Rolando Villazón - Italian Opera Arias
Arias from L’Arlesiana, Il duca d’Alba, L’elisir d’amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, I Lombardi, Don Carlo, Macbeth, Rigoletto, La traviata, La bohème, Tosca, L’amico Fritz and Nerone.
Rolando Villazón, tenor, Munich Radio Orchestra, Marcello Viotti, cond.
Virgin Classics 456262 4 (F) (DDD) TT: 61:16

This album of Italian opera arias is the first solo recital disk by the young Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón. Born in Mexico City in 1972, Mr. Villazón studied in his native country, as well as at the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera and the Pittsburgh Opera’s Young Artist Programs. Last fall Villazón made a successful Metropolitan Opera debut in Verdi’s La traviata. As I write this review, he is in the midst of a highly-acclaimed series of performances of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman at Covent Garden, his debut with that company.

A few seasons ago I heard Rolando Villazón give a superb performance as Edgardo in the Pittsburgh Opera’s production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. I was greatly impressed by his beautiful and warm lyric tenor voice that carried with ease throughout the hall, his admirable balance of musicality and passion, clear diction, and winning stage presence. In short, Rolando Villazón demonstrated just about everything one could hope for in a young tenor.

All of those attributes are in great evidence once again on the new Virgin Classics recital. What is also evident is something I did not notice in the Pittsburgh Opera Lucia, but have found quite striking in the few Villazón recordings I’ve heard—the remarkable similarity in basic vocal timbre to that of the young Placido Domingo. I don’t want to extend this comparison too far because Mr. Villazón brings his own style and approach to the various arias on this disc. But the vocal similarity is quite arresting, at least on first hearing.

Villazón is willing to employ a fairly diverse palette of dynamics and vocal colors, making the climaxes all the more effective and impressive. The voice seems to extend easily up to a high “C,” as evidenced by the Traviata cabaletta (“O mio rimorso”) and Rodolfo’s “Che gelida manina.” Certainly, I heard no sense of vocal strain at any point in this recital. The whole disc features exemplary singing on just about every level. My only hope is that Rolando Villazón continues to use his voice wisely, and in roles that are suitable for his stage of development. If so, we may very well be witnessing the start of a great tenor’s career.

The recorded sound is excellent, as are the accompaniments by the Munich Radio Orchestra and Marcello Viotti. The booklet contains texts and translations in German, English, and French. There is general essay about operatic tenors but, surprisingly, no biographical information about the performers. Given that this is Mr. Villazón’s debut recital disc, that is a regrettable omission.

Highly recommended.

K.M. (February 2004)