French Opera Arias sung by great American bass
E. A. Lovitt | Gladwin, MI USA | 01/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The resonant basso cantante of Samuel Ramey and his considerable powers of interpretation, singing in his favorite language, are the joys of this album. I'm not a native French speaker, but the slightly nasal tone he brings to certain syllables, most especially in the mocking "Je vois que mes avis..." from Gounod's "Faust" sounds perfect to me. He rolls his 'R's in the Italianate fashion, rather than gargling them French-style deep in his throat, but he does it with such immaculate precision that not even a Parisian born-and-bred could find this habit disagreeable.
There are twelve selections by Bizet, Gounod, Rossini, Mayerbeer, Offenbach, Thomas, and Massenet on this CD. My only disappointment is that Ramey sings "Qu'à ma voix la victoire s'arrête" from Rossini's "Le Siêge de Corinthe" rather than the similar but much more difficult cavatina and aria from "Maometto Secondo." (I suppose he had to, since this is an album of French arias). "Le Siêge de Corinthe" is the dumbed-down French version of "Maometto Secondo," at least for basses. According to Ramey himself, the title role of "Maometto Secondo" is the most difficult part he has sung to date, and you can hear his interpretation on the 1983 Philips "Maometto Secondo" with Claudio Scimone conducting. Ramey fans, "Maometto Secondo" is a must-have because I believe it's the only recording of this great bass singing his most demanding role.
Ramey has portrayed a whole hell-full of devils during his career, and there are three selections from "Faust" on this album, including Méphistophélès' wildly gyrating "Le Veau d'or." This bass also interprets some pretty devilish human characters from Offenbach's "Les Contes D'Hoffmann" and Meyerbeer's "Les Huguenots." Those of you who think operas are wimpy need to hear Ramey at his satanic best, singing the 'Pif, paf' aria from the latter opera, wherein he cheerfully urges the slaughter of a whole convent of nuns: "It's curtains for the convents!...Let's demolish their temples of Satan with fire and sword,...Let's crush them, surround them, clobber'em, skewer 'em!" Et cetera. How is it that this easy-going bass from Colby, Kansas can terrify us with his voice? If you need to have the cliché 'devilish laughter' defined once-and-for-all, listen to Ramey's Méphistophélès on this CD.
Then for a lovely change-of-pace, listen to Ramey sing Sancho's prayer from Massenet's "Don Quichotte." It is a deeply moving conclusion to this album.
Julius Rudel conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in this 1989 recording. I would definitely recommend it over Ramey's 2002 "Date with the Devil" CD, as he in prime vocal condition in "French Opera Arias." (Unfortunately, this not true for "Date with the Devil." I sold my copy).