynamic way that plays to the tenor's strengths — impetuosity and heat, rather than any attempt at starry poetic fancy. To end the act after the love duet, Luisi fosters a contrasting restraint in simple terms, sans tendresse but slower and softer, to suggest romantic bliss. 

Bocelli rescues his Act II closing in the nick of time with a nice shift to head voice to crown the ascending diminuendo sequence, and there's a rare softening of a high A in the lovers' final lines of Act IV. But if the tenor seldom lightens the prevailing uniformity, and sails past any "dolce" indication in the score, he does better at ratcheting the temperature up. Even in somewhat rough form, his suicide packs emotional force. 

Conversely, one feels Luisi somewhat loosening the rhythmic reins for soprano Alberola, who obliges quite often with luminous soft tone and a lyrical flexibility. She shows strain in the upper register, and there's too little buoyancy in the waltz song, but she conveys the heroine's range of emotions in clear and affecting terms — playfulness in the Act I duet, a sweet seriousness in proposing marriage in Act II, the nervous faux-suicide arrangements and then desperation in the tomb scene. 

The orchestra and chorus are exemplary and contribute controlled atmospheric touches throughout. Individual instruments shine in rich solo lines, and the male chorus in particular makes the most of quiet passages. The singers in supporting roles show a provincial manner, but they seem focused and eager; the most expressive are Annalisa Stroppa in the trouser role of Stéphano, bass Andrea Mastroni as an understated Frère Laurent and Biagio Pizzuti, who shines in the brief part of Gregorio. 

This remains a modest accomplishment overall, except for the spirit of commitment that makes itself so clearly felt. All those involved, starting with the tenor and soprano, seem on best behavior. One comes away not excited, but relieved. spacer 

DAVID J. BAKER

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Current Issue: August 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 2