Add these two factors
together and the result is a 15-day tour with the Philharmonia Orchestra,
conducted by Guerassim Voronkov, presenting a combination of lyric and dramatic
numbers which largely eschews the ‘popular hits’ in favour of the less
familiar Verdian territory.
The selection has been carefully chosen to avoid potential technical
pitfalls and reveal Villazón’s diversity and dramatic assurance. Each aria
or scena in this engaging performance was individualised and differentiated —
in terms of both musical characterisation and dramatic tone; all were marked by
intelligence, composure and much vocal beauty. Villazón may have lost some of
the warm lustre and ease which characterised his voice prior to his pre-2009
operation, but he is still capable of producing some lovely shading of the top
notes and spinning a wonderfully long line.
Following a well-shaped, deft performance of the overture to
Nabucco, Villazón began with the relatively brief cavatina, ‘La mia
letizia infondere’ from I Lombardi alla prima crociata. Despite its
succinctness, Villazón left us in no doubt of the readiness and ease with
which he can adopt a persona — like an actor slipping on a hat or coat to
indicate a change of role — and, although the performance was fairly reserved
and contained (we’d been pre-warned that he was suffering from a slight cold)
the voice was agile and bright.
The Act 3 scena from Il Corsaro, ‘Eccomi prigioniero!’,
afforded more space for vocal expansion and dramatic development, moving from
an intense accompanied recitative as the imprisoned Corrado laments his lost
dreams, to a lyrical outpouring of poignant disillusionment as he realises that
his visions of freedom are simply dreams. Here, the pulsing orchestral motifs,
echoed in the tenor’s voice which trembled with emotion, presented a
complementary contrast to Karen Stephenson’s affecting cello solo. There was
both lingering pain in Corrado’s recognition of his own “vane lusinghe!”
(“flattering delusions”), and muscular assertion in his desire for the body
to be granted a moment’s rest.
Verdi’s output is almost wholly operatic — even the Requiem is dramatic
in essence and effect — but in both 1838 and 1845, the composer published
sets of six songs for voice and piano, eight of which were later orchestrated
by Luciano Berio. In ‘Il mistero’, which tells of a lover’s hidden
passions, Villazón combined long-breathed lines with buoyancy and forward
motion, although at times the rather dense orchestral textures and pedal points
absorbed the voice in its middle to lower registers. The final phrase, “Chè
alimento da sè stesso/ Prende amore in nobil cor” (“Because love feeds
itself in a noble heart”) was heart-breakingly tender and sweet.
An urgent, nimble rendering of the overture from Luisa Miller —
noteworthy for the clarity of the clarinet and flute solos, and for striking
dynamic and textural contrasts — was followed by ‘Quando le sere al
placido’ which Villazón infused with sustained burning emotion and drama,
demonstrating confident breath control.
The ‘Preludio’ to Otello opened the second half, Voronkov
drawing, as throughout the evening, a precise account from his players, one
characterised by a diverse expressive range and well-crafted overall form. With
‘Ciel, che feci
Ciel pietoso’ from Oberto, Villazón began to
relax, building Riccardo’s aria to a powerful climax in the central lines,
“Ah no! l’ultimo lament/ è del misero che muor” (“Ah no! These are the
last lamenting tones of the wretched man dying”), a full-hearted outpouring
of anguished guilt and regret following the duel which kills the eponymous
protagonist. After the tenor’s convincing and moving expression of genuine
remorse, the legato celli arpeggiation brought some sense of ease as Riccardo
prays for pardon for his murderous act.
The concluding number, the rarely heard ‘L’esule’, confirmed — if it
were necessary — Villazón’s ability to build broad structures and sustain
a firm line, losing nothing of the vibrancy and impact within the longer,
Three encores, including a beer-swilling brindisi, allowed the effervescent
tenor to indulge in some hyperactive acknowledgement of the audience’s
adulation — Villazón leapt about like an irrepressible jack-in-a-box, roses
were strewn far and wide, and a female violinist was waltzed from the stage!
Jolly japes which seemed to go down well with the tenor’s affectionate
So, having presented ‘The Genius Of Verdi’ on BBC television just five
days previously, Villazón now offers us, ‘The Gifts of Villazón’: singer,
actor, entertainer, communicator. His passionate belief in this music was
evident from the start, and he communicated this conviction with unfailing
directness and immediacy. Villazón has recently explained: ’for me the most
important reason why he remains modern and popular is because he wanted to
reach his audience. He did not want to impress his listeners; he did not try to
gain the acceptance and praise of musicologists or critics. His goal was always
to serve the drama, to give music to the feelings of his characters and above
all, to move us.’ He might well have been describing himself.
Overture, Nabucco; ‘La mia letizia infondere’ from I Lombardi;
Prelude, I masnadieri; ‘Eccomi prigioniero!’ from Il corsaro; ‘Il
mistero’ from 8 Romances for tenor and orchestra (orch. Berio); Overture,
‘Quando le sere al placido’ from Luisa Miller; Prelude, Otello; ‘Ciel,
che feci!’ from Oberto; Baletti. ‘O figli, o figli miei!’, ‘Ah,la
paterna mano’ from Macbeth; Overture, I vespri siciliani; ‘Deh, pietoso, oh
Addolorata’, ‘L’esule’ from 8 Romances for tenor and orchestra (orch.
Berio), Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre London, Wednesday, 15th