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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 13 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 24
A great new tenor arrives!
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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A great new tenor arrives!

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

JAVIER CAMARENA
IN ROSSINI'S
LE COMTE ORY
AND OTELLO
Decca Blu-ray discs


The story here is of a young Mexican tenor who has taken the world by storm with his supreme mastery of the lyric repertoire, especially Rossini roles such as the two reviewed below. His name is Javier Camarena. So new is his super-star status that his name doesn't even appear with the other lead singers on the cover of one of these Blu-ray operas!

The immediate question for anyone familiar with the other Rossini super-star tenors, Juan Diego Florez and Lawrence Brownlee, is how does Camarena compare with them? In vocal splendor and technique, he is clearly their equal. In acting, especially comedy, he is perhaps their superior. In appearance, he is nowhere nearly as dashing as Florez; in fact, he is short and slightly pudgy. His voice is strong and attractive throughout his range, with thrilling, powerful tops. And he has honed a technique that allows for stunning facility and flawless legato. He is a first-rate musician with a fine sense of style. In short, he lacks nothing.

To experience the wonders of this new artist, you could hardly do better than watching new Decca Blu-ray discs of two of Rossini's lesser-known operas, Le Comte Ory and Otello. Both are well captured in state-of-the-art video and dts-HD audio formats, and both utilize uniformly superb casts. The excellent conductor of both is Muhai Tang, leading the mostly early instrument Orchestra La Scintilla of the Zurich Opera. Both discs come with informative booklets. Example from Le Comte Ory: 'In what other opera does the confusion of identity and the resulting erotic vortex extend so far as to present a tenor disguised as a woman who thinks he is making love to a soprano, when in fact he is making love to a contralto in the role of a man who takes the place of the soprano?' That twisted sentence perfectly describes the twisted 'plot' of this silly, but often delightful, opera.

The other star of both discs is Cecilia Bartoli in excellent form. Aside from her well-known vocal talents, she is also an excellent actress and comedienne. The scenes between her and Camarena in Le Comte Ory are laugh-out-loud funny. (Watch Camarena's eyes in their initial scene!) This production, updated to post-war France, is at least as good as the recent Live in HD show from the Met. This opera is not entirely first-rate Rossini, with much of the music derived, without much change, from another Rossini work. But it's fun and gives these stars ample opportunity to strut their stuff.

The Otello disc is of considerably more substance, both musically and dramatically. One of the most striking elements is the great number of ensemble numbers, including even a marvelous duet between tenors! In fact, there are almost no solo arias. Do not take this as a negative, for the duets, trios, quartets, etc. are exciting and for the most part truly dramatic. To appreciate this opera as drama, one must forget about Shakespeare or even Verdi. Many plot elements are changed, and the story is moved to modern times. But the drama is effective, nonetheless, especially in the fine (and most Shakespearian) third act.

Javier Camarena is Rodrigo, here a major role as the openly passionate rival to Otello for Desdemona's love. The power of his voice helps this very dramatic role, and Camarena does not disappoint. But he is but one of three superb tenors in this opera! John Osborn is terrific as Otello, and Edgardo Rocha is an excellent tenor (!) Iago. (See http://www.seattleoperablog.com/2013/01/meet-our-singers-edgardo-rocha-ramiro.html for an excellent interview between Jonathan Dean and Rocha, when the tenor was a wonderful Prince Ramiro in La Cenerentola - better, I thought, than Brownlee in the other cast - at Seattle Opera.) The whole cast is terrific, and I highly recommend the disc to anyone who can get over the fact that, unlike the great Verdi opera, it is not a good translation of the Shakespeare.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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