José Carreras

Malinconia d'Amore

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Not every opera superstar, admired by everyone from cognoscenti to ordinary pop fans, would, in late career, plunge into new vocal territory and virtually unknown repertoire. But that is what José Carreras has done with his admirable release Malinconia d'amore. From the cover you might conclude that this was another in a long series of semi-pop Carreras releases (especially if you get one with an "Original Member of the Three Tenors" sticker). There are indeed popular songs here, but they are mostly forgotten ones. Malinconia d'amore attempts to re-create the ambiance of an old-time vocal recital that blended art songs and arias with lighter contemporary material. Carreras in his notes places himself in a tradition of singers, running from Giuseppe di Stefano back to Caruso, who have favored such programs; he includes songs, all on the theme of romantic disillusionment, from Tchaikovsky (the two French mélodies of Op. 65, which are gems), Albéniz, Enrico Toselli, Luigi Denza, Pasquale Mario Costa, and others, including several Catalonian composers. The French selections may put some listeners off, for Carreras' pronunciation of that language is eccentric. But in general Carreras succeeds solidly, both in making a case for this older form of crossover music and in adapting his voice to the intimate dimensions of the material. Carreras enlists arrangers to set all the music included for the combination of two violins, viola, double bass, and piano -- a salon-like ensemble that plays beautifully. Everyone who has enjoyed Carreras in the past, from Three Tenors fans to the operatic hard core, may be moved to shed a pleasant tear by these songs that evoke what the French call "l'heure bleu," the twilight blue. A minor complaint: two instrumental selections by Albéniz, included presumably to lift the melancholy mood temporarily, seem to come out of nowhere.

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