This page was last updated on: May 23, 2008


Viva Verdi Concert, The Barbican, London, 2 May 2008

                    Roberto Alagna at the Barbican, The Times, 5  May 2008
                    To Giuseppe's greater glory, The Observer, 11 May 2008
                    Roberto Alagna, Barbican Hall, London, The Independent, 8 May 2008
Roberto Alagna at the Barbican
Geoff Brown, The Times, 5  May 2008

The tenor wooed his audience - and his wife - with an unmissable concert

Nobody booed this time. Roberto Alagna didn't flounce off the stage, as he famously did in December 2006 after nasty noises from La Scala's cheaper seats and one aria's worth of Aïda.

In any case, the atmosphere in the Barbican Hall was a world away from that bearpit in Milan. Here, this tenor "divo" was entirely among friends - his wife Angela Gheorghiu included, who was the encore recipient of an unaccompanied love song. Alagna wooed the whole audience too, with every gesture and most of his notes. "Very nice to be here," he said, before settling into another Verdi aria of abject suffering.

Indeed, it was nice to have him. The colours and depth of Alagna's tenor may seem cloudy and pinched compared with the sunshine glow of opera's newest shooting star, Juan Diego Flórez. But the Verdi repertoire in this recital with the London Symphony Orchestra rarely needed a smiling voice. And his tone up at the top only occasionally seemed balding.

As for spectacle - slightly comic spectacle, admittedly - he never, ever disappointed. Is there a link between Alagna's somewhat constrained dramatic skills and the Las Vegas rigours of his stance, body leaning forward, right hand pinned to chest or lapel, left hand stretched toward an invisible microphone or a sob? Maybe a doctor can advise.

Still, if our divo didn't fully convince as Alfredo, or Don Alvaro, or Radames, others in his Verdi gallery leapt into lurid life. The libertine's anthem La donna è mobile, one of the encores, was tossed off with rollicking grins and character. Quite frightening, really.

As for Otello's death aria Niun mi tema, with a limp Desdemona impersonated by Alagna's jacket, what can one say? Outrageous, hammy, naive, affecting: it was tragedy, Jim, but not as we know it.

And there was always Verdi's vigour to enjoy. We ranged the corpus from early to late. The London Symphony Chorus made lusty Gypsies and Hebrew slaves. And the LSO didn't need Ion Marin, nimble conductor though he was, to whip up a gleaming noise.

This wasn't a night of deep musical insights or the ultimate in tenor finesse. That said, I and many others wouldn't have missed it for the world.

To Giuseppe's greater glory
Anthony Holden, The Observer, 11 May 2008

Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera House, London
Roberto Alagna: Viva Verdi!, Barbican, London

[...] There was no Adorno in Roberto Alagna's Viva Verdi! evening at the Barbican, but the preening Franco-Sicilian did manage to sing 'Macduff's aria' with less beauty than Peter Auty in Opera North's new Macbeth. While braving 'Celeste Aida', for which he was booed off the stage last year at La Scala, Alagna sang as many notes sharp as he did that notorious evening, judging, at least, by the hysterical clip on YouTube. Lighter roles his rich, melodious tenor can handle with impressive ease, the Duke in Rigoletto, for instance, or Traviata's Alfredo, but even then he was grossly playing to the audience at the composer's expense. If he's going to do that on these rock tour-type evenings, he will soon be doing it on stages beyond La Scala.

So his serial failure in the evening's heavier roles, clutching his satin-lined jacket, for instance, as a hammy replacement for Desdemona in Otello's 'Niun me tema', makes one wonder whether the aforementioned Katona has been altogether wise to cast him as Manrico in next season's Il Trovatore or whether the ROH is just bent on selling seats for this otherwise unglamorous opera. There were plenty in the packed Barbican, inexplicably crying 'Bravo' and giving standing ovations to four cringe-making encores, as melodramatic and off-key as most of the preceding programme. The last, an unaccompanied Sicilian love song, was cheesily dedicated to his Burton-and-Taylor wife, Angela Gheorghiu, gracing the front stalls (alongside Katona) in a hilariously self-parodying red diva gown. The third, an inevitably souped-up 'La donna è mobile', confirmed my mounting suspicions that this was a job application to replace the late Pavarotti as the Third Tenor at the World Cup.

Roberto Alagna, Barbican Hall, London
Edward Seckerson, The Independent, 8 May 2008

It was plucky, not to say defiant, of Roberto Alagna to include the treacherous "Celeste Aida" in his Viva Verdi recital. This was, after all, the aria that precipitated his famous walk-out from La Scala, Milan, in December 2006, when elements in the audience showed their disapproval in the traditional manner. But if he sang it there as he did here, then I can't say I blame them.

Alagna right now is a disconcerting mass of contradictions. On the one hand, he leaves you in no doubt that his is an international talent: he has the voice, the temperament, the charisma. His boyish grin and impromptu "very nice to be here" prior to the tragically intense Macduff aria from Macbeth defused all tension.

With this kind of evening you can get away with that. Just. But technically speaking, he is failing to adjust to the dramatic changes taking place in his voice, and that is worrying. "Celeste Aida" was just one of many instances where sharpening pitch suggested an uncomfortable push at the top. His intonation generally was dodgy, to say the least, and he opted for the cop-out alternative ending of this aria, with the lower repetition of the final line rather than the difficult but magical diminuendo on the final high B-flat.

But in the Macduff aria, the middle and lower registers came into focus, and it was amazing how much more Alagna was able to do with the voice at its darker, grainier, baritonal centre. Beautiful dovetailing, eternal sostenuto, seductively "covered" sound. That's where the swagger now lies, and in the Oronte aria from Verdi's I Lombardi, it was directed at his wife, Angela Gheorghiu, who made a conspicuous entrance in flouncy crimson  appropriate for an evening that included Johann Strauss's Quadrille on motifs from Un ballo in maschera.

Ion Marin drove the London Symphony Orchestra through that like he was bidding for the land-speed record, while the LSO Chorus at times seemed almost lost for words (in every sense), not least when grappling with the storm scene from Otello. Alagna, however, sang the final scene of that opera rather wonderfully. At last the smoky sound and affecting catches in the voice were put to real dramatic purpose.