Rolando Villazón, Steven Baker, The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Nicholas Dodd, Simon Franglen
Villazón ist Villazón: Wahrhaftig, authentisch und stimmlich extrem charismatisch . . . [Villazón singt] gut, er nimmt sich zurück, stellt seine schöne Stimme ganz in den Dienst der Songs . . . [der Tenor erzielt] eine gänzlich unopernhafte, unpathetische, stets unkitschige, dabei extrem atmosphärische Tiefenwirkung.
Record Review /
Kurier (Vienna) / 27. August 2011
Rolando Goes to the Movies
Although he has starred in a glittering roll-call of operatic roles, Rolando Villazón has always felt inspired by a broader range of music. “I love musicals!” he declares. “When I was twelve I used to sing the soundtrack of Man of La Mancha. I was Don Quixote.”
Villazón also adores zarzuela, that distinctively Spanish genre which mixes opera, popular song and dance, and so it’s no great surprise to find that the ever-enthusiastic Mexican tenor should also be a fan of classic songs from the movies, of which he has made a personal selection for this new album.
It is a collection of memorable and evocative tunes, sung with passion and brio by Villazón. He has enlisted some expert musical assistance in his quest to capture the spirit of the movies on disc. Arrangers Nicholas Dodd and Steven Baker can reel off a list of credits in choral, orchestral and vocal recordings, and Dodd has regularly collaborated with David Arnold on his James Bond soundtracks. Grammy-winning producer Simon Franglen has experienced Hollywood at its most lavish, having worked on James Cameron’s big-budget epics Avatar and Titanic, as well as on Baz Luhrmann’s musical fantasy Moulin Rouge. In addition, he has collaborated with some of the music industry’s all-time best-selling divas, namely Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand.
It was of course Streisand who made the world sing along to the soundtrack from Yentl, in which she starred in 1983 and from whose soundtrack Villazón has picked “A Piece of Sky”. Like many listeners, he was captivated by the song’s spirit of wonder and its aspirational mood, which he movingly evokes here. Streisand was also one of the singers who popularized “The Summer Knows”, taken from Michel Legrand’s soundtrack to the 1971 coming-of-age drama Summer of ’42. In fact the song became such a popular favourite that it was recorded by a host of legendary performers, not least Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams, so Villazón had to make sure he was tuned to perfection the day he recorded that one.
Another song from Legrand’s pen is “The Windmills of Your Mind”, which he wrote for the soundtrack of Norman Jewison’s sexy 1968 heist yarn, The Thomas Crown Affair, where Steve McQueen was memorably paired with Faye Dunaway. It was originally sung by Noel Harrison, the son of celebrated English actor Rex Harrison, and his version not only went to number eight on the UK charts, but won an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”. For the 1999 remake of the film, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, Sting cut a new version of “The Windmills of Your Mind”, and the song has also been covered by a diverse collection of artists including Dusty Springfield, Alison Moyet, Petula Clark and actor Edward Woodward.
Umbrella-twirling comic Charlie Chaplin wasn’t primarily regarded as a composer, but in fact he wrote the music for most of his films, including “Smile”, which features as an instrumental in the 1936 classic Modern Times. John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added lyrics in 1954, creating a song that has become a much-recorded standard, now given a distinctively fresh reading by Villazón. As Rolando is doubtless aware, Nat King Cole originally took “Smile” into the charts in 1954, and his daughter Natalie recorded it in the 1990s. Petula Clark also recorded it in 1954, then again in 1968, by when she had become a friend of Chaplin’s. A later devotee of the song was Michael Jackson, and though his 1995 recording was never given a full-scale release, “Smile” was sung by his brother Jermaine at Michael’s memorial service in 2009.
Villazón returned to the heyday of old Hollywood to find another Oscar winner, “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Walt Disney’s beloved animated feature Pinocchio, dating back to 1940. In the film it was sung by Jiminy Cricket (or at least by singer Cliff Edwards, who voiced the cartoon character), and the performance was persuasive enough for the American Film Institute to rank it number 7 in the “100 Greatest Songs in Film History”.
Another song made famous by an animated character is “Rainbow Connection”, sung by Kermit the (banjo-playing) Frog in The Muppet Movie. It’s a simple, childlike tune which lends itself remarkably well to Villazón’s unpretentious and emotive approach. Then he gets a chance to explore his Latin roots with a new treatment of Jorge Drexler’s Oscar-winning song “Al otro lado del río” (The Other Side of the River), plucked from Gustavo Santaolalla’s BAFTA-winning soundtrack to The Motorcycle Diaries.
In “Dear Father”, originally recorded by Neil Diamond for the soundtrack of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Villazón plays the heartstring-tugging balladeer. It’s a role he obviously relishes, since he also follows in the footsteps of super-crooner Perry Como with his take on “Travelling Down a Lonely Road”, Nino Rota’s love theme from Fellini’s La Strada.
The eclectic Rolando broadens his musical palette yet further by tapping into a Gallic vein. He daringly takes a shot at “Non, je ne regrette rien”, the trademark song of Edith Piaf. It has popped up in many movies over the decades, and reached a new generation of listeners when it featured in the haunting Piaf biopic, La Vie en rose, in 2007 and on the soundtrack of Christopher Nolan’s Inception in 2010.
Also from French roots is the gorgeous “Autumn Leaves”, which began life as “Les Feuilles mortes” with lyrics by French poet Jacques Prévert, music by Joseph Kosma, and sung by Yves Montand in the 1946 movie Les Portes de la nuit (Gates of the Night). In 1947, the great Johnny Mercer added English lyrics, and the song became a standard in both languages. Roger Williams’s 1955 version became the only piano instrumental ever to reach the top of the US pop singles chart, and the version by Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis is particularly treasured by jazz fans.
On the other hand, Charles Aznavour first launched “She” into the world in English, though he subsequently cut versions in several languages. Elvis Costello remade the song for the Richard Curtis film Notting Hill, and now Villazón has boldly put his personal stamp on it.
It’s all part of the Villazón mission to reach out, explore and push new boundaries. “Life is a journey, and you should live it to the maximum with all your heart!” he declares.