Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)
Javier Camarena (tenor)
Gli Originali/Riccardo Frizza
rec. 2021, Teatro Gaetano Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Pentatone PTC5186886 
Mexican tenor Javier Camarena is one of the hottest superstars on the operatic scene today. His sunny and warm stage presence match a clear and buoyant tenor voice, giving everything he does a certain boyish charm. This would seem to be ideal for interpreting the romantic heroes of the Rossini and Donizetti comedies. I have not yet encountered him in any of the dramatic roles of the bel canto period, so this all-Donizetti recital disc, Camarena’s debut on CD, provides a welcome opportunity to see how he is developing as a singer.
Let me begin by stating that this disc is filled to the brim with beautiful-sounding tone, evenly produced, and this singer has a remarkable ability to negotiate the coloratura passages with assurance and brio. The first track starts things off in best foot forward style with an aria from Betly, Donizetti’s alpine confection from 1836. This is an aria of the composer’s mature period, and Camarena achieves much by singing with style and character. His divisions are accomplished with grace and precision. Similarly, for Nemorino’s popular aria from L’elisir d’amore ‘Mr Camarena delights us with an interpretation that feels exactly like the reverie that the composer wanted it to be.
There is a scene from the rarely-staged Maria di Rudenz, Donizetti’s version of the hackneyed gothic horror tale of the bleeding nun. Camarena’s performance makes a viable case for reviving this work, especially as he tosses in a couple of brief but stratospheric high notes that really pay off. In addition he has a fine colleague in the soprano Alessia Pintossi. Her lines are sung with with passion and urgency, matching her star tenor.
The prison scene from Roberto Devereux sounds more involving than any other time that I have encountered it before. This is entirely due to Camarena’s strikingly different rendition of the aria. He presents this Roberto in a truly elegiac style, leaving the listener in doubt that the Earl of Essex is already emotionally ready to meet the Great Hereafter. This, and the Maria di Rudenz track left me wishing that I was hearing Camarena in complete recordings of these two operas.
Another great rarity is the aria from Il giovedì grasso, a one-act comedy from the composer’s earlier period. This aria is very much in the Rossinian buffo style and includes some difficult coloratura passages that Camarena tosses off with real panache.
It is while listening to the arias from Don Pasquale and Marino Faliero that a few reservations begin to nag at me. While Camarena’s tone is as an appealing sound as one might wish to hear, in Ernesto’s cavatina the phrasing is a bit choppy. By way of comparison, listen to Alfredo Kraus on the complete 1977 EMI recording, and Petre Munteanu on the 1956 Philips version. They both demonstrate a mastery of phrasing the vocal lines in a continuous arc that Camarena could well emulate and make his Ernesto stand up to the finest singers of the past. The aria from Marino Faliero is a more dramatic sounding piece with some technical challenges for the singer. Despite the coloratura sections it strikes me that it was intended for a voice that has a bit more body to the tone than Camarena has at his disposal. Still, he flings in a couple of skyscraping notes as a compensation that will no doubt thrill his many admirers.
Although not mentioned in the booklet notes, Gli Originali is a period instrument orchestra that appear to be playing this music at an accurate 19th century pitch. (In Vienna in 1835, it was roughly A = 435 KHZ.) Riccardo Frizza gives elegant support to the tenor’s vocal display, and at the period pitch everything sounds comfortable; even the coloratura sections sound more natural to my ears. Pentatone and its recording team have delivered perfect sound in a very naturally balanced recording, and the booklet leaves nothing to be desired. I eagerly look forward to this tenor’s next project to see how much further he develops as an artist.
Previous review: Göran Forsling (Recording of the Month, January 2023)
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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)