Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
The Great Puccini
Jonathan Tetelman (tenor), PKF – Prague Philharmonia/Carlo Rizzi 
rec. 2023, Prague, Czechia
Sung texts with English translations
Deutsche Grammophon 4864683 [54]

My MusicWeb colleague Göran Forsling has already glowingly reviewed this recital and I refer you to his review for background information regarding the tenor Jonathan Tetelman, whose second recital album for DG this is. This compendium of arias and ensembles does not present too many surprises; it includes many of what are arguably the most famous arias from Puccini’s operas, but there are comparative rarities from his first opera, Le Villi, La rondine and Il tabarro and also more extended ensemble excerpts from Act III of La bohème and Il tabarro; otherwise, Tetelman and Carlo Rizzi gallop a team of warhorses round the arena. As such, the competition is almost inconceivably strong; all the greatest tenors recorded many of these favourite items: Caruso, Di Stefano, Björling, Corelli, Pavarotti et al, and all but the tyro opera fan will already have their voices in mind when listening to this new collection – but it is the reviewer’s duty to clear the mind of preconceptions and listen without prejudice.

One problem, of course, is that a studio recording might not give a reliable indication of the nature of the voice heard live; there have been plenty of examples of engineers boosting the volume and changing the balance of a voice with the orchestra such that when the artist is subsequently heard live in the theatre, the result is disappointing. However, critics have gone out of their way to praise Tetelman’s volume and resonance in live productions to date, so we have no reason to suspect any jiggery-pokery.

First impressions are startling, his voice is so similar in timbre to Pavarotti’s, even if after a few moments a keen ear will detect its individuality. He has a perfect vibrato – slightly on the fast side but well within the legitimate parameters – an ardent manner and ringing top notes with plenty of squillo. The accompaniment of Carlo Rizzi and the Prague Philharmonia is especially sensitive, powerful and effective in the – by now, unfairly – hackneyed “Nessun dorma” and I am glad it is followed by the much lighter and conversational aria “Parigi!” from La rondine; it makes a nice contrast, permits Tetelman to display his wholly idiomatic sung Italian, and is capped by a fine B-flat. “Che gelida manina” surely owes much to Pavarotti in manner and expression, and is again graced by beautifully sensitive orchestral accompaniment. The top C is ringing and secure – but the closing bars bring some disappointment and give the lie to my suggestion that Pavarotti is Tetelman’s chief model; he completely misses the tender, entreating mezza-voce Luciano used for “Vi piaccia dir?” That lack of gradation in dynamics is something Göran mentioned. Ah well; he is only 35 and there is time for further interpretative refinement.

The duet and quartet from La bohème both go swimmingly and the famous opening aria from Tosca is mightily impressive even if its forte delivery smacks just a little of can belto – but Tetelman lends “E lucevan le stelle” more variety and refinement. The orchestral prelude and link passages to that second aria from Tosca are once more sumptuously played by the PKF and Turkish bass Önay Köse impresses in his few phrases – as he does when moving up in tessitura to the baritone role of Sharpless in the Madama Butterfly excerpt. (Like Göran, I wonder why DG did not ask him to sing the Sacristan’s fleeting lines in “Recondita armonia”.)

The trio from Butterfly is one of the few less-often-encountered pieces on this disc and permits us to hear another promising, supporting voice in Tunisian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb, who has a rich lower register, while Tetelman’s tenor soars.

His persona and looks are ideal for portraying Dick Johnson – and they are matched by his vocal prowess, as evinced by his two brief arias – each only a minute and a half or so, but packed with drama and emotion, given full measure here.

I have always had a weakness for Il tabarro and was pleased to see that the extract here is the longest in this programme, allowing us to enjoy more than a snippet and become immersed in the high drama of the love triangle. Lithuanian Vida Miknevičiūtė’s vibrant, flickering soprano is ideal for conveying Giorgetta’s panicky, passionate state of mind and Önay Köse is suitably glowering and menacing as the bargemaster Michele. Tetelman has the heft to encompass Luigi’s amorous outpourings – “Il folle desiderio…folle di gelosia!” (the madness of desire…the madness of jealousy!), even if no-one in my experience quite matches the visceral ardour of Mario Del Monaco’s portrayal of the young stevedore.

The second aria for Calaf again reinforces the vocal similarities between Tetelman and Pavarotti; at times, especially in the middle of the voice, all but a very acute ear would find them indistinguishable. The final aria from Puccini’s earliest opera, displays the composer’s gift for memorable melody – and, interestingly, it brings out more nuance in Tetelman’s vocalisation than he displays in some of the standard concert numbers.

The slim, cardboard digipack booklet contains full Italian texts and English translations, and unfolds to present an attractive landscape photograph of Lucca, Puccini’s birthplace.

Tetelman is young, handsome, photogenic and the possessor of a superb voice whose foundation and technique I venture to suggest, is far sounder than that of Jonas Kaufmann, whose sound has now become so thick and cloudy and never had the clarity and resonance of a true Italianate tenor. If he is careful, he could be the best thing to have arrived on the operatic scene for many a year – and is perhaps the true successor to Pavarotti. Had I reviewed this sooner I might well have included it in my half-dozen Records of the Year 2023.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Göran Forsling (October 2023)

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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).