Teatro Real 2019-20 Review: Javier Camarena Recital
Javier Camarena At His Artistic Best With Bel Canto, Zarzuela, & Mexican SongsBy Mauricio Villa
(Credit: Javier del Real)
After witnessing his solo recital at the Teatro Real de Madrid on Nov. 13, 2019, it is safe to say that tenor Javier Camarena can do anything.
On this occassion, a crowd gathered for the solidarity foundation of the theatre to raise money for children in need, with VIP tickets rising upwards of 1000€ . This included an exclusive dinner gala on the stage of the theatre after the recital. But on that same stage, they also found one of the greatest tenors of our time giving a 90 minutes of glorious music.
What nobody expected was for the Mexican artist to give a speech upon entry. He humbly presented himself and his pianist Angel Rodriguez, explained the content of the program, and expressed his gratitude for the presence of the audience reunited for this charity project. He showed himself cheerful and close, breaking the “infamous “ fourth wall that is often present in most formal performances. This would ultimately lead to the most intimate of experiences one might anticipate.
The first part was dedicated to famous Italian recital songs, and Camarena opened the recital with “Vittoria mio core” from Carissimi, a baroque song very simply decorated with lines of coloratura centered in the lower register of his voice. He displayed immaculate coloratura lines and expressiveness of his vocal line which moved effortlessly to his lower register without pushing the sound or any signs of strain.
He continued with Giordani’s “Caro mio ben” which relies on the artist to give emotional power to its several repetitions. It is a different kind of virtuosity, especially when one considers that the tessitura of this piece does not necessarily play to the strengths of a tenor whose voice vibrates best above the stave. But Camarena used his mesmerizing breath control and piannisimo singing to color every verse. He would start mezzo-voce and finish with a whisper.
“Per la Gloria d’adorarvi” from Bononcini was bright and forward, the tenor displaying impeccable diction and his dedication to polish every phrase. One diminuendo on a sustained note did not sound as perfect as it should, but this could be easily overlooked given his prowess otherwise.
After these three songs which are the “alma mater” of every singing student and which have been profusely recorded by opera singers of all tessituras, he continued with three more songs from three composers which are the bedrock of his career: Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini.
Vincenzo Bellini’s “Malinconia, ninfa gentile” broke this atmosphere of classicism with its romantic and moving melody. The tessitura here was a bit higher, seemingly giving the tenor more access to the best parts of his voice.
“L’ora del ritrovo” by Donizetti shone a light on Camarena’s comedic abilities. During the introduction, he look anxiously at his watch and then sang with impetuous ardency, relying on masterful Italian diction and tremendous energy to create a much-needed contrast with the previous melancholic song.
Rossini’s famed “La danza” closed this first part. Her Camarena wisely employed the obligated portamenti in the chorus to reinforce the brightness of this piece. This flourish might seem easy, but it is rather tricky as it demands clear pronunciation on every word clearly at an impossible fast rhythm, something which Rossini used a lot in his comical compositions; one could sense the composer laughing at singers taking it on.
“S’elle m’è ognor Fedele” from Rossini’s opera “Ricciardo e Zoraide” opened the “opera” section of the recital.
Knowing this devilish score, one must think that a tenor was crazy to include this piece on the recital. It is commonly assumed that “Ah! mes amis!” from Donizetti’s “La fille du régiment” is extremely difficult because it has nine high C s. But if this is the case, then what can be said about an aria that features 23 high Cs written in the score? And it’s not just the high Cs, but there is also a high D natural and an uncountable number of high B naturals and B flats.
Camarena did overcome some of these difficulties by cutting down the coda that features four Cs, but he interpolated an extra high D, a C sharp, plus the final long high C which is not written. In summary, his interpretation was a feast of vocal pyrotechnics, with impossibly stratospheric coloraturas, breath control and support to attack the high notes clearly without pushing; he displayed truly fantastic voice flexibility. What is more, Camarena made it sound easy and, above all, beautiful. The ovation that followed was unbelievable.
Camarena then countered with Donizetti’s “Una furtiva lagrima” repeating the tremendous success that he had managed the previous Saturday when he gave an encore of this known aria during his single performance of “L’elisir d’amore” at Teatro Real. Camarena’s voice was warm, melancholic and even spiteful during the section “Ah! cielo si puó morir.” Singing the aria out of the context of the whole opera performance, Camarena gave a completely different interpretation than last Saturday, maybe because he was not under the orders of a conductor or simply because he let himself go in the moment. For example, he decided to make a short silence and breath after the repetition of “si puó morir” when he sang “ah si…” He then made another short silence and an expressive breath before following with a piano on “morir,” extending the note until you could barely hear it. It was a magical, ethereal and moving effect.
To finish the opera section Camarena sang “Nel furor delle tempeste… Per te di vane lagrime” from Bellini’s “Il Pirata. This piece demands that the tenor sing legato and mezzo voce in a high tessitura (constantly between G and A natural) in order to reach a high D on the cadenza. It then features bravura singing in an even higher tessitura, this time going between A flat and B flat plus the octave interval from central D to high D; this has made the passage unsingable for many singers over the years.
But Camarena made it sound effortless and emotional. He can only sing the phrase “come un angelo celeste” with a delicate mezzo voce in such a high register. Moreover, few tenors could reach the high D on the cadenza as if it was the natural tone to sing. And to conclude the aria he decided to go up to a high B flat, which he dimineudoed gloriously. The audience applauded before the cabaletta, but Camarena didn’t wait long before jumping into the piece.
He sang only one repetition of the cabaletta, dealing aptly with the even higher tessitura, especially the octave jump from central D to high D in “Ah! si vorrei” with a perfect clear attack of the stratospheric note. And as if that was not enough, he added in an extra high C before concluding with a high B flat. He then received the first standing ovation of the night.
There was a mishap in the program printed and the one listed on the website. On the latter, there was a listing of three zarzuela pieces, while the former only had one. It turns out that the initial posting was right.
Rodriguez interpreted the “intermezzo” from “Las bodas de Luis Alonso” with ardent enthusiasm, giving Camarena a well-deserved five minute rest.
The tenor then returned with four of the most famous songs in the art form.
Camarena began with the romanza “Mujer de los ojos negros” from “El huésped del Sevillano.” The tenor has always expressed how comfortable and content he feels while singing in his maternal tongue, and he showed it with his ardent interpretation, rejoicing and giving emphasis to each word. He kept his long legato phrases, holding the piano finales and pausing to create suspense in the audience. He did one of his astounding mezza di voce on the line “Mujer, el que te dio la vida entera” and did some remarkably soft coloratura on the repetition of “Mujer.”
“Flor Roja” from “Los Gavilanes” maintained the standards of long line singing, impossible soaring piannisimi and clear Spanish diction.
“No puede ser” from “La tabernera del puerto” is probably the most famous tenor piece in all of zarzuela. Camarena sang with passionate abandon, delivering a performance that the audience enthusiastic applause.
Camarena concluded his concert with “La Jota: Te quiero” from “El trust de los tenorios” where the tessitura goes back up, insistent on high A naturals. But the tenor didn’t seem the least bit challenged and he even toyed with his audience, clapping to the piano’s introduction and providing a good laugh when he gave the sign to stop clapping.
Just in case the audience did not have enough high notes, Camarena capped the end of the piece with a splendid and well-maintained high D which put the audience on its feet.
But he wasn’t done. After lengthy ovations, the tenor delivered three encores, all featuring Mexican songs. He started with “La Malagueña” where in the purest “Mariachi” style, the tenor gave a display of impossibly long notes in falsetto. He followed with a passionate “Siboney” and concluded with the famous ranchera “El rey” where he invited the audience to sing along with him. The audience members gladly obliged.
Camarena presented a well-structured and difficult program that truly showed him at his artistic best. Above all, he connected with his audience, something which was amply expressed throughout the evening.