Rolando Villazón

Treasures of Bel Canto

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The graphics for this release by tenor Rolando Villazón don't make clear what it is you're getting: this is not yet another anthology of bel canto Italian opera arias, but something a good deal more rare. These "treasures of bel canto" are not arias, but songs, originally for voice and piano, but here given in orchestral versions. Villazón's explanation for why they needed to be orchestrated is unconvincing; he recalls having been inspired by Luciano Berio's orchestrations of the Verdi songs heard here, but the mainstream versions he commissioned have little in common with Berio, and one suspects that the real reason was to give Villazón's still fragile voice an easier time of things. The orchestral accompaniments somewhat overwhelm the melodies, which lie somewhere between opera and early 19th century art song. The Verdi songs, from early in the composer's career, only intermittently reveal the true Verdian voice; the Donizetti and Bellini groups come closer, while the most fun is the set of Rossini songs (late works, rather than early ones) at the end, with its tarantella-like La danza and a terrific duet with Cecilia Bartoli for a finale. Villazón seems to struggle a bit on the high notes, but there aren't many, and the bottom line is that it's good to have recordings of these comparatively neglected pieces. Recommended for fans of the bel canto period, or of Villazón.

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