Opera Arias sung by tenor Yu Qiang Dai
Arias from operas by Puccini (Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Turandot, and La Bohème), Massenet (Werther), Verdi (Rigoletto and Luisa Miller), Donizetti (L’elisir d’amore), Ponchielli (La Gioconda), and Mascagni (Cavalleria rusticana).
Yu Qiang Dai, tenor, New Symphony Orchestra/José Antonio Molina, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 57791 2 (DDD) (F) TT: 43:32

Chinese tenor Yu Qiang Dai recently made his Covent Garden debut in Puccini’s Tosca. To coincide with that debut, EMI has issued his first recital album, recorded in London in October of 2001. I’ve listened to this album several times, and for the most part, with great pleasure. In many ways, Yu Qiang Dai delivers the kind of spine-tingling excitement I associate with the great tenors of the past. The voice is quite lovely, with a warmth and vibrancy that reminds me just a bit of the young José Carreras. And like Carreras, Yu Qiang Dai sings with an open-throated fervor that is hard to resist. The climaxes of such arias as “Nessun dorma!”, “Cielo e mar!” and “Che gelida manina” ring out with just the kind of grandeur one yearns for, but hears all too infrequently these days. In fact, most of the big moments in the various chestnut arias are given their full due. And that, in and of itself, is cause for celebration.

I also admire the fact that Yu Qiang Dai is willing to vary dynamics to offer some beautiful and most effective quieter moments. The very opening of “Una furtiva lagrima” is quite lovely, as is the conclusion of the first stanza of “Pourquoi me réveiller?” And the climaxes of the arias I mentioned in the previously are made all the more effective because Yu Qiang Dai begins each in a more hushed fashion than is the norm. Couple all these attributes with an accomplished legato and passionate (though rather generalized) approach, and you have a tenor recital that offers great enjoyment and promise.

There are some less stellar moments as well. After a beautiful opening to “Una furtiva lagrima”, Yu Qiang Dai attacks the very next phrase in a much more ungainly fashion. The whole rendition of this touchstone aria couples some very fine moments with those that should never have passed muster. Likewise, “La donna è mobile” is rather stiff, lacking the kind of ease and swagger that is so essential to this music (although the final “B” is quite impressive). Based on this recital, it seems that Yu Qiang Dai fares best in music portraying the more conventional romantic hero—and that, he sings very well indeed.

So far, I have only heard Yu Qiang Dai’s voice courtesy of this EMI recital. It sounds as if it is a rather lyric instrument, here occasionally journeying into repertoire traditionally taken by somewhat more dramatic voices. As singers such as Carreras and Giuseppe di Stefano have demonstrated, the results of such undertakings can be quite thrilling, but also career-abbreviating. I hope that this talented singer uses his voice wisely. We certainly need someone with his gifts. The recorded sound is quite fine, as are the accompaniments from the New Symphony Orchestra, and José Antonio Molina. The CD booklet provides an essay on the featured selections, a brief biography of the singer, and the texts of the arias, with German, English, and French translations. With a total time of under 44 minutes, this disc is a little short on material. Given the generally excellent performances, a few more arias (perhaps some from less well-known works) would have been most welcome. But in my book, quality always surmounts quantity. And I think that most listeners will derive much enjoyment from this auspicious debut.

K.M. (August 2004)