Rolando Villazón

Rolando Villazón
Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino
Gianandrea Noseda

0289 477 9460 8
Int. Release: November 2012

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Dear Listener,

Welcome to this musical journey through some of the many beautiful works that Verdi wrote for tenor.

We start with an aria from his very first opera, Oberto. Then you will listen to other arias from his early years, from his most popular operas and from his mature period, as well as to a selection of songs orchestrated by Berio, to the solo tenor part from his great religious oratorio, all the way to the very last aria he composed for tenor.

To perform Verdi is to perform variations on the eternal melody of the human soul. Verdi was a man who came from the people and composed for the people, a genius who never lost contact with the basic forces of the human heart. Verdi was indeed the least pretentious of all composers. When critics of his time said that he who thinks that great music is an expression of love, pain etc, is wrong, he simply replied: “And why should one not believe that music is the expression of love and pain and etc?” For Verdi, “art that misses simplicity and naturalness is not Art. An idea must stem from the simple.”

It has been an immense joy to sail through Verdi’s rich musical sea – with its limpid blue waters, tremendous tempests, caressing waves and sunsets red as blood – in the company of the Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino and the great Gianandrea Noseda. It is also a pleasure to welcome my dear colleague Mojca Erdmann on this wonderful musical odyssey. We hope you enjoy the journey with us and that, after having listened to it, you feel an absolute need to dive into the vast ocean of the great Maestro Verdi’s complete works.

Rolando Villazón


Tenor roles in the operas of Giuseppe Verdi require vocalism of exceptional beauty and power, combined with a blazing sincerity of expression. That is abundantly clear in Rolando Villazón’s all-Verdi recital, finely balanced between popular pieces and significantly less familiar ones. The feeling of discovery will surely be as thrilling to Villazón’s listeners as it has been to the singer himself. Verdi has been integral to Villazón’s international career and, in continuing his exploration of Verdi via this disc, the tenor has created a fascinating journey through the composer’s very long life. Villazón cherishes, above all, the emotional pull that gives him a universal and timeless appeal. “Verdi was able to translate the main emotions of humanity into music,” says Villazón. The operas repeatedly depict “jealousy, love, sadness, moaning for death, craving for what you cannot have.” But, whatever the dramatic situation, Verdi “connects directly to the essence of what makes us human beings.”

Villazón views Verdi as “a genius who was capable of making direct contact with the people. When we think Verdi, we think ‘La donna è mobile’, the Traviata ‘Brindisi’, all of these very accessible pieces for which a lot of Verdi’s critics called him vulgar. I call him close to the people.” During Verdi’s lifetime, “composers already were having big intellectual discussions, separating themselves from their work and who they were, but Verdi is still in the old tradition of being one with the emotion he is portraying through his music.” For Villazón, the unalloyed immediacy of those emotions gives Verdi an indisputable modernity, even 200 years after his birth.

At the time Verdi was born, in 1813, tenors were finally beginning to assert themselves. For much of the 18th century the operatic stage had been dominated by female sopranos and castratos, with tenors generally in supporting parts (notwithstanding the occasional leading role, as in Mozart’s opere serie). For opera composers and audiences the castratos, with their superhuman prowess in florid singing, had represented the hero. Rossini, however, gave the tenor new prominence and, as the Romantic era progressed, it was tenors who came to embody heroism on stage.

Contemporary accounts lead us to conclude that the top notes of Rossini’s and Bellini’s tenors were essentially falsetto (certainly reinforced by strong breath support, but falsetto nonetheless). Vocally speaking, the turning point came in 1831, thanks to a young Frenchman: in Lucca, singing Arnold in the Italian premiere of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, Gilbert-Louis Duprez introduced the “do di petto” – a high C produced using chest resonance. Duprez repeated the feat upon his return to Paris in 1837 (Rossini famously likened it to “a capon having its throat cut”). This hair-raising sound, with its new sense of forceful masculinity, had become the norm among tenors by the time Verdi’s career as an opera composer began.

In approaching the Verdi repertoire, tenors could draw heavily on their experience in the more dramatic roles of Donizetti, where graceful legato and a certain declamatory fervor were both vital. The roles Verdi created in such early operas as Oberto and I due Foscari were all enriched by a grace of phrasing that Verdi inherited from his bel canto predecessors. But, even at this stage, a major change was already evident: tenors now needed a new intensity of accent and an invigorating rhythmic drive. In cabalettas, with the hero at his most assertive, the florid style yielded to a mode of expression characterized by incisiveness and slancio (translatable as “dash” or “impetuosity”), indicative of tenors’ newfound machismo.

The musicologist Rodolfo Celletti authoritatively described the Verdi tenor as “essentially in a state of equilibrium between lyrical ecstasy and nostalgic, elegiac abandon, on one hand, and ardent, vigorous outbursts, whether patriotic, moral, or simply amorous, on the other.” Verdi was adamant that “the vocal writing had to provide an immediate reflection of the psychology of the character, that it register feelings, conflicts, and changes of mood, with a rapidity unknown to earlier opera composers.”

Villazón is also devoting attention here to Verdi’s songs, all too rarely encountered today. Verdi composed them throughout his long career, although the total output numbers fewer than 30. Eight romanze were orchestrated in 1991 by one of the 20th century’s most distinguished composers, Luciano Berio (Villazón has included three of these). Several Verdi songs can be viewed as studies for operatic arias or cabalettas; Villazón finds them “extraordinary, beautiful, uplifting, and full of emotion.”

This disc prompts a wish from Villazón for his audience: “Everybody – people who don’t know opera, or people who love opera – should listen to all the Verdi they can, and they will discover this volcano of essential emotions.” Verdi gives his audience “a world that lives inside themselves. He translates it for us – he gives it to us in the form of music.”

Roger Pines
Roger Pines is dramaturg and broadcast commentator
at Lyric Opera of Chicago


Rollando Villazon: Verdi