Rolando Villazon & Ildar Abdrazakov
Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2017
Duets was announced as an extraordinary recording. Under the baton of one of the leading conductors of our times, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, two of the most celebrated singers, Rolando Villazon and Ildar Abdrazakov, perform famous arias and duets from operas of the Italian and French repertoires, as Les pêcheurs de perles, Mefistofele, Don Pasquale, L’elisir d’amore, Simon Boccanegra, Faust, Carmen and two popular Russian and Mexican songs, Ochi chernye and Granada. Despite the remarkable programme and the names of three superstars, anyway, not everything goes smoothly in this recording.
This is the second duet album Villazon recorded after the Duets with a young Anna Netrebko in 2007, but the present one is different from the previous for at least two things. The first, easily noticeable looking through the tracklist and not strictly connected with the tenor’s achievement, is that the Netrebko-Villazon album offers duets only, while the present one is equally divided between duets and arias. The second and more determinant thing is actually that unluckily ten years and a throat surgery have taken their toll and the Villazon of the new Duets is not anymore the fine Villazon of the older one. In the 2007 album, the Mexican tenor stood out for many qualities, but now there is not the same pleasure in hearing him, not even in the same roles in which he was outstanding, as Nemorino.
Of course, Villazon’s musicianship is out of question as well as his enthusiasm and passion and they are reasons good enough to be still curious about his performances and to be indulgent towards him, but, this said, his technique is not enough to hide his vocal decline. There are few passages where the flaws are not so manifest, but elsewhere it is really difficult not to notice how his singing has become inelegant if not imprecise, especially in the belcanto repertoire and in the duets from Don Pasquale and L’elisir d’amore, where he appears now completely out of place. The disordered way in which he sings «D’ogni conforto privo etc.» at the end of the duet from Don Pasquale is perhaps enough to summarize what I mean. His singing is still fluent, but full of defects and his self-assurance may help him to end an aria, but not to perform it in an outstanding way.
Things go better with Ildar Abdrazakov. The Russian bass has all the qualities to excel, as a flexible and elegant voice that allows him to sing wonderfully and to convey an idea of the temper of the character. This is the case of Mefistofele in Son lo spirito che nega, where he represents a wicked and insinuating demon, and even more of Don Pasquale, who reveals a true buffo character and manages to be amusing despite the fact that he actually is a spiteful uncle who is on the point of disinherit his nephew. Fiesco is remarkable too in the duet from Simon Boccanegra (Propizio ei giunge!) as Abdrazakov characterizes him with such authoritativeness and wisdom that this old man becomes venerable, while his Méphistophélès in Faust is sardonic and Escamillo (Je suis Escamillo) is a bold and arrogant young man. Overall, Abdrazakov’s performance is excellent.
Nézet-Séguin’s conduction is equally fine. From the duet from Les pêcheurs de perles, where Villazon and Abdrazakov are surrounded by an intimate atmosphere, to the gloom of Mefistofele, from the sparkling accompaniment of Don Pasquale and L’elisir d’amore to the solemn Simon Boccanegra, from the complex, multifaceted scene from Faust to the energetic élan of Carmen, to end with Granada and Ochi Chernye, Nézet-Séguin always chooses the right colours and times and his conduction is a gem.
Duets is not the perfect recording, but, considering that Villazon is not completely catastrophic though not at his best and that both Abdrazakov and Nézet-Séguin are pleasure for the ears, it still deserves to be heard and appreciated for its good qualities.