Jonathan Tetelman (tenor) The Great Puccini DG

Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
The Great Puccini
Jonathan Tetelman (tenor)
PKF – Prague Philharmonia/Carlo Rizzi 
rec. 2023, Prague, Czech Republic
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Reviewed as download from press preview
Deutsche Grammophon 4864683 [54]

Born in Chile in 1988, Jonathan Tetelman was adopted as a child and grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music in New York as baritone, but later changed to tenor, and in that capacity has in the last few years been hailed, primarily in Europe, in roles like Rodolfo (La bohème), Alfredo (La traviata), Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) and the Duke (Rigoletto). 

In 2021, he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, and the debut disc, issued last year, received lyrical reviews. Here at MusicWeb my colleague Michael Cookson was overwhelmed (review), and another colleague, Paul Corfield Godfrey, wrote in his review of a DVD of Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini, issued at about the same time, “Jonathan Tetelman as Paolo displays a magnificent voice (and fine torso) which can extend from the most delicate of quiet shadings to the full-blown stentorian delivery required elsewhere – this is a far cry from the bullish Mario del Monaco in his pioneering Decca recording of the scenes from the opera by which I suspect many of my generation first made the acquaintance of Zandonai. As recorded here he is generally the equal of Domingo in the Metropolitan staging, and his quiet singing is even better.” A third colleague, Dave Billinge, was just as enthusiastic. Seeing these esteemed colleagues’ judgements whetted the appetite of course, and the very first tones made me sit up. 

The title of the album is naturally timely since next year is the centenary of Puccini’s death, and “without Giacomo Puccini opera wouldn’t be the same”, as George Hall writes in the foreword. Tenor tributes to Puccini have been recorded before. More than twenty years ago the young José Cura set down a disc, where he, a bit weirdly, presented the arias chronologically backwards, beginning with Nessun dorma and finishing with Roberto’s aria from Le villi. Tetelman also finishes with Le villi, but otherwise the order seems totally haphazard. Not that it matters much, and where he sings more than one piece from an opera they are sometimes grouped together and in chronological order (La bohème, Tosca and La fanciulla del West), while Manon Lescaut and Turandot are a bit unfairly treated.

Enough carping. What made me sit up was Donna non vidi mai from Manon Lescaut, Puccini’s first great aria. Now here was a bright, beautiful voice with brilliance and power, riding the orchestra with aplomb. He seems healthily free from idiosyncrasies, no sliding up to high notes, no exaggerated gushes of emotion. On the other hand there is little variation in volume; it’s full throttle throughout – and glorious it is. Nessun dorma has through the years been maltreated by insensitive, leather-lunged bawlers, but Jonathan Tetelman doesn’t belong to this breed. His reading is glorious but tasteful and in the second verse he scales down elegantly before the short orchestral interlude – there is no ladies’ chorus available – then he gears up again, and the high B rings out with fervour. 

Ruggero’s solo in the first act of La rondine is practically never heard separately – though Cura sings it on his previously mentioned album – and Tetelman finds the right lyrical tone with fine nuances. Then follow three scenes from La bohème. Che gelida manina is sung with commendable legato, a glowing high C and fine diminuendo in the end. He then joins forces, in the duet O soave fanciulla, with Federica Lombardi, young Italian soprano with a blossoming international career, including appearances at La Scala, Metropolitan and Covent Garden and a complete studio recording  of Otello for Sony, singing Desdemona opposite Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. Beautiful singing indeed, and they scale down sensitively at the end – but the off-stage Amor! Amor! in unison rings out gloriously. The third excerpt is the quartet that concludes Act III, and here they are joined towards the end by Marcello (Theodore Platt) and Musetta (Marina Monzò) in their domestic quarrel – an inventive inclusion of a piece that is never heard separately – and it is a masterly ensemble, fully comparable to the Rigoletto quartet. 

Cavaradossi’s two arias from Tosca are here performed including the preceding scenes. In the first act Recondita armonia, the lines of the Sacristan are however excluded and that could easily have been taken care of by Önay Köse, who was at hand to sing the jailer in the scene before E lucevan le stelle. The singing of the arias proper is first-class and especially the latter, beginning softly  and sensitively after the clarinet solo, exquisitely played, and the whole aria is sung with a tear in the voice – but completely avoiding the lachrymosity of Beniamino Gigli in his most sentimental excesses. 

Back to Manon Lescaut and des Grieux’s emotional outbreak in the second act, a scene where Jussi Björling surpassed himself in intensity in his various recordings – but Tetelman also excels here; his voice is charged with emotions, and I would love to hear him in a complete recording of the opera. The fragment from the last act of Madama Butterfly where Consul Sharpless and Suzuki discuss Pinkerton’s wish to adopt his and Butterfly’s child is deeply moving, and Pinkerton’s desperate feelings are well depicted. From La fanciulla del West we normally hear Johnson’s prayer in the last act, Ch’ella mi creda, but here we also get his declaration of love to Minnie in the first act. Both are brief but they are sung glowingly.

The longest excerpt is the scene with the three central characters in the one-acter Il tabarro. The dark accompaniment with muffled threatening timpani sets the scene and the drama that unfolds is chilling. Önay Köse’s Michele and Vida Miknevičiūtė’s Giorgetta complement Tetelman in this creepy extract. 

Glowing readings of Non piangere, Liù from Turandot and O Torna ai felici dì from Le villi round off this adventurous recital and confirm emphatically the enthusiastic responses of my colleagues. A Star Is Born was the title of a film by Bradley Cooper. This also seems to be a suitable headline for this issue.

Göran Forsling

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1. Donna non vidi mai 2:26
Manon Lescaut (Act I) // Renato des Grieux
2. Nessun dorma 3:02
Turandot (Act III) // Calaf
3. Parigi! È la città dei desideri 2:38
La rondine (Act I) // Ruggero Lastouc
4. Che gelida manina 4:27
La bohème (Act I) // Rodolfo
5. O soave fanciulla 3:56
La bohème (Act I) // Rodolfo, Mimì throughout.
6. Dunque è proprio finita 5:40
La bohème (Act III) // Rodolfo, Mimì, Marcello, Musetta
7. Dammi i colori! Recondita armonia 2:42
Tosca (Act I) // Mario Cavaradossi
8. Mario Cavaradossi? … E lucevan le stelle 6:51
Tosca (Act III) // Un carceriere, Mario Cavaradossi
9. Ah! Manon, mi tradisce 2:03
Manon Lescaut (Act II) // Renato des Grieux
10. Che giova? … Io so che alle sue pene 2:20
Madama Butterfly (Act III) // Suzuki, Sharpless, F. B. Pinkerton 
11. Quello che tacete 1:31
La fanciulla del West (Act I) // Dick Johnson
12. Ch’ella mi creda 1:47
La fanciulla del West (Act III) // Dick Johnson
13. O Luigi! Luigi! … Dimmi, perché gli hai chiesto 7:56
Il tabarro // Giorgetta, Luigi, Michele
14. Non piangere, Liù 2:25
Turandot (Act I) // Calaf
15. O Torna ai felici dì 4:45
Le Villi (Act II) // Roberto

Other performers
Federica Lombardi (soprano) (5, 6); Marina Monzó (soprano) (6); Vida Miknevičiūtė (soprano) (13); Rihab Chaieb (mezzo-soprano) (10); Theodore Platt (baritone) (6); Önay Köse (bass) (8, 10, 13)