No Limits / Francisco Araiza

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NO LIMITS: LEGENDARY LIVE RECORDINGS FROM MOZART TO WAGNER Francisco Araiza (t); various cond & O SOLO MUSICA 194 (67: 02) Live: 1978-2007

MOZART Don Giovanni: Dalla sua pace; Il mio tesoro. ROSSINI Il barbiere di Siviglia: Ecco ridente in cielo. BIZET Les pêcheurs de perles: Je crois entendre encore. GOUNOD Faust: Salut, demeure chaste et pure. MASSENET Le Cid: O souverain, ô juge, ô père. VERDI Rigoletto: La donna è mobile. PUCCINI La Bohème: Che gelida manina. GIORDANO Andrea Chenier: Un di all’azzurro spazio. TCHAIKOVSKY Evgeny Onegin: Kuda, kuda. WAGNER Lohengrin: In fernem Land. Die Walküre: Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater

Tenor Francisco Araiza wants you, the listener, to know that he is very proud of this CD because of his evolution “from lyric prince to dramatic knight.” Well, that is certainly well and good, and this recital does indeed run the gamut from light music to heavy, but where is anything modern? Not a single opera represented here was composed later than the 1910s, and those in a retro Romantic style. That being said, this is far from being an average tenor recital.

Truthfully, I hadn’t realized that Araiza was still singing as late as 2007, and certainly did not know that he had graduated to Wagner. I recall him as one of the finest of all light tenors of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and still value his recording of Mozart’s Idomeneo under Colin Davis. More interestingly, considering that Araiza sang his first Lohengrin in 1990, the two Don Giovanni arias date from 1987 (“Dalla sua pace”) and 1994 (“Il mio tesoro”). It’s true that Araiza was always a lyric tenor with a dark sound, and this is indeed evident even in his Mozart singing, but there is, to my ears, a bit less focus in the opening phrases of the latter aria, the vibrato just a bit looser here than in the first aria, and Araiza sounds as if he is forcing the voice more. (I had the same impression hearing his studio recording of Faust from those years.) He manages the long run on “tornar” in one breath, but is forced to slow the music down in order to sing all the notes cleanly, and there is a brief sagging in pitch. To turn from this to his 1978 reading of “Ecco ridente” with the Munich Radio Orchestra directed by Heinz Wallberg is to suddenly put into sharp relief how much easier his early voice was produced and how well he could sail through this type of music in those years, reminding me of his superb Almaviva on the Philips recording of Il barbiere with Agnes Baltsa and Thomas Allen.

Although many of these tracks have different conductors most of them come from Munich, and no less than five are conducted by Ralf Weikert in 1987 (“Dalla sua pace” and the arias from Pearl Fishers, Faust, Bohème, and Evgeny Onegin ). This was simply a phenomenal night for Araiza: The voice poured forth with melting lyricism and an excellent ring on top, all of it superbly controlled. To some extent, I contest the tenor’s claim that “he has personalized the original composition by placing his own stamp on it.” The stamp Araiza put on the arias he sang pre-1987 was mostly vocal, in the recognizable timbre of his voice and the unfailingly musical treatment of each aria. In most of them there isn’t much that emerges in terms of a character. His was a great, all-purpose voice singing excellent performances of virtually everything he touched in those years, but seldom portraying a character.

All of this changed later on, however; witness his unique 1997 reading of “Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père” from Massenet’s Le Cid (again Munich, this time conducted by Mark Elder). A finer reading I’ve not heard since the legendary old recording by Vilhelm Herold, who later trained Lauritz Melchior to be a tenor. I always wonder why tenors include “La donna è mobile” on recital discs, although Araiza does add some delicate touches to it that most singers don’t, and in his final cadenza he climbs “up the ladder” by lightly separating each note. And what a fabulous “Che gelida manina” he sings! I haven’t heard its like since José Carreras in 1974. It has everything: poetic feeling, romantic passion, superbly controlled dynamics, and a high C that honestly sounds as if it came from the middle of his voice.

Araiza also gives a surprisingly dramatic reading of Andrea Chenier’s “Improvviso”—the best, in fact, I’ve heard since Beniamino Gigli—and he fully captures the spirit of Lensky as he is facing almost certain death in the Evgeny Onegin aria (sung in Russian). Whatever his Wagnerian experience in Lohengrin did for him, it somehow transformed him from an excellent singer into an operatic actor, thus many of these later performances do indeed have the extra dimension that Araiza claims for all of them. When we finally do reach Lohengrin, a 1990 performance from Teatro La Fenice in Venice conducted by Christian Thielemann, it is a revelation, in part due to the superbly resonant acoustic, oddly similar to the famed Bayreuth sound. Araiza’s voice floats down to us almost like something out of the ether, an otherworldly character slowly alighting down to earth. Voice and character have indeed become one. The “Ein schwert verhieß” from 2007, taken from a performance with the “Festspielorchester Erl” conducted by Gustav Kuhn, is recorded more distantly than anything else on the disc. Araiza is pushing the voice fairly hard in the climaxes, perhaps more than is prudent for him, but by and large he sings it well and again tries to project a real character. He is certainly much better than some of the horrors we’ve heard on latter-day CD and DVD performances of Die Walküre; I wonder that he hasn’t been signed to sing some of those performances.

This is a recital that kind of creeps up on you. With the exception of the “Il mio tesoro,” nothing on this recital shows any forcing of the voice beyond reasonable means, and you can’t dispute the fact that his voice held up at least 30 years. Araiza has become, to me at least, the modern-day Gösta Winbergh, a tenor who moved gradually and easily from light repertoire to heavy and has done so with taste, elegance, good voice control, and a growing dramatic sense.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SM 194

  • UPC: 4260123641948

  • Label: Solo Musica

  • Composer: Charles Gounod, Georges Bizet, Giacomo Puccini, Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, Jules Massenet, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Richard Wagner, Umberto Giordano, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Conductor: Christian Thielemann, Gustav Kuhn, Heinz Wallberg, Johan Arnell, Mark Elder, Ralf Weikert, Rico Saccani

  • Performer: Francisco Araiza