DUETS FOR THREE

Rolando Villazón and Ildar Abdrazakov, together with Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the helm of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain, have recorded an album of French and Italian opera duets for tenor and bass/baritone. Set for release in September, this is the singers’ first album together and marks Abdrazakov’s debut on the yellow label.

The history of recording boasts a long and glorious tradition of duet albums – think of the pairings of Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano, Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni, and Plácido Domingo and Leontyne Price, to name but a few illustrious collaborators. Rolando Villázon himself has already joined forces with one stellar partner in the studio – he and Anna Netrebko released their duet album ten years ago.

The French-Mexican star tenor’s latest recording is devoted to a much less well-known operatic repertoire than that for tenor and soprano. This time he teamed up with Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov, here making his Deutsche Grammophon debut, to record a collection of duets for two male voices. The two singers have known each other for some years now, having first appeared on stage together in a production of Lucia di Lammermoor in 2009. Abdrazakov is one of the most sought-after basses of his generation, as confirmed by a quick glance at his schedule: Méphisto (Faust) at the Salzburg Festival, Philip II (Don Carlos) in Munich and at La Scala, Milan, Escamillo (Carmen) in Paris, Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) at the Met in New York – the list goes on and on.

Together he and Villazón put together a programme of stylistically diverse scenes from operas by Bizet, Boito, Donizetti, Gounod and Verdi. Among their choices are classics such as “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s Les Pęcheurs de perles – perhaps the most famous tenor-baritone duet of all – and less familiar excerpts such as “Son lo spirito che nega” from Boito’s rarely performed Mefistofele.

The week-long recording sessions took place in a church in Montreal. Although the workload was intense, all the participants were brimming with admiration for one another. Rolando Villazón has spoken in glowing terms about Abdrazakov’s “chocolatey and characterful voice” and his “outstanding technique”, while conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is full of praise for the two singers: “They were so perfectly in tune. Naturally, the two of them have very different voices, but their colours blended together wonderfully. It was truly beautiful to hear!”

Villazón and Nézet-Séguin have also known each other for a long time. They first met in 2008 for a production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Salzburg Festival, which was released on DVD by Deutsche Grammophon, and since then have both been involved in the label’s ongoing cycle of Mozart’s mature operas. So far they have recorded Don Giovanni, Cosě fan tutte, Le nozze di Figaro and Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and they will be back in Baden-Baden in early July to perform and record the latest instalment, La clemenza di Tito, also starring Joyce DiDonato.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, one of the most exciting and in-demand conductors of our time, was the ideal third member of this team. Artistic Director of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain since 2000 and Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2012, he takes over as Music Director of the legendary Metropolitan Opera in the 2020/21 season. A genuine sense of rapport – between the conductor and his orchestra, and between the singers and their conductor – created a memorable atmosphere at the recording sessions. “There’s one moment I’ll never forget”, recalls Nézet-Séguin. “One morning, as we were working on Les Pęcheurs de perles, their voices both took on this golden sheen. Every player in the orchestra was looking at me with the same glowing expression – we were all just overwhelmed by the beauty of the music.”

The album ends with two special musical treats – tributes to the two singers’ home countries. And Villazón and Abdrazakov prepared for their duet versions of Mexican composer Agustín Lara’s celebrated Granada and the Russian folk song Ochi Chernye (Dark eyes) by giving each other a few lessons in Spanish and Russian respectively!

The pair will be performing the same repertoire live on stage this autumn, in Prague (20/11), Berlin (23/11), Baden-Baden (26/11), Stuttgart (29/11), Munich (3/12), Paris (9/12) and Vienna (12/12.).