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December 10, 2010

For the classical music lover on your holiday gift list, Part 2

Vittorio GrigoloIf you holiday gift list includes an opera fan, might as well jump on the Vittorio bandwagon. Vittorio Grigolo, that is, the young, handsome singer who has the potential to move into the fast track for superstardom. His new Sony Classical release, "Vittorio Grigolo -- The Italian Tenor" -- is a winner.

I remember well Grigolo's 2007 Washington National Opera debut in "La Boheme" and return in 2008 for "Lucrezia Borgia." In both cases, he proved an exciting performer, with abundant personality onstage and a voice that had considerable presence.

I noted both times a tendency to strain on top notes and to maintain a mostly loud volume, signs that the tenor could end up shortening his time in the spotlight.

But the recording, devoted to arias by Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, finds Grigolo sounding very comfortable (the microphone loves his voice). The vocal production is natural, the dynamic inflections numerous.

Anyone who can pass my favorite tenor test, at least on recording (I rarely hear anyone come close in live performance), is OK by me. That test comes in this line from

the "Tosca" aria "E luceven le stelle": "O dolci baci, o languide carezze, mentr'io fremente le belle forme disciogliea dai veli." When the melodic lines reaches its peak, a tenor who takes his time, softens his tone and makes this description of gently lifting the veil of his beloved truly beautiful is a tenor I'll cherish. (My all-time champion here is Franco Corelli.) Grigolo handles that passage very, very nicely, as you can judge for yourself right here:


He delivers the rest of that aria with plenty of style, too. For that matter, the tenor is really quite affecting and involving throughout the disc. He has a distinctive gift for communicating directly and intimately; he loves the language and, like Pavarotti, seems to relish every syllable of it. At full volume, some high notes turn harsh, but that's a minor matter here. What wins you over is the character of the singing; his way with arias from "Gianni Schicchi" and "Manon Lescaut" proves particularly disarming.

One small warning -- a truly horrid-sounding soprano turns up for a few measures in "Di quelle pira" from "Il Trovatore." It's quite a shock, but not severe enough to make you forget how admirably nuanced Grigolo's performance of the rousing aria is -- he doesn't just blast his way through it, but finds subtle ways of coloring it.

Decent support throughout from conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi and the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio in Parma completes the attractions of this showcase for a most engaging Italian tenor.

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:44 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Classical, Clef Notes, Opera


Love the audio! Nice addition.

I'm sorry, but I can't quite share your enthusiasm for this recording. Grigolo is obviously a major talent, but to my ears he is a lyric tenor pushing his voice into repertoire for which it is not suited. I enjoyed the E lucevan, Una furtive lagrima, Che gelida manina and a few others, but why is a lyric tenor at the beginning of his career recording music from Trovatore, Le Villi, and Il Corsaro? These are operas for a much heavier voice - and he sounds effortful singing them. I hope he stays away from these roles for the foreseeable future (although he has already done Il corsaro, written for the great tenor di forza Gaetano Frachini, on stage). He does not need to end up on the large heap of tenors who ruined promising voices.

If you can find it, I think your money would be better spent on the Jonas Kaufmann CD of verismo arias - Kaufmann has the voice for these heavier arias and the program includes arias that are a little off the too-often trod paths for a tenor recital (i.e. arias from Ponchielli's I lituani , Zandonai's Giulietta ed Romeo and Leoncavallo's La Boheme (an opera whose own merits have been obscured by the ovwhelming success of Puccini's setting).

On the other hand, Grigolo's CD is heavily promoted and often heavily discounted, so even a modest budget might be able to accomodate both!

Happy Holidays!

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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