Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)
Javier Camarena (tenor)
Gli Originali/Riccardo Frizza
rec. 2021, Teatro Gaetano Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
PENTATONE PTC5186886 
Mexican tenor Javier Camarena has for more than a decade been one of the most sought-after bel canto singers in the world. I had the good fortune of hearing him at the MET in October 2011 when he made his debut there as Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia and was at once stunned by his singing. He had all the attributes that characterise a bel canto tenor: beautiful voice, lightness of tone, a myriad of nuances, fluent coloratura and brilliant, effortless top notes. All this is immediately noticeable in this generously crammed recital, entirely devoted to Donizetti’s music. Perusing the track-list I suspect many readers will shake their heads and say: “Only unknown operas!” Well, not quite. Everybody knows Una furtiva lagrima from L’elisir d’amore, and many will remember the other comic masterpiece Don Pasquale. But the rest of the “unknown” operas are just as attractive. Donizetti was a marvellous tunesmith, and even though he sometimes is predictable the melodic sweetness is so agreeable that the whole recital is just a string of bonbons to savour one by one without contracting diabetes.
But why not beginning with the one aria everybody knows: Una furtiva lagrima (track 2), where Nemorino has observed a secret tear that welled up in his beloved Adina’s eye, and he could only interpret this as a sign that she loves him. And he is happy, so happy that he could die of love. Even if one doesn’t know the words, Camarena’s singing reveals the meaning: his plaintive tone, the inwardness, the beautiful legato, like caresses, all the nuances and – on top of that – the soft end with long pauses between the phrases and a magical diminuendo, breathless. This is a masterly reading, and in the theatre I would hope the audience could resist ovations, stampings, shouting and just let the silence after the postlude remain for at least ten seconds. Unfortunately this almost never happens in real life but at home, in my favourite armchair, I can press the pause button and preserve the silence.
Then it might be time to explore the unknown, beginning with Betly, a comic one-act opera from 1836 , later amended to a two-act version, that was quite a success during the 19th century, and which has been sporadically revived in modern times as well. Daniele’s aria with chorus is the opening number of the opera and the melody is one of those beautiful tunes which needs beautiful tone, fine legato, fluent runs and elegant diminuendo – and Camarena delivers!
I doubt that many listeners will resist reprising Una furtiva before diving into the next exploration, Maria de Rudenz from 1838. By then Donizetti was just turned 40 and had about ¾ of his total oeuvre of almost 70 operas behind him. In this fairly long scene we meet Enrico, who is the brother of Corrado who loves Maria but suspects her of being unfaithful and leaves her and instead falls in love with Maria’s cousin Mathilde. They plan to get married but on their wedding day Maria appears, murders Mathilde and then commits suicide. Maria appears in this scene too, ably sung by Alessia Pintossi, but it is Enrico’s scene and Camarena shows that he has dramatic powers as well and he fires off some impressively glowing high notes.
Roberto Devereux from 1837 is rather frequently performed and has been recorded a number of times. The main female character is Queen Elizabeth I of England, who is supposed to have had an affair with Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex. In this scene from the last act Roberto is imprisoned, waiting for his execution. It is strongly emotional, and the aria A te dirò negli ultimi singhiozzi is one of the finest gems in this opera. Camarena sings this soft and inward aria in ¾-time tastefully and with the utmost restraint.
The earliest opera here is the one-act farsa, Il giovedi grasso, from 1829. It was premiered in Naples with two of the most legendary singers of its time in the cast: tenor Rubini and bass Lablache. It had spoken dialogue, which was quite unusual. Camarena sings the Rubini role and he certainly has comic talent and lets his hair down singing with infectious lilt.
The comic masterpiece Don Pasquale has been a great favourite of mine for more than fifty years, and the role of Ernesto is obviously one of Camarena’s favourite parts. The opening Povero Ernesto with that sorrowful trumpet introduction and then with the trumpet duetting with the tenor is so movingly performed, followed by the utterly expressive aria and then the glowing cabaletta. It should be mentioned that when Camarena sang the role at the Metropolitan on 12 March 2016, he repeated the cabaletta as an encore, which was only the third time in seventy years that a singer had been allowed an encore. As he sings it here I fully understand why.
The three concluding scenes from Marino Faliero, Caterina Cornaro and Rosmonda d’Inghilterra offers splendid opportunities for Camarena to exhibit his brilliant height. And so he does with elegance, seemingly effortlessly and unwavering steadiness and accuracy. With Donizetti specialist Riccardo Frizza in the pit and excellent work from the orchestral and choral forces this is a valuable addition to the Donizetti catalogue and a magnificent full-size portrait of a truly great bel canto artist.
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Betly (1836), Act I, No. 1
1 Ah! … È desso cospetto … E fia ver tu mia sarai [7. 42]
L’elisir d’amore (1832), Act II, No. 11
2 Una furtiva lagrima [4. 56]
Maria de Rudenz (1838), Act II, No. 6
3 Talor nel mio delirio [7. 46]
Roberto Devereux (1837), Act III, No. 4
4 Ed ancor la tremenda porta [3. 58]
5 A te dirò negli ultimi singhiozzi [4. 43]
6 Bagnato il sen di lagrime [3. 52]
Il giovedì grasso (1829), Act I, No. 2
7 Servi, gente, non v’è alcuno [5. 49]
Don Pasquale (1842), Act II, No. 5
8 Povero Ernesto! [3. 57]
9 Cercherò lontana terra [2. 05]
10 E se fia che ad altro oggetto [3. 05]
Marino Faliero (1835), Act II, No. 8
11 Notte d’orrore [2. 35]
12 Io ti veggio [4. 01]
13 Quest’è l’ora [5. 21]
Caterina Cornaro (1844), Act II, Scene 1 & 2
14 Misera patria! [2. 06]
15 Io trar non voglio [2. 42]
16 Guerra … Su, corriamo concordi [4. 17]
Rosmonda d’Inghilterra (1834), Act I, No. 2
17 Dopo i lauri di vittoria [2. 55]
18 Potessi vivere com’io vorrei [4. 03]
Alessia Pintossi (soprano) (Track 3), Edoardo Milletti (tenor) (Track 14); Coro Donizetti Opera/Fabio Tartari, chorus master (Tracks 1, 5, 16, 17, 18)