Time to Share

Rolando Villazón’s latest album, Feliz Navidad, shares the magic of Christmas

  • Star tenor follows critically acclaimed Deutsche Grammophon recording of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito with his first Christmas album for the Yellow Label
  • Feliz Navidad extends great tradition of seasonal albums by Fritz Wunderlich, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Bryn Terfel
  • Villazón records famous Christmas classics in each of his five languages, including White Christmas, O Tannenbaum, Tu scendi dalle stelle, Petit Papa Noël and Los peces en el río
  • Heart-warming tracks include duets with German singer-songwriter Sasha and French pop star Julie Zenatti

Rolando Villazón preserves the seasonal spirit in his latest album for Deutsche Grammophon. Feliz Navidad, set for international release on 9 November 2018, offers a snapshot of the songs and carols that have shaped the Franco-Mexican tenor’s fondness for the Christmas spirit. He has chosen pieces in the five languages in which he is fluent and from the cultures with which he has a close affinity. They reflect both his personal story and the universal message of Christmas, a time for empathy and community, for family and friends, and for opening our hearts and minds to those in need.

Rolando Villazón has always been keenly aware of the emotional power of the Christmas albums set down by his vocal heroes, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti among them. Their recordings were part of the seasonal soundtrack during his Mexican childhood and now belong to the Christmas experience he shares with his wife and two sons at their Paris home. “Of course there were so many wonderful things I wanted to record before making a Christmas album,” he reflects. “But the time came when it felt right to embark on this great project.”

Feliz Navidad, with its Yuletide mix of carols, classic ballads and folk songs, is destined to become a staple of Villazón family Christmases. Rolando notes how he always plays seasonal albums to accompany the annual tradition of installing the Christmas tree and decorating the house. “I saw that the children were growing up and thought that, before they fly the nest, we should be able to continue this tradition while listening to papa singing Christmas music!” Christmas, he adds, wouldn’t be Christmas without songs of comfort and joy. Above all, it’s a time to celebrate one’s good fortune with family and friends, and a time to share that fortune with those in need. “Normally we dine together on Christmas Eve; sometimes we visit friends. Sometimes we travel and meet people or discover new cultures. The warm embrace of Christmas is open to everyone, and I’m happy as long as I have my family with me and we can all share this spirit. It’s a very important time to be together and strengthen the bonds between us, to acknowledge how privileged we are and to recognise our obligation to include those who are not.”

Every track on Feliz Navidad has a connection to Rolando Villazón’s life story. O Tannenbaum, for instance, takes him back to the time he spent at a German-speaking school in Mexico City. “I remember one particular teacher who used to sing it, very softly, when I was a kid. It’s one of those memories that always comes to mind at Christmas.” A special collaboration with Sasha in Leise rieselt der Schnee is another highlight of his German selection. “White Christmas reminds me of my childhood, too, when we used to travel from Mexico to visit family in the United States. I associate the song with seeing snow for the first time when I was about ten years old, something I’ll never forget.”

The opening of Tu scendi dalle stelle immediately conjures up memories of Luciano Pavarotti. “The first time I heard this song it was sung by him,” recalls Villazón. “It creates a very specific connection for me with one of the greatest singers of all time, performing this beautiful, simple Italian song that reminds us of what Christmas should be about – reaching out to other people, sharing love, giving to others.” The irresistible power of simplicity is present, too, in the album’s Spanish pieces, lyrical pieces drawn from the rich repertoire of canciones de Navidad. Rolando fell in love with Los peces en el río and Qué canten los niños as a boy in Mexico. Although the latter is not a Christmas piece, its message is in tune with the season. “It’s a song I love,” the tenor explains. “It’s about letting children sing, because they tell the truth – letting them speak for those who have no bread to eat, for all those who are suffering injustice.”

When it came to French repertoire, Rolando chose the timeless beauty of Adolphe Adam’s Minuit, chrétiens and the tender strains of a more recent classic, Petit Papa Noël. “I’ve lived in France for 20 years now,” he recalls. “I remember the first time I heard Petit Papa Noël was at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris. At the end of the performance, the ringmaster always sings Petit Papa Noël. I saw everyone singing it and thought it was very beautiful. It then became a Christmas tradition to take my kids to the circus, and now Petit Papa Noël has become part of their memories, which is why it’s fixed in my heart.” Since the song’s first release over seventy years ago, it has become the best-selling single of all time in France. Rolando is joined in duet for his version by Julie Zenatti, star of the French pop charts.

While Villazón admits that the annual overdose of Christmas chart-toppers, played endlessly in shopping malls, supermarkets and high-street cafés, can feel like a form of torture, he hopes that the listeners of his new album’s song selection will feel the innocent message of joy and love they carry, the same love and joy which with he recorded them. “Christmas is about love and giving to others; its message is that we are all equal. What we’re celebrating is the birth of someone who taught us to love other people, particularly those less fortunate than ourselves. At a time when there’s so much talk of division, borders, exclusion, I think we need the essence of Christmas more than ever to remind us that we’re not different from one another, that we’re all human beings and that we should all be united regardless of where we come from or what we believe.”