Some of the great "French" tenors actually speak Spanish as their first language. The late Alfredo Kraus is an excellent example, and now we have the Argentinean Marcelo Álvarez, who seems to have a lot going for him, if this recital is an accurate sampling of his potential. (Sony Classical reveals that Luigi Alva, so excellent an Almaviva and Don Ottavio, is Peruvian, and was christened Luis Alva. You learn something new every day.)
Back in Argentina, in spite of his training, Álvarez was selling furniture. In 1992 he came to Italy and tried his luck. He succeeded. He made his professional debut in 1995 at La Fenice, and already he has sung at the Met, La Scala, and Covent Garden. Álvarez claims to be exercising caution in waiting until his later 30s to sing heavy verismo roles; for now, bel canto is fine by him. Nothing on this CD is inappropriate for his present capacity.
I am not a French scholar, but Álvarez's diction and pronunciation seem mostly idiomatic to me, "fooyez" in Manon's St. Sulpice aria notwithstanding. (Sony Classical credits Pierre Vallet as "language coach.") The voice itself is attractive, and not dissimilar to that of Alfredo Kraus, whom Álvarez claims as his idol. It blossoms nicely on top, with little strain. The high C's in Tonio's aria from La fille du regiment come off well, and his bouncing off of the shorter ones seems more of a stylistic issue than a technical one. His loud singing has appropriate machismo, and when he sings softly – as he is not afraid to do - his voice can be bewitching.
Interpretively, he has good ideas. "Pourquoi me réveiller" is sung with desperate pathos, and, from the same opera, Werther's "Ô nature plein de grace" is sung with both the fancy and the showmanship of a true poet. From Faust, "Salut! demeure chaste et pure" is very tender; after all, he is singing to Marguerite's house, not to the opera house! He doesn't yet have the heroism needed for "Amis, amis, secondez ma vengeance" from Guillaume Tell, and his reverie in the middle of the "Kleinzach" Song from The Tales of Hoffmann falls flat – this Hoffmann's feet remain firmly mired in Luther's cellar. However, Álvarez is generally ardent, and he seems most happy when he is singing something sweet to a lady-friend, whether she is present or not!
Conductor Mark Elder spreads a generous blanket for Álvarez's voice to lie upon, and the orchestra and chorus are distinguished. The engineering treats Álvarez kindly. The booklet contains notes, French texts, and translations. I wonder who is responsible for the cover photograph, which makes the handsome Álvarez look like a very different Sony artist: Michael Jackson!
Copyright © 2002, Raymond Tuttle