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 Recording of the Week, Ludovic Tézier sings Verdi

Jonas Kaufmann on top vocal form is a formidable act to follow, but the French baritone Ludovic Tézier took the challenge entirely in his stride on one of my most memorable nights at the opera ever, when the pair appeared as the doomed frenemies Alvaro and Carlo in Covent Garden’s 2019 production of La forza del destino. The third act is dominated by the two disguised men and their rapidly shape-shifting relationship, and if Kaufmann’s full-blooded account of Alvaro’s ‘La vita è inferno all'infelice’ rightly received a storm of applause, it was Tézier’s magnificent ‘Morir! Tremenda cosa!’ (which follows hard upon) that really brought the house down. As Carlo sifts through the wounded Alvaro’s possessions and slowly comes to realise that his comrade-at-arms is the man who killed his father and seduced his sister, every psychological nuance registered loud and clear in the vast auditorium, and the furious cabaletta in which Carlo exults in the prospect of vengeance quite literally raised the hairs on the back of my neck. It was the most thrilling Verdi singing I’ve had the privilege of hearing live, and I’ve mentally replayed it many times during this last long year of dark theatres.

Christiane KargIt’s that high-octane scene which opens Tézier’s terrific new Verdi recital, out now on Sony and also featuring arias from Macbeth, Nabucco, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Don Carlo[s], Ernani, and Falstaff. (I’d have loved some Simon Boccanegra too, but as the album is already stuffed to bursting at 82 minutes perhaps I’m being greedy here). All of the qualities which made that Covent Garden performance such a show-stopper come across just as strongly on record: the seemingly endless reserves of breath, rock-solid upper register, and above all the gleaming bronze tone which slices cleanly through the heavy orchestration without ever becoming harsh or raw. Here and throughout the programme, Tézier’s immense care for the ends of phrases (and indeed arias) pays huge dividends – the final high F is sustained for nearly ten seconds, with not so much as a hint of a wobble or waver, and the closing phrases of the Macbeth and Ballo arias are similarly impressive.

Another highlight is Iago’s terrifying hymn to nihilism from Otello, which made me itch to see him perform it on stage: Tézier was replaced by Marco Vratogna at a late stage in rehearsals for Covent Garden’s 2017 production, and whilst the Italian brought a magnetic brute force of his own to the role I’d still love to see what Tézier would do with it in the theatre. Verdi’s baritones tend not to be the ‘good guys’ of the piece, but Tézier has a special gift for inviting us to empathise with the less sympathetic characters in this gallery. Other cases in point include the jealousy-wracked Ford in Falstaff, whose queasy horror at his wife’s apparent infidelity is unusually relatable in his hands (listen to the way he drains the colour from the voice on the word ‘sogno’), and Germont in La traviata - here not so much the authoritative pater familias as a man acutely aware of his emotional estrangement from his son and making a humble, hesitant attempt to rebuild bridges.

Malcolm MartineauThe one straightforwardly heroic character we meet on this recital is Rodrigo from Don Carlo[s], the role which really established Tézier as a force to be reckoned with in Verdi: it’s a treat to hear his profoundly moving death-scene in both the French and Italian versions, with Tézier emphasising the young man’s firebrand qualities in the latter and his sorrow at bidding farewell to life (and his beloved Carlos) in the former. The strings of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna summon some especially beautiful elegiac colours here, and indeed the orchestra and Frédéric Chaslin are on superb form throughout – the upper woodwinds cackle manically as Ford and the Forza Carlo begin to mentally unravel, and the principal cellist supplies some wonderfully sympathetic solos in the arias from Ernani, Nabucco and Ballo.

All in all, this is a recital to treasure from a classy, intelligent singer at the height of his powers, and should be heard by anyone who’s ever worried that true Verdi voices are becoming thin on the ground.

Ludovic Tézier (baritone), Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Frédéric Chaslin

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

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