Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
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We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
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the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
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During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
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It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
19 Apr 2005
Sir Thomas Allen: Great Operatic Arias
Some 20 years ago I ended my subscription to Opera Magazine after an article by its editor, the late Harold Rosenthal. He had written a review of La Clemenza di Tito that described tenor Stuart Burrows in words that, for those who did not attend the performance, they had missed the second coming of Enrico Caruso, Jussi Björling and Beniamino Gigli in one person. I had attended and I knew that Rosenthal and his colleagues could be almost funny in their chauvinism but enough was enough. Well, I’m happy to report the old tradition still lives on. I looked at some reviews of this recital by British critics and Giuseppe De Luca, Tito Gobbi and Robert Merrill in their heydays would have been proud of such notices.
Great Operatic Arias, Vol. 16 — Sir Thomas Allen
Thomas Allen, baritone
London Philharmonic Orchestra, David Parry
Chandos Opera in English series
Chandos CHAN 3118 [CD]
Some 20 years ago I ended my subscription to Opera Magazine after an article by its editor, the late Harold Rosenthal. He had written a review of La Clemenza di Tito that described tenor Stuart Burrows in words that, for those who did not attend the performance, they had missed the second coming of Enrico Caruso, Jussi Björling and Beniamino Gigli in one person. I had attended and I knew that Rosenthal and his colleagues could be almost funny in their chauvinism but enough was enough. Well, I'm happy to report the old tradition still lives on. I looked at some reviews of this recital by British critics and Giuseppe De Luca, Tito Gobbi and Robert Merrill in their heydays would have been proud of such notices.
Now I have some fine memories of Tom Allen ("has someone ever called him "Sir Thomas" in all seriousness?) in the theatre. One Figaro in Barbiere at Covent Garden was especially fine and I liked his aloof diplomatic coolness as Sharpless at the Met as well. But most people will agree that a lot of pleasure comes from his outstanding acting: I suppose he could as easily have had a big a career in straight theatre. Not that the voice is devoid of charm but I doubt Allen himself would call it a great natural instrument, though he makes a sizeable sound that carries well in a big house.
An extremely intelligent performer as Allen slowly built a great career without ever extending his means: as an outstanding Mozartean Allen wisely let big Verdi or Puccini alone and restricted himself to such lyrical parts as Marcello or father Germont. He has been singing since 1969 and there was still a lot of voice left after a 34-year career in this 2003 recording. Most of the arias, however, don't belong in his natural voice category and it sometimes shows. Take father Miller's aria "Sacra la scelta" and especially the cabaletta "Ah, fu giusto il mio sospetto." The voice is somewhat dry and not rich enough for this kind of aria. There is no weight of tone in the middle voice and the angry outburst goes for nothing.
An aria that would suit him better like Valentin's farewell from Faust suffers from a somewhat dull sound and a top that doesn't ring free. He is better in one of his best roles, that of Figaro, though there, too, is some unsupported sound that makes the voice opaque.
Allen has no real low notes and he clearly is not at ease in Yeletsky's aria where he compensates with some caressing tone. He is very fine as the count in Nozze where he sings the rarely performed alternate version of the Count's aria in an almost tenor tessitura. Tannhäuser too brings out the best in him: soft plangent singing.
I don't think it a coincidence he is at his very best in arias written in English or in some more showy fare. Billy Budd's monologue is full of melancholy; finely tuned moving singing. The same can be said of the clown's aria in the second act of Die Tote Stadt. And then there is room for the magnificent Allen.
I have an inkling that 60 years ago Allen could have been a big star in operetta or classical musical. The moment he started his career the money for classical singers in Europe was no longer in those magnificent, yet dwindling, genres but in heavily subsidized opera. Singers have to eat too! But in his duets of both Fledermaus and The Merry Widow, he is just wonderful: charming, boyish even at his age and with voice to spare. And he doesn't yield one penny to Gordon MacRae in Billy Bigelows' Soliloquy. Typically, one doesn't miss the meaning of one single word in this monologue which cannot be said of the operatic arias, especially in translations with newly minted words by conductor David Parry, who proves to be an accomplished accompanist. Moreover everything is recorded as "come scritto": every small sentence by a comprimario, every note for chorus is included. To be honest, I wished Tom Allen had given us a whole operetta and musical CD. It would have been a worthy successor to that wonderful CD with love duets from musicals he recorded with Valerie Masterson some 12 years ago.