Is Rolando Villazón, along with Anna Netrebko, the hottest singer on the operatic stage today? Arguably, he is, and his first solo disc of Baroque operatic fare will, if anything, bolster that status. The opening number, Ciel e terra armi di sdegno (from Tamerlano), offers considerable technical challenges to any singer. But Villazón is not only fully up to them, he seems to relish the difficulties, negotiating them with seeming ease, while imparting a vivacious spirit to the music with a voice whose trills are sharp and clear and whose dynamics are always controlled and well judged. In the arioso from Serse, Ombra mai fu, Villazón phrases with a deft sense for drama and passion, delivering a meltingly beautiful, rather Romantic rendition of this lovely number.
In the ensuing aria, Piu che penso alle fiamme del core, also from Serse, Villazón exhibits his cunning ability to move from the playful to the passionate, from the serious to the joyous, all with a turn-on-a-dime sense, where every note seems perfectly under his command. And while I'm giving raves to Villazón, let me credit the conductor and his period-instruments group, the Gabrieli Players, with their just due: Handel maven Paul McCreesh abets Villazón by drawing spirited and virtually flawless playing from his talented musicians, helping to make this one of the finest discs of its kind in years. Almost every number here is a gem, but I'll just cite a few more: try the infectiously spirited aria Crude furie degl'orridi abissi, from Serse, and the lovely pair of arias from La Resurrezione, Cosí la tortorella and Caro figlio, where Villazón is supported by the excellent playing of cellist Christopher Suckling and harpsichordist Robert Howarth.
The sound reproduction is vivid and state-of-the-art, while the booklet notes are informative. This disc is a must not only for Villazón's many fans, but for Baroque and opera mavens as well. Highest recommendations!
Copyright © 2009, Robert Cummings