Handsome Scandinavian baritone Bo Skovhus really makes his mark with this collection of scenes and arias. It's been a long time since I've been impressed with a new disc of operatic excerpts, and perhaps I was just ready for a thrill, but I've been playing this CD frequently and enjoying it more each time. Skovhus is debuting at the Metropolitan Opera this December (Die Fledermaus) and this CD should heighten the anticipation.
The interesting repertoire plays a major role in this disc's success. There are a few standards, such as "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Faust and "O du, mein holder Abendstern" from Tannhäuser. Skovhus, however, gives us not just the Drinking Song, but three other selections from Hamlet. He sings Rodrigo's final moments (Don Carlos) in French, and he even steals "Pourquoi me réveiller?" from Massenet's Werther. (It turns out that the composer adapted the title role for the Golden Age baritone Mattia Battistini.) Billy Budd's final thoughts from the brig are another unexpected choice; Skovhus sang this role in Houston last season.
His voice is young and lyrical - more French than Italian in its lightness. Although not brilliant, its sound falls easily on the ear, and, in the aria from Die tote Stadt, the effect is positively sensual. Skovhus sounds most comfortable in the upper half of his range, and I wonder if somewhere there's a tenor in him fighting to get out. His characterizations are sensitive, and this compensates for my suspicion - and it's only a suspicion - that the voice itself is not particularly individual. Could I pick it out in a police line-up? Possibly not, but I probably could identify it on the basis of the intelligent way in which it is used.
Conlon is a dependable conductor, and Sony's sound is very good. I received an advance copy, so I don't know if texts and translations are provided in the actual product, which was released on September 15. Way to go, Bo!
Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle