Ildebrando D’Arcangelo – Mozart Opera and Concert Arias [Noseda/DG]

0 of 5 stars

Arias from Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro
Concert Arias [selections]

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (bass-baritone)

Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Torino
Gianandrea Noseda

Recorded June 2010 in Teatro Regio di Torino, Sala Regia, Turin

Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson

Reviewed: October 2011
CD No: DG 477 9297
Duration: 61 minutes



The stream of recital discs which used to appear from the leading record companies in the days of LP may have been reduced to a mere trickle, but Universal, in the guise of its constituent branches Deutsche Grammophon and Decca, is investing in certain leading operatic voices. Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanča have produced distinguished recitals for the German wing, as has Joseph Calleja for Decca.

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s earlier disc of Handel arias certainly showed off his vocal accomplishments. Here he progresses to Mozart: “He is the composer who inspired in me the passion for music and my career.” This is a voice which has been developing in recent years. The singer has cultivated a smoothly flowing bass sound of the Nicolai Ghiaurov type, tightly focused rather than the grainy, looser quality of some contemporary basses. At the same time, as he says in his booklet interview, his range has been widening at both ends. This recital certainly attests to that, with full-bodied low Es in the concert arias and a high G in the intermediate cadenza of ‘Non più andrai’. Also conspicuous in terms of vocal technique is how hard he works in this extreme tessitura to resist opening his tone, which should augur well for his vocal security and longevity.

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. Photograph: Uwe Arens / DGThe stage works represented here are the three Da Ponte comedies. In Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, D’Arcangelo sings both leading bass and baritone roles, as Mozart and his contemporaries would have expected when no distinction between the two voice types was recognised. Unfortunately the numbers from these operas are largely shorn of humour and even realism. Leporello’s ‘Catalogue Aria’ seems to come from the mouth of an aristocrat rather than a servant, so severe and formal is the sound of the opening section: there is no hint of a chuckle as Leporello invites Donna Elvira to “read it with me”. In the andante he seems almost to adopt his master’s persona, to imitate his wooing style. Determined to deny the poor woman any consolation she might gain from his account of the inclusion of tall women in his list of conquests and the exalted music associated with it, he allows no pause but carries the voice onto the ensuing words, “la piccina”. So Giovanni, the man with whom Elvira has fallen in love, is undiscriminating after all. How that must hurt her.

As far as Don Giovanni’s solos are concerned, the so-called ‘Champagne’ aria is pretty bomb-proof and D’Arcangelo introduces a credible element of the manic into his treatment of it. The ‘Canzonetta’ is a different story. It needs a much lighter touch than he brings. This Giovanni serenades his target with a masterful, even forbidding style. The second verse is hardly a notch down in volume from the first and the words are unexpectedly muffled. Just as D’Arcangelo’s Leporello is as noble as his master, his Figaro is as grimly indignant as his Count Almaviva. The character’s determination is well depicted in the dark sound of the opening section with horn and pizzicato strings. When it recurs there is a subtle change, suggesting that a threat yet to be defined, Figaro now has settled on a precise plan for outwitting his master. The words are incisively pointed here and in his later misogynistic aria. The Count’s aria is another example of immaculate singing, though once more the singer dampens the individual flavour of the character in the pursuit of consistent vocal beauty. I am reminded of a common complaint made of recital discs in the LP era – that characterisations are too homogeneous, singers not differentiating sufficiently between characters and their predicaments.

The contribution of the Turin players under Gianandrea Noseda is generally lively and highly-coloured. Some tempos are unusually fast, and there’s an example an ill-judged sprint. Elsewhere the orchestral contribution is full of insight, imagination and dramatic reinforcement.Guglielmo’s long promotion of himself and Ferrando in Così fan tutte sits better in a recital than in a complete performance (Mozart acknowledged as much in replacing it with the much less high-powered ‘Non siate ritrosi’). Each of the classical allusions which Guglielmo makes in this piece of pretentious rhetoric is seconded by Noseda’s orchestra; the rustling of the women’s dresses imitated by the strings as they hurry away in disgust is particularly vivid. The singer preens himself suitably but I have heard much more sheer mirth in other versions.

The emphasis on vocal weight, polished tone production and technical security fits well with the concert aria Mentre, ti lascio, o figlia with its solemn theme and classical austerity of utterance. D’Arcangelo negotiates it with a smooth flowing legato. The other concert arias are more directed towards virtuosic display, in which D’Arcangelo seems fully at home. The most lustily enjoyable of the items is the concert aria with double bass obbligato, Per questa bella mano. The difficulty of the instrumental solo part was, according to legend, intended to discomfit the bassist as a reprisal for making eyes at the composer’s wife! Certainly the singer is trumped at every turn by the virtuosity of the instrumental writing, here brilliantly played by Davide Gheo.

One curiosity is a newly orchestrated version of the accompanied recitative which may have been supplied by Mozart to the first Figaro, Francesco Benucci, and used to precede ‘Non più andrai’, though I doubt if anyone is going to get very excited about this, even if it is a premiere. It seems bizarre to hear a main melody from the aria foreshadowed in the recitative.

In terms of vocal lustre, technical accomplishment and musicianship this release is highly recommendable. Unfortunately it is to some extent the victim of the singer’s virtues.

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