Almost incredibly, Virgin's booklet note supplies not one word about this promising new tenor. (Instead, there's a puffy essay about tenor roles in general – also texts and translations for all of the arias.) Fortunately, Villazón has a website, and there I was able to learn that he was born in Mexico City in 1972, and that he studied in Mexico until 1998, when he came to San Francisco and later to Pittsburgh to continue his practical studies.
Mr. Villazón took second prize in Placido Domingo's "Operalia" competition in 1999. Perhaps he would have taken first prize had he not sounded so much like Domingo himself. Villazón's vocal quality is unmistakably Latin, and Domingo and Carreras easily come to mind when Villazón opens his mouth. His sound is sensuous and darkly brilliant, and his manner is passionate. And he is a sensitive singer: not everything is sung with a stentorian howl.
Starting this disc with "È la solita storia" from Cilèa's L'Arlesiana was a good decision, as this aria finds the tenor at his most plaintive and emotionally vulnerable. Otherwise, his current strong points seem to be the music of Giuseppe Verdi and heroic roles in general. Villazón's timbre and stamina suggest that he will be an excellent Manrico in Il trovatore, if is not one already. As a verismo lover (Rodolfo, Fritz) he is a little less distinctive, and his Nemorino, while beautifully sung, isn't as guileless a lighter-voiced tenors make him out to be. And, in terms of characterization, he isn't fully developed. Take, for example, the start of Don Carlos's aria, where Jussi Björling more skillfully delineates the forces that are tearing Carlos apart. Still, this is as exciting a debut CD as any I've heard in some time, and Villazón has tremendous potential. I will be coming back to this CD often. I hope this singer treats his voice well; opera needs someone like him.
Viotti is a knowing accompanist, favoring slower tempos without dissipating tension, and the Munich Radio Orchestra plays thoughtfully. No problems with the engineering, either.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle