Javier Camarena is no Caruso at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome

ItalyItaly Various: Javier Camarena (tenor), Symphony Orchestra of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia / Riccardo Frizza (conductor). Parco della Musica, Sala Santa Cecilia, Rome, 22.12.2021. (GP)

Javier Camerena (c) Santa Cecilia Academy

Donizetti – Sinfonia; ‘Spirto gentile’ (La favorita)
Gounod – ‘Salut! Demeure chaste et pure’; Valse (Faust)
Bizet – ‘Ah cette voix quel trouble’; ‘Je crois entendre encore’ (Les pêcheurs de perles); Suite No.1 (Carmen)
Verdi – ‘La donna è mobile’ (Rigoletto); ‘Lunge da lei…De’ miei bollenti spiriti…O mio rimorso’ (La traviata)
Puccini – Prelude (La fanciulla del West); ‘Che gelida manina’ (La bohème)
Ponchielli – ‘La danza delle ore’ (La Gioconda)
Giordano – Intermezzo (Fedora)
Flotow – ‘M’appari tutt’amor’ (Martha)
Leoncavallo – Intermezzo (Pagliacci)
Cilea – ‘È la solita storia del pastore’ (L’arlesiana)

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) died in Naples on 2 August 1921, at the age of 48. The celebration of the centenary of his death is at the end of this year, rather than in August, for reasons related to the complex situation of programming due to the pandemic. Caruso was the first ‘tenor of the two worlds’: he sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 863 evenings. When it was summer in the Northern Hemisphere, he spent entire seasons in South America (especially in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro). He was also one of the first opera singers to discover the importance of recordings: his singing can still be purchased, therefore, in remastered versions. The son of a worker and a housekeeper, his voice was noticed in church and in some children’s shows. He made his debut in the small theatre of Caserta, soon ascending to the major Italian opera houses and, then becoming one of the highest paid artists in the history of opera worldwide.

A conference was held in memory of the tenor at the MeMus Museum of the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, on 23 December. The venue concluded the series of events organized by the National Centenary Committee for Caruso created at the Ministry of Culture. At the Teatro di San Carlo, in fact, Caruso sang only on one occasion, in a production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore between December 1901 and January 1902: he did not want to return as the clique for his rivals disturbed the performances. During the conference, a docufilm about the singer was presented.

This non-subscription concert was held in Rome at the Sala Santa Cecilia of the Auditorium Parco della Musica in memory of Caruso and had as absolute protagonist the Mexican tenor Javier Camarena, one of the most famous names today on the international opera scene. Riccardo Frizza conducted the Orchestra of the Santa Cecilia National Accademy.

Camarena boasts an amazing career, built in less than twenty years of performances. He has a powerful and clear voice, which has the reputation of capturing souls with his agility and sweetness of phrasing, Camarena is considered an ideal interpreter of both the bel canto repertoire and the Italian and French works of the late-nineteenth century. He has a perfect diction in many languages.

The programme included some of the most famous pieces of the operatic repertoire. There were arias such as ‘Spirto gentil’ from La favorita (Donizetti), ‘Che gelida manina’ from Puccini’s La bohème, ‘De’ miei bollenti spiriti’ from Verdi’s La traviata. They were counterpointed by the instrumental introductions of operas such as Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, poignant motifs such as intermezzos from Giordano’s Fedora and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, or the enthralling Valse from Gounod’s Faust, and ballet music known by the public as the ‘Danza delle ore’ from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. The programme was undoubtedly well constructed as it captured moments of the various phases of Caruso’s career: from those of ‘tenor of grace’ (a tenor with ‘a tear in the voice’, as in Donizetti and in the first version of Gounod’s Faust) to those with a strong chest voice (as for example in Puccini roles).

Let us dwell on the essential features of the concert. Firstly, the symphony orchestra of the Santa Cecilia National Academy is much larger than those at opera houses, and especially compared to the orchestras at Italian and American opera houses in Caruso’s day. Therefore Camarena had to force the volume and at times, for example in the cabaletta of ‘De’ miei bollenti spiriti’, he seemed a bit lost, so much so that he looked at Frizza as if asking him for a cue. He also had trouble singing mezza voce. Secondly, despite the fact that the ears of music reviewers present picked up various imperfections in Camarena’s performance (although the orchestra was excellent), the audience was enthusiastic: applause, ovations and requests for encores followed. To which Camarena responded with a tarantella (Rossini) and ‘O sole mio’.

Giuseppe Pennisi

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