Javier Camarena

Contrabandista

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This release by Mexican tenor Javier Camarena has gained a good deal of general notice by virtue of being the inaugural release in a new Mentored by Bartoli series, wherein the divine Cecilia Bartoli nurtures and duets with younger singers. Bartoli's contribution here, in an aria from Rossini's Armida, is effortlessly attractive. But the album would be worthwhile even if Bartoli were nowhere in sight. Camarena examines the repertory of the Spanish tenor Manuel García, who originated the role of Count Almaviva in Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. García was a fascinating figure who fathered both Pauline Viardot and María Malibran, as well as a son who invented the laryngoscope and lived to be 101. The elder García, in addition to starring in Rossini's operas, mastered his idiom to a startling degree. He wrote several dozen operas, in Italian, Spanish, and French, and from the evidence here, his music is well worth a broader revival. The album's title comes from the swashbuckling "Yo que soy contrabandista," from the monologue opera El poet calculista (1805). Many of his works are slightly later, contemporaneous with Rossini's, and they stand up to the juxtaposition they receive in this program. Sample "Vous dont l'image toujours chère" from the 1821 opera La morte du Tasse to hear the music García wrote for himself that was perhaps some of the first opera heard by American audiences; it has lost none of its kick. Although the music is all cut from the same cloth, Camarena mixes up recitatives and aria types to a point where things never become monotonous, and indeed, he leaves you wanting more. He gets fine support from Les Musiciens du Prince-Monaco under Gianluca Capuano, and overall this is a superior operatic recital that yields to none in terms of showcasing the star's vocal talents while also breaking new ground.

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