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Vittorio Grigòlo: "The Romantic Hero"
Arias by Bizet, Gounod, Halévy, Massenet, Meyerbeer, Offenbach. With Yoncheva, Martines (speaker); Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, Pidò. Texts and translations. SONY 8883 75658 2
Vive la Romance!
Tenor Vittorio Grigòlo uses the French language with confidence and style in his new aria program.
Singing of this style and range is not something we immediately associate with Vittorio Grigòlo. The Italian tenor has demonstrated, so far, a voice with more huskiness than brilliance and a taste for excess or — as Wagner said of Meyerbeer — "effects without causes." This French aria program puts him in a different light.
Grigòlo uses the French language with confidence. Despite a few errors, he gets the shape and rhythms of the words into his voice. Even an unlikely aria for this lyric tenor, such as Éléazar's doleful "Rachel, quand du seigneur," from La Juive,stands on an unshakable textual foundation that lends authority to the emotional phrasing. Three excerpts from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette —including the "Nuit d'hyménée" duet, opposite an assertive Sonya Yoncheva — have the spontaneity of a staged performance. Conductor Evelino Pidò leads with intense flexibility here and throughout the program.
Basically, in tackling the broad range of this material, the tenor scales his timbre down more often than up. He is not uniformly brilliant, and he sometimes indulges a tendency to croon; but his Werther selection has ample temperament and a solid ping. "Ô paradis," from Meyerbeer's Africaine is often heard in Italian and with most of its quick notes blurred; this tenor restores it to a French bel canto context, with nicely turned runs between the big arched phrases and a sense of rapture in a lyrical framework. His mixed timbre has an unexpected glow — an effect even more delicate and frisson-inducing in two formidable Massenet arias, "Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père," from Le Cid, and "Le rêve" ("En fermant les yeux"), from Manon.
But these and other effects spring from definite causes, suggesting a passion for dramatic portraiture. Des Grieux and Rodrigue (in Le Cid) touch the listener with their fragile youthful quality and an inner fire. Grigòlo's Faust (in an ardent, sensual "Salut, demeure") is momentarily sincere, and his Hoffmann — taking "Ô Dieu! De quelle ivresse" at a headlong pace — emphasizes the character's drunken, impetuous, disaster-prone nature.
Like Éléazar in La Juive, Bizet's Don José is a role probably a size too big for Grigòlo, but he makes an impression with a strong sense of character. The flower song is usually delivered in narrative style, tracing the phases of José's feelings during his jail sentence with emphatic contrasts (from obsession to resistance to surrender). Grigòlo is neither reminiscing nor laying out an argument. He merges the mood sequence into one frenzied state, sustained from beginning to end, no matter what the volume. The result does not lack for interest; on the contrary, it has a rare emotional and erotic energy, especially the latter. The timbre seems intentionally unstable in its variety, suggesting a desire that's out of control and even menacing. The opera's brutal ending is implied in this snapshot of José. It's impossible to think that Carmen is not feeling this heat and some of the potential for violence.
In this opera, everyone always knows why José falls for the siren. Here we can sense what Carmen must have seen in him.
DAVID J. BAKER
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