CD Review: Petr Nekoranec’s ‘French Arias’
A Fantastic Exploration of the French Repertoire By a Promising TalentBy Bob Dieschburg
Little could Met audiences know about the full fledged lyricism of Petr Nekoranec when he took on the spieltenor role of the Doyen in the company’s premiere production of “Cendrillon” in 2018.
Certainly, the Doyen has earned his keep in the eclectic repertoire of Jules Massenet and the long tradition of French opéra comique; it remains, however, a somewhat ungrateful part that would not do justice to the melodic talent of Nekoranec, let alone his vocal resources which are nothing short of exceptional.
It is through his participation in the Summer Recital Series that New Yorkers are more likely to be familiar with the Czech tenor whose acceptance into the Lindemann Program preceded his winning the Concurso Francesco Viñas in 2017.
Since then, the now 28-year-old has made a name for himself in the Belcanto and Romantic repertoires with a particular affinity for French opera – both in terms of voice requirements and temper it seems. F
or his solo-debut is as sensitive an homage to the myriad of Werthers, Fausts, and Roméos as any from the LP era; its shortcomings are few and “French Arias” is a more than commendable introduction to a rising artist.
Full Blown Lyricism
The selection of arias has nothing surprising and staples by Gounod and Massenet alternate with “O blonde Cérès,” the tenor aria from Delibes’ “Lakmé,” and the showpiece “Vainement, ma bien-aimée” from the unjustly neglected “King of Ys.”
The Italian school, on the other hand, is represented by Donizetti and it is in his signature piece that Nekoranec convinces least; of course “Ah! Mes amis quel jour de fête!” remains a tour de force whose succession of high Cs has strained many a voice and Nekoranec tackles them rather well. Throughout the cabaletta his pitch is facile and the tone retains its core.
Nonetheless, the ease of his other tracks seems to be missing and the tenor does not embody the flamboyance of the youthful Tonio as much as the score wants him to. Part of the reason is merely practical and the recording session took its physical toll on the singer who, in his interviews, confessed to having sung over 100 high Cs in just three days.
The other part pertains to the voice itself which, to be sure, does neither display the incisiveness of Juan Diego Flórez’ nor the “sprezzatura” or innate playfulness of Pavarotti’s. Instead, there is a charming innocence allowing Nekoranec to caress every note in long drawn-out, melodic arches free of pretense or indeed the semblance of vocal artifice; they build what is essentially an introspective reading of the arias reluctant to push the voice beyond its natural limits. Hence my reservation regarding the virtuoso passage of “Ah! Mes amis quel jour de fête!”, as the tenor’s strength lies in the subtle lyricism rather than the exuberance of a singing tradition that harks back to the all-time greats of the French repertoire.
Spleen and Ideal
Take for example the rendition of “En ferment les yeux.” The high tessitura is a perfect match for his timbre and the tenor’s cornucopia of technical abilities. As such, the gliding into the top register happens in a fil di voce movement that is not even shy of the diminuendo on “Il y faut encore.”
No doubt these details are a testament to the meticulousness that went into the preparation of Nekoranec’s solo album and it would be vain to list them all. Another noteworthy point, however, can be made about the slight opening of the vowels which lends to his sustained “Bois” all the mesmerizing character of Des Grieux’ reverie.
A similar palette of emotions is expressed in “O nature pleine de grâce” where the ariose opening sets the tone for another very intimate interpretation that, while bearing Nekoranec’s signature, falls short of the Sturm-und-Drang aspect of Werther’s heightened sensibility. The latter is a role within the reach of his capacities and personal inclinations; however, it also demands more heft than the voice may presently be able to sustain and what we hear is a delicate foretaste of things to come.
The most impressive track – from a stylistic point of view – could well be “Je crois entendre encore,” the melancholy pondering of Nadir about the veiled woman in Kandy. Through the predominant use of his mezza voce he conjures the oneiric qualities of a memory oscillating – in the words of Baudelaire – between Spleen and Ideal. Part of the magic surely derives from the subtle playing of the orchestra and the very slow tempi of its conductor, Christopher Franklin, who consistently gives his soloist room to spin the melodic line.
The result is deserving of every accolade, from the transition between registers to the phrasing and dynamic range. What is more, Nekoranec’s pronunciation is good throughout and one cannot help but compare the incomparable; Nekoranec shares the same aesthetic universe as mid-century greats – despite the caution that different recording standards necessarily impose.
“French Arias” is a treasurable recording; it outlines the many virtues of a growing singer who knows both the limits and expressive palette of a voice rooted in tradition and committed to the elegiac lyricism of French Romantic opera.
Yes, his range of emotions is comparatively small and yes, neither Offenbach (“Au mont Ida”) nor Donizetti are his stronghold.
And yet there is plenty to cherish that makes Nekoranec earn his place in a much recorded repertoire, whether he draws inspiration from the past or prepares what is taking the shape of a very fruitful career.