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Romantic Hero by Vittorio Grigoloa
Massenet: Werther: "Pourquoi me réveiller" Manon: "Instant charmant . . . En fermant les yeux"; "Je suisseul! . . . Ah! Fuyez, douce image" Le Cid: "Ah! Tout estbienfini . . . Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père"

Gounod: Roméoet Juliette: "L'amour! . . .Ah! Lève-toi, soleil!"; "Va!Je t'aipardonne . . . Nuitd'hyménée"; "C'estlà!Saluttombeausombre et silencieux" Faust: "Quel trouble inconnu . . . Salut, demeure chaste et pure"

Bizet: Carmen: Flower Song

Meyerbeer: L'Africaine: "Ô paradis"

Halevy: La Juive: "Rachel, quand du Seigneur"

Offenbach: Les Contesd'Hoffmann: "Et moi? . . . ÔDieu! De quelleivresse"

Vittorio Grigòlo, tenor; Evelino Pidò conducting the RAI National Symphonic Orchestra; Sonya Yoncheva, soprano (in the Romeo et Juliette duet); Alessandra Martines, speaker (in the Hoffmann excerpt)
Review By Joe Milicia


  Vittorio Grigòlo will be familiar to many listeners for his Met performances as Rodolfo (his debut role in 2010 and his 2014 La Boheme HD transmission), or for his CDs of Italian arias and popular and sacred songs. The title of his new CD is rather misleading, if only in its omission: this is an album of French arias. Grigòlo has had training in French since childhood, and one of his first international successes was as Massenet's Des Grieux at Covent Garden, though these of course aren't guarantees of good French diction and comfort in the French operatic style. Fortunately Grigòlo is very satisfactory indeed in these matters, perhaps the most convincing of any non-French star tenor today.

This is a recital of "greatest French hits," though no less welcome for that. It starts out with Werther's "and includes two major excerpts from Manon as well as Rodrigue's Prayer from El Cid. For Gounod we get not only Faust's salute to Marguerite's chaste domicile but--scattered through the recital—no less than three scenes from Gounod's Roméo, including the dawn love duet featuring soprano Sonya Yoncheva. The "big" arias from L'Africaine and La Juive, not to mention Don Jose's Flower Song, are represented as well, plus the last-act reprise of Hoffmann's love song, originally addressed to Giulietta but now to the Muse, whose whispered introduction is included in this recital. (In contrast, Roberto Alagna, another Italian tenor noted for his French repertoire, includes mostly rarities in his 1996 recital for DG, with only the L'Africaine, La Juive and El Cid arias duplicating Grigolo's program.)

Some younger opera fans may be used to hearing heftier voices in some of these roles than Grigòlo's lyric tenor provides. There is no denying the thrill of Jonas Kaufmann's more baritonal tenor in Wertherand Faust, or the heroic force of the younger Placido Domingo playing Vasco da Gama, El Cid or Don José, or the tragic weight that Neil Shicoff could give the roles of Hoffmann and La Juive's Éléasar. But there is a long tradition of lighter voices in many of these roles—Alfredo Kraus was a celebrated Werther, for example—and Grigòlo offers distinctive vocal colors along with an overall attractive sound, along with ardent delivery and sensitivity to phrasing.

These qualities are all in evidence in the opening Werther aria and in Carmen's "La fleur quetum'avaisjetée" (both laments of a rejected lover), though he does a bit of scooping toward a couple of high notes in the latter. For the role of Éléasar, a grieving father rather than young lover, Grigòlo offers an convincing gravity as well as considerable beauty of tone. However, I found his Faust aria, including a somewhat effortful-sounding high C, a bit less convincing, maybe because I can't rid my mind of the ideal of Nicolai Gedda in this music. Least satisfactory on this recital, I found, is "Ô paradis," not because most of history's greatest tenors have left us superlative recordings of it (Bjorling, 1939, available on YouTube, is stunning) but because it sounds tentative and "recited" note-by-note rather than heroic.

On the other hand, in his present vocal estate Grigòlo is extremely well suited to such youthful lovers as Des Grieux and Roméo. The former's monologue in the church, "Ah!Fuyez," in which he calls in vain for his vision of Manon to be gone (and for which Sony provides a couple of lines spoken by the Porter, anonymously) is delivered with passion as well as elegance of style, and the same can be said for his rendition of Roméo's tomb aria, which effectively ends the recital.

For the Roméoet Juliette love duet ("It was the nightingale and not the lark") Sony provides one of their important upcoming artists, Sonya Yoncheva, who recently received raves for her Gilda in the Met's Rigoletto and her Lucia at the Bastille Opera. It's an effective partnership: Yoncheva has the lyricism and also a richness of tone and dramatic commitment to match Grigòlo, who is at his best here. (She also sings Manon for two brief lines that punctuate Des Grieux's Act II reverie.)

Evelino Pidò and the RAI Symphony are important contributors to the recital's overall success. Note, for example, the mournful but not lugubrious pacing of the introduction to "Rachel, quand du Seigneur," or the enraptured accompaniment to Faust's aria. Sony's engineers place the orchestra somewhat discreetly behind the singer, but details like the solo clarinet and violin in the Faust aria are heard clearly enough.

Sony's CD booklet provides full French texts and thoughtful English translations (by Stewart Spencer), along with an essay, "Tenor as Poet: Vittorio Grigòlo in French Opera," and a two-page acknowledgement by the tenor, in which he thanks Pope Francis as well as his parents, Pidò and Sony's crew.





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