Ramón Vargas

Between Friends

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At first glance, Between Friends looks like a crossover album -- Ramón Vargas' attempt at the "Tenor and Friends" formula made successful by Luciano Pavarotti. But it is actually a straightforward collection of operatic duets and ensembles, all of which revolve around or celebrate the concept of friendship. This theme allows for the inclusion of some well-worn favorites, like "Au fond du temple saint" from The Pearl Fishers and "O Mimi, tu più non torni" from La bohème, but also some less frequently excerpted numbers, like the Nemorino/Dulcamara duet from Act I of L'elisir d'amore, and "All'idea di quell metallo" from The Barber of Seville. In the end, it is an enjoyable album that seems fresher than most because it departs from the usual excerpt fare of arias and love duets. Vargas shows admirable stylistic versatility by skipping happily from Rossini to Verdi to Puccini and back again, all the while maintaining an appealing youthfulness of sound. The fact that he has sung most (if not all) of this repertoire on-stage lends additional credibility to his performances. Among his seven collaborators on the album, Leo Nucci, Vesselina Kasarova, and Vassily Gerello stand out as especially good. The sound is generally good, though at times the vocal balances -- both between voices and orchestra and between the voices individually -- sound unnaturally adjusted. Vjekoslav Sutej and the Orchestra Sinfonia di Milano Giuseppe Verdi do a nice job of balancing the demands of the relatively intimate recording space with the need to maintain the dramatic sweep and dynamic range of the music.

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