You've all heard the lament of music lovers with an ear
fixated on the past: "They just don't make 'em like that
The 'em in question might be pianists one day,
conductors the next. But I'd bet that, most days, the
moaner-groaner set is referring to singers.
forever carping about the dearth of good voices. From what I've
read, this was true even during those periods of the past that
are now widely considered worthy of a "golden age of singing"
I get in on this game from time to time, especially
after wallowing in historic recordings, which seem to prove
conclusively that we have been going downhill for decades.
But then, lo and behold, reality gives me a slap, and things
don't sound so dearth-y after all. Even though we will not hear
the likes of (fill in the blanks with your own personal
favorites of yesteryear) again, we'll do OK, because we've got
some pretty gifted vocal artists right now.
Two of those
artists, Jonas Kaufmann and Joseph Calleja, have new (or
relatively new) CDs out. I recommend both releases heartily,
especially to those who think that quality tenor voices are as
unlikely to find today as willing-to-compromise Tea Party
What I love first about Kaufmann and Calleja is
they possess such individualistic voices; they
don't sound like anyone else on the current scene. Kaufmann's
baritonal timbre is especially distinctive. I can't even think
of a tenor from the old days who had anything like his sound
(you'll tell me if I've overlooked someone). Calleja's sound
does remind me a little of past eras, because he has a fast
vibrato that was not so unusual long ago, but it is quite
Even more important than how these two
tenors produce tone, of course, is what they do with their vocal
equipment in the service of music. And what they do can be
Kaufmann's recording, "Verismo Arias"
from Decca, is quite a knock-out. He generates equal levels of
macho and poetic sensitivity in a hefty sampling of the
repertoire that includes familiar and off-the-beaten-path fare.
Highlights include an enthralling account of an aria from
Zandonai's "Giulietta e Romeo"; a full-throated "Vesti la
giubba"; melting tones and exquisite phrasing in arias from
"Mefistofele"; and a performance of the finale from "Andrea
Chenier" with soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek that generates
abundant vocal passion and genuine theatricality.
and again, the tenor does gorgeous things with dynamic nuance,
softening the tone in ways that can be as thrilling as his
all-out, super-verismo moments.
There's one non-opera
track here, and it is a gem -- "Ombra di nube" by Licinio
Refice. This haunting song, which Claudia Muzio recorded so
wonderfully in the '30s, inspires some of Kaufmann's most
luminous vocalism on the disc. It's the track I found myself
returning to most often.
Throughout, the tenor is
beautifully supported by conductor Antonio Pappano and the
Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazioanale di Santa Cecilia.