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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.’ 



Alfredo Kraus and Renata Scotto: Villancicos
18 Apr 2006

Alfredo Kraus and Renata Scotto: Villancicos

I fear this is a CD strictly reserved for fans of both singers or for collectors of Christmas albums by classical singers.

Alfredo Kraus and Renata Scotto: Villancicos
Religious arias and Christmas Songs

Alfredo Kraus, Renata Scotto, Chamber Orchestra of Bratislava and Chorus Conservatorio de Badajoz, Erich Binder (cond.)

RTVE Musica 65018 [CD]

$16.99  Click to buy

[They really exist. I know at least one charming, well-known American lady.] The sleeve notes tell us the CD was recorded in 1991. At the time Kraus was 64 and Scotto 58. The tenor’s voice is clearly in better shape than the soprano’s. Still, if one knows the young tenor’s many recordings on his own label, Carillon (now mostly available at Bongiovanni), it is clear that the voice has become far drier and a little bit wooden. Nevertheless it still impressively shows how a good technique and careful husbanding of one’s means keep a great voice in shape after a career of 37 years. Kraus kept his splendid top notes till the very end of his life, which he was not shy of showing off, and this is one of the disturbing things on this CD. Several times he interpolates or ends with blazing high C’s where the flow of the music goes completely the other way. Even a shameless top note hunter like myself thinks a high C too much and rather unmusical at the end of Adeste fidelis (Come all you faithful) or the disguised Agnus Dei of Bizet’s Arlésienne that no tenor can leave in peace. Kraus is at his best in a few simple Spanish Christmas ditties that follow well-known paths but his Ave Maria’s or Brahm’s Wiegenlied are not records for eternity unless one wants to hear the tenor sing in German.

Still, compared to Scotto this is more than decent singing. The soprano’s voice was in shreds by the nineties. She is, of course, an old pro and tries to hide it as much as possible. One way she does it is by transposing so heavily that she has to go to the bottom of her voice and then resorts to a kind of growl. Almost all the time she sings in the lower middle of the voice where there is still roundness of sound. But sometimes she has to sing a weeny teeny bit higher and then trouble starts. Most of the time for a few measures she uses crooning or a thin piano and when that is not allowed as in Adam’s Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night) she gives a small shriek (mercifully, one verse only). She, too, introduces some lesser known carols; but one is too much fixed on the remains of a once great voice to pay attention to the repertory. As I said, strictly for those who want any note recorded by one of these singers.

Jan Neckers

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