Two Traviatas–2.

Fabiano Ricostrutto remains, I fear, an unfinished project. But we can consult the ear-only versions of the scene as voiced by the original tenor of the Decker production, Rolando Villazón. The first is from a Virgin Classics aria album with Marcello Viotti and the Munich Radio Orchestra, and has the over-reverberant sound of most studio recordings (trust me—in the most sonorous moment of his life, R.V. did not sound quite like this). It’s good singing, though, clear-toned throughout the range, stylistically clean, well-shaped and poetically pointed. A slightly driven quality on the ascending phrases at “Dell’universo immemore” is perhaps exaggerated by the recording’s “help.” The cabaletta has a sprightly bounce and an alive-sounding C.

Villazón II is taken live from the Salzburg run, with the VPO under Carlo Rizzi; thus, the recording conditions are very dissimilar, and Villazón must deal with the staged interpretation. (Near the outset, we hear Netrebko’s giggle as the really-but-not-really-there Violetta. Anyone coming to the recording without knowledge of the production will be baffled.)  In this reality-check acoustic, Villazón’s voice does not have the presence of the studio version. But it retains its pleasing quality and viable structure, and still traverses the piece successfully. His alertness to nuance is still present, too, though some of the “points” have changed, and now sound like what they are–bits of the imposed interplay, rather than naturally felt responses to the music. (I do like one of these changes, a swell-and-diminish, as marked, on that “Qua-si” G-natural.) “O mio rimorso” is now, no wonder, choppier-sounding, a little breathless in the wrong sense, its downward runs defined by aspirates. Here and in the studio rendering, he prepares for the C by sustaining the preceding G (again as marked–but this is decidedly singer’s prerogative). He launches it and holds it, but it’s relatively thin and colored by a vowel not found in any language with which I’m familiar.

From these comparisons and what I was able to discern On The Night, I tentatively conclude that the production’s effect on Fabiano’s singing was not unlike that on Villazón’s. This is not solely a question of studio vs. live. It is a matter of distraction, of a dispersal of energies and attention for both performer and audience beyond opera’s ear-led, eye-confirmed norm. But for that matter, the once-presumptive primacy of interpretation for the ear–endless fussing over dynamics apart–has been usurped. Let me illustrate with brief reference to two earlier recordings, by Giuseppe di Stefano and Cesare Valletti. Di Stefano’s (Alberto Erede, cond.) is from his earliest 78-rpm batch of aria releases in the late 1940s, when his voice was freshest and free-est, and Valletti’s from the complete RCA version of 1956, conducted by Pierre Monteux. After a round with the recent versions, it’s startling to hear Di Stefano burst onto the aural scene with “Lunge da lei,” etc. Apart from the blandishment of the unique timbre, one is swept along by the sheer enthusiasm, the eager impetus, of the singing. This is a sensitive guy, sure, but a hot-tempered one, a Latin lover telling us all about it. A stylistic purist he is not–he re-arranges note values (the dotted rhythm of “boll-en-ti spi-ri-ti”  and “gio-va-ni-le ar-do-o-re” becoming double-dots), accents the musical line as he feels it, and throws in h’s of his own. But he owns the music and the scene. He, not a director or conductor, is in charge.