by James Manheim

Insieme: Opera Duets
Jonas Kaufmann is the reigning operatic tenor of the day; his fans will lap this album up, and it is indeed notable that even in this all-Italian program (there are three Verdi pieces in French), there probably is not an Italian singer who could manage similar commercial impact at this point. His rageful work in "Tu? Indietro! Fuggi!" is probably worth the price of admission by itself here. Ludovic Tézier is not a household name in the same way, but he is undoubtedly a top baritone presence in the operas of Verdi and can consistently deliver high-quality performances. So Insieme ("Together") achieves the high baseline one would expect, but it also exceeds them and has something to offer besides star quality. The tenor-baritone duet by singers who perform together often and know each other well was a common format during opera's 20th century golden age; one thinks of Plácido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes. Yet such recordings are not so common these days, and Kaufmann and Tézier revive it in fine style with this program of mostly Verdi, a strong suit for both singers, and one piece each by Puccini (from La bohčme) and Ponchielli (from La Gioconda). The program begins with these, and that was probably a mistake; Kaufmann and Tézier wouldn't be first picks for the youthful friends in the Puccini, but when the pair tears into Verdi, things quickly get very exciting. Sample the tension in "Le voilŕ! C'est l'enfant!" from Act Two of Don Carlo; one almost wants to see the characters leap onto the stage (and they have, often, in the past). The pair achieve the feeling of spontaneity throughout, which is the key to this kind of project. Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia are a key cog in this entertainment machine, leaving the singers room to do their thing but contributing expressivity of their own. This will be a major holiday gift item for opera lovers in 2022 and beyond.

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