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Rolando Villazón: "Mozart: Concert Arias"

spacer London Symphony Orchestra, Pappano. Texts and translations. Deutsche Grammophon 002894791054


In a joyous return to form, Rolando Villazón brings ten Mozart arias to vibrant life in his recital with Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra.


Most of Mozart's fifty or so concert arias are difficult showpieces written for sopranos he was in love with, either for recital use or to stick into another composer's opera. The ten tenor arias include works for Valentin Adamberger, who would later create the role of Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and Anton Raaff, a star singer Mozart was trying to impress with "Se al labbro mio non credi" . (It worked, and Raaff eventually ended his long stage career as Idomeneo.)

Rolando Villazón, in a joyous return to form after a risky, delicate operation that required painstaking vocal rehabilitation, brings all ten arias to vibrant life in a stunning recital with Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra. The Mexican tenor is now in the middle of recording Mozart's major operas, new repertoire for him, and shows a passion and affinity for the style that are genuinely convincing.

Most of the anonymous texts employ standard Metastasian lingo ("Between the anger and enmity of my grievous fate, oh God, I call on death to bring me consolation!"), reflecting on cruel fate, the demands of duty, breezes that carry lovesick sighs, and so forth. Many begin with accompanied recitatives in high-flown style, and the arias extend four short lines of text over pages and pages of music. Happily, Villazón doesn't regard any of this as formulaic or predictable, and it's precisely the recitatives and the endless word repetitions that fire his imagination, with every phrase supple and responsive, thoughtfully motivated with variety and charm.

Although his rehabilitated voice is less smooth and considerably darker in timbre  than his former sound, Villazón's artistry and inspiration are intact, perhaps even deepened by the confrontation with a potentially career-ending diagnosis. Only on the first track, "Si mostra la sorte" , does he sound ill at ease, crooning some, and attacking high notes with odd little jabs and straight tones. But the musicality and resourcefulness of this man are extraordinary! 

Villazón stylishly dispatches two formal, pompous pieces from the pen of the nine-year-old Mozart and brings consistently heroic vocalism to one German work, but the grand scenas in Mozart's mature style are especially well-rendered. "Per pietà, non ricercate" highlights Villazón's clean line, warm and engaged phrasing, and attention to dynamics, especially in the grand nobility of the opening Andante, while Pappano underlines the sensuality of Mozart's scoring and its similarity to much of Così Fan Tutte. "Misero! O sogno"  opens with a harmonically rich recitative and woodwind scales creating a creepy atmosphere; Villazón's detailed handling of the text is both expressive and natural. Asking "E dovrò qui morir?" (Must I die here?) , he's not just mouthing standard opera seria words but expressing real desperation, and Pappano characterizes the orchestral utterances tenderly and responsively.

The comic pieces are especially delicious. "Dove mai trovar quel ciglio?"  is a perfect outlet for Villazón's high energy, but there's also an endearing sweetness to the sound, complemented by Pappano's light touch. "Con ossequio"  finds Villazón paying compliments dutifully while spitting and hissing asides, then ending in mad laughter, while the patter aria "Clarice cara"  takes him galloping through a ridiculous assortment of academic, mathematic, musical and nautical terms, with Pappano offering wry comments in a respectable light bass. spacer 


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