Inspired by the quiz during last Saturday’s Met b’cast, here is a quick explanation of “Tenore di Grazia,” that is, graceful tenors, not the heroic breed required for Wagner or heavy Verdi, but rather the elegant, perfectly controlled sound that makes bel canto music shine. (Tenors of any kind are a rare breed, and a true tenor di grazia is a particular treasure.) Javier Camerana, one of the current ideals of this type, named three of his favorites during his quiz appearance. Here’s a sampling of all three:
The German tenor Fritz Wunderich, golden sound, perfect production with evenness of tone across the whole range, and attentive to the words. Here in a deceptive simple Handel aria. If you don’t have a feel for cantilena, the long singing line, this number falls flat.
Talk about a long line, and not one moment of vocal pressure!
Next, the great Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus, spectacular range, sensitivity to text and ability to inflect it to a ‘part per million’ and the fearlessness required to sing softly when the piece calls for it. (Harder than singing loud for most opera singers, and why “can belt-o” is so applicable in the opera house, or for that matter in Broadway musicals.) Here he is in Roméo’s aria from Gounod’s Roméo & Juliette, a role he owned during his very long career.
Finally, a tenor from an earlier generation also beloved by Javier and many others, Cesare Valletti. Here he is in an aria from Massenet’s Werther, exhibiting an almost superhuman poise, while singing in the highest range of voice. You hear the heartsick obsession of the young man, it seems to pour out of him in a single breath. And this was live on the radio!
Finally, for good measure, here is Javier himself, who set me off on this enjoyable visit to tenore di grazia of yesteryear. An excerpt from his performances in Rossini’s Semiramide currently at the Met (live March 10 on the radio).
Wonderful line, agile, warm sound, with a smile in his voice. Love that in the great tenor tradition, he has to stand on a box so as not to be shorter than his love interest. (Tenors, dear reader, on the whole are shorter than those they woo. It’s just how it goes. I know whereof I speak.)