Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

Italian? Yes. Tenor? Yes. The Italian tenor? Well… Can we get back to you?

After Villazon went bust with that huge thud a couple of years ago (if you are still believing all those news of a comeback, then lemme tell you I have a sign contract with Callas to sing Norma in 2012, Tebaldi will be Adalgisa, Serafin will conduct and Domingo will be Overeso) the whole marketing world has been aching to find a new “TENOR!” that can be inflicted on the unsuspecting public. Well, SONY, after pretty much abandoning the classical market, except for reissuing some the glories of their catalog; has taken the plunge and is bringing us  a pretender to the throne with their version of “The Italian Tenor”.

The good news is that Grigolo actually has a more attractive voice, has plenty of musicality, seems to be serious about his technique and is a hell of a lot cuter (some might call him hotter) than his predecessor. The problem is that this recording does him no favors. Of the 15 tracks I heard from this recording (which you can listen on its entirety on the NPR website) 5 are from operas that he has done or could do right now (Duke, Nemorino, Rodolfo in Boheme and Rinuccio); 4 are from roles that I see him growing into (Fernando in Favorita, Renato in Ballo, Cavaradossi and Rodolfo in Luisa Miller) and 6 tracks are better described as WTF! tracks (Manrico, Le Villi, Manon Lescaut and Corsaro). So lemme get this right, in a 15 track album, over 60% of the material is stuff that we are not going to hear him in the house right now or stuff that he has no business singing AT ALL, and this is supposed to be the new ‘TENOR!!!!!”? Gimme a fucking break.

Now, I got in hot waters the other day with a fellow member of’s Cher publique when I defended grigolo after watching extended excepts of the Rigoletto movie they just did in Mantua. I defended the fact that he seems to be serious about this and that he is still young and still finding the limits of his own instrument. I still believe this and I do have to say that some of the singing that he displays in this recording can be qualified as beautiful, musical and expressive. But along with that, some of the singing in this same recording is painful, pushed, whinny and reckless.

Never have I seen such irresponsible programing in a solo recital. This guy is singing music that was composed for 3 very distinct types of tenor. The most successful tracks are, obviously,  the ones that fit his natural instrument. The omnipresent and much love and much recorded Una furtiva lagrima comes off quite well. Nemorino is a role that fits Mr. Grigolo beautifully and his singing of the aria is both restrained and expressive. Same for his version of Rinuccio’s aria; the singing is fearless, open throated and ultimately exiting. The items from Rigoletto (Ella mi fu rapita and Posente amor) are less successful because they stretch Mr Grigolo’s intrument a little bit right now. He gets through them honorably, if not with some effort. The high D that ends the Posente amor is quite good, thrilling even (interpolated high notes are the only form of ornamentation we get in this recording, a crime after Joseph Calleja’s recording of the same arias); but by this point we are beginning to tire of Mr. Grigolo’s ONE expressive device: he acquires this tremolo when the music requires emotion. This seems to be a one-stop device that he uses over and over and over and over and over…. After an hour, it got old.

Some tracks are successful because they are well known. I will admit that while I would not go see him as Puccini’s des Grieux, his Donna non vidi mai was good; but one thing is to sing the aria and another thing is to sing the role. The same can be said for his recording of E lucevan le stelle, not bad singing for the aria (after all, it is not that taxing in terms of voice and orchestration) and he even manages some very nice phrasing (that is one thing I liked about this recording in general,  he phrases very well). While we are at it, lets include the items from La Favorita, Luisa Miller and Ballo in maschera. They were all proficiently sung but every now and then you could hear he was pushing and trying hard in repertoire that he is truly not ready to tackle.  When he needed an expressive device, he had the tremolo in the lower register and he went off the voice and used this cupo that in my opinion achieved nothing but to make the voice sound hooty; but to each his own…

The true disaster of this recording, if you ask me, was his singing of dramatic tenor repertoire, which he has no business singing now or ever. Who the hell had the brilliant idea of telling a tenor who should be singing Mozart, Bellini, and Rossini (listen to the way he handles the Una furtiva cadenza and tell me he shouldn’t sing Rossini) that he should record repertoire for dramatic tenor? Who had the idea of telling a guy who should be singing Ferrando and Idamante that he should record Di quella pira? I know, I know, tenors all over the world program arias like these because they are beautiful, or exiting, or crowd pleasers,  but is it wise to record them? Before you come to me with the whole “well, there is no sin in recording rep you are not going to do, what’s the harm in that?” argument search for a documentary in wich Sutherland talks about how she had to fend off impresarios who were offering her Turandot and Abbigaile after she recorded Turandot. Her face and her snicker as she talks about it are very telling of how she felt about the impresarios.  Grigolo was completely out of his element in the Le villi, Corsaro and Trovatore arias; plain and simple. He should send  flowers and gift cards to the engineers at SONY for making him sound good in this repertoire; I have a feeling that his heartbeat was racing and his face was red as it could be after he finished recording these pieces . I wonder how much did they need to adjust the volume dials in post production to make sure that he sounded like he did in the Trovatore. Don’t get me wrong, he is never swallowed by the orchestra and his high C’ is never less than audible; so you KNOW there is a well paid engineer behind that one.

While we are on the Trovatore, special attention must be given to the solo artists who chimed in as Ruiz and Leonora. Their vile singing is the stuff you once heard in vanity projects from Mary Lynn and other mythic “opera” stars. Where did they get these people? Did they hang around America’s Got Talent auditions and snagged a couple of rejects? If you think I am being too harsh, go listen to the track yourself.

All being told, this recording was saved from being an complete and utter disaster by the rocket scientists at SONY who did one hell of an engineer job. Whomever this person is, you should get equal billing with Grigolo and the Conductor.  You more that deserve it.

I am going out on a limb and suggest that you skip this recording, listen to the tracks on NPR and buy the ones you like on iTunes, emusic or your favorite online store. I am sure in no time you will find a copy in your town’s used CD store if you are that passionate about it.


September 30, 2010 - Posted by | Recording Review

1 Comment »

  1. There’s only one Italian Tenor in our current generation; the only problem is, he’s not Italian – but Peruvian. You guessed it, Juan Diego Flores. Need anyone say more? His Italian’s perfect, in fact, he’s perfect! Fabulous artist, fabulous voice, fabulous looks, unbelievable technique at the service of great taste, just fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. Diego Flores is to the tenor voice what Heifitz was to the violin – the non plus ultra. The only problem is, since he is such a fabulous artist, he’d never sing something entirely out of his fach. Only someone at Sony would want to hear Diego Flores sing Manrico. Does anyone long for James McCracken’s Una furtiva lagrima? Lindora/Almaviva hits the nail square on; what’s ruining many singers with potential is mammon. The belief is, if you can’t sing a creditable di quella pira, you can’t make it to the big time commercially. Well, for anyone who cares about great music there’s Diego Flores; for the rest, there’s Bocelli.

    Comment by John Lumetta | September 30, 2010 | Reply

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