This is an intact reissue of Roberto Alagna's Christmas album of 2000, complete with its original booklet notes. Those notes explain that Alagna, an professed admirer of Mario Lanza, wanted to create "an album reminiscent of some of the great 'Hollywood' recordings, with a full symphony orchestra and various groups of singers and rhythm-section musicians where appropriate." In the event, that's not quite what he came up with, but the final product has proven successful enough for a fresh go-round on store shelves and web pages. The key to his success is that a really surprising variety of material is matched by a repertoire of vocal manner that may well even appeal to operatic purists who would otherwise toss this disc. There are a few familiar hymns, several of them compressed into medleys with English children's choirs on full-bore cute setting. But there are also some genuinely unusual items. Are you familiar with the strangely melancholy minor-key Guardian Angels, co-written by none other than Harpo Marx? Alagna gives it an enthusiastically Neapolitan reading. The variety of voices Alagna adopts over the course of this album is truly impressive. He croons in White Christmas (this final track is perhaps the album's least successful). He emulates Domingo's attempts at a pop anthem on The Love of a Child. He goes into a fine traditional Italian tenor encore mode for Adeste Fideles, conveys a cheerful domesticity on Away in a Manger (his English is accented but clear and never unpleasant), and gives shining sacred consistency not only to Ave Maria but also to the Romanian carol O! Ce veste minunata!, which was suggested by Alagna's Romanian-born wife Angela Gheorghiu. On that piece he is accompanied only by a choir, but elsewhere you will hear the symphonic arrangements of conductor Robin Smith, who leads the London Symphony Orchestra. They're about halfway in between Hollywood and the soberer traditional arrangements of carols, and sometimes they seem to compete with Alagna's voice rather than complement it. Some of the choral parts were obviously dubbed in and don't quite mesh with Alagna's singing, either. The omission of texts in the booklet is a flaw -- how many of the potential buyers will understand Romanian? -- but on several pieces Alagna sings different verses in different languages. This is a pleasantly offbeat Christmas program from a singer who is looking like a strong candidate to fill the shoes of one, at least, of the Three Tenors; it's just the thing to put on the CD player when the old holiday standards begin to cloy.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|We Wish You a Merry Christmas (English)|