Samuel Ramey & Thomas Hampson
No Tenors Allowed
Famous Italian Duets
Miguel Gomez-Martinez, conductor
This is a serious album, even if title and cover seem to do everything possible to deny it: No Tenors Allowed is the album that baritone Thomas Hampson and bass Samuel Ramey dedicate to duets of the Italian operatic repertoire written for the two lower voices, even if they are not famous as the subtitle affirms. Here there are only few “famous” duets and, at least Israele, che vuoi (from Donizetti’s Marin Faliero) and Uldino, a me dinnanzi (from Verdi’s Attila) are not part of the most common repertoire and perhaps also Se fiato in corpo avete (from Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto) is more familiar in name than in fact.
Beyond this bizarre marketing strategy, it was a great idea to begin No Tenors Allowed with the duet from Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, which is considered the founder of duets for the two more grave voices, and equally it is appreciable to put immediately after this the duet from Don Pasquale, which is its most famous fruit. The tracklist is completed with five serious duets (from Marin Faliero, I Puritani, Attila, Don Carlos and Simon Boccanegra) and ends in a decidedly lighter manner with Un giorno di regno.
Ramey stand out better in the serious parts, thanks to his stately and elegant singing, characterized by a wonderful legato and by precise and enviable agility, as well as an expressiveness that if it is less effective here than elsewhere, denotes anyway a first-rate singer. Hampson is always a step back to Ramey and has neither the strength nor the refinement nor the same skill of the colleague: the inferiority is very well recognizable in the terrible sillabato in the duet from Don Pasquale, where the impression is that the vowels “escape” from the baritone’s mouth and, apart from the specific example, Hampson’s agilities are never excellent. Although he shows a certain taste in phrasing, he never reaches true greatness.
Nonetheless, the harmony between Ramey and Hampson is perfect and I doubt that the same result would have been possibile with two different singers: complicity is the real strength of this recording and is the reason why, several years after its release, we still listen to it with great enthusiasm.