Benjamin Bernheim, Boulevard des Italiens – Deutsche Grammophon – CD Review

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Critically acclaimed, favorably received by audiences, described here by Sylvain Fort as ” si-dé-rant »… It is an understatement to say about the success achieved by the first album of Benjamin Bernheim. The first attempt had the value of a masterstroke. All that remained was to transform it, renew a theme that, standing out from the previous program, would avoid the laborious succession of repertoire standards and that, however, would contain a handful of well-known titles likely to attract the attention of a less initiated audience. public.

The cooperation with the Palazzetto Bru Zane helped to overcome the obstacle. Entitled “Boulevard des Italiens”, the lyrical appeal of 19th century Paris serves as a pretext for a florilegium of operatic melodies composed in French by transalpine musicians: Spontini, Cherubini, Donizetti, Mascagni, Verdi. Exception to the rule: Puccini present through two airs not originally written in our language but translated as they were then imposed by a tradition that thus made up for the absence of subtitles that are now unavoidable. Two big absentees from this selection: Rossini and Bellini, still Parisian at the time but whose penmanship is not Benjamin Bernheim’s main concern. To the dazzling acrobatics and notes thrown over the range, the tenor prefers long curving lines to be drawn with a single breath as if the breath were just a detail.

so in daughter of the regimentit was not “For my soul” with its nine high C’s that was selected, but the romance of 2me act “To get closer to Mary”, sung without perticchini but transcended by the constant attention to the pronunciation and articulation of the text. What diction! It is no coincidence that the affinities between Benjamin Bernheim and the French language were involved in the choice of program. A matter of taste perhaps, but it seems to us that the timbre of the tenor unfolds there more clearly than in Italian opera.

If it were necessary to attribute a color to this sovereign voice, following the example of Rimbaud’s vowels, then blue would prevail. Cobalt blue, rough, intense and saturated with harmonics in the two extracts of Don Carlos – the melody of 1it is act and duet of 2me either Florian Sempey brings the counterpoint of a comforting youthful baritone. The desperate romanticism of the infant is not usually translated with such nobility.

Ultramarine blue to express Fernand’s languid disappointment in The favorite – and one can choose to find the high C too strong for an aria of bel canto affiliation or, on the contrary, of a conquering virility capable of enhancing an otherwise bland portrait.

Royal blue –inevitably– in Dom Sébastien’s cavatina when the monarch, abandoned on the battlefield, experiences the loneliness of power in a superb ditty whose melancholy is matched only by the elegance of the phrasing.

Still blue but tinted green – Verdi obliges – on Jerusalemthe french renaissanceThe Lombards in the award-winning crusadewhere the high notes radiate before finally adopting a compromise between head and chest of ineffable sweetness.

And indigo blue, rich and deep, by the air of sicilian vespers intended in 1863 for Pierre-Francois Villaret, instead of “O Day of Sorrow and Suffering”, doubtless too dramatic for a singer whose voice was said to lend itself wonderfully to sweet melodies.

Azul in which we dive with even more interest as the show approaches less familiar shores. Cherubini, Spontini, a early 19th century a priori he reverted to a tenor with a less romantic style, even a comic opera. However, here again, Benjamin Bernheim’s song asks for all the superlatives -and precious bluish metaphors: sapphire, lapis lazuli, turquoise- with a mastery of halftones, a freedom in the use of the mixed voice that avoids the pitfall of too summary a characterization. .

At the other end of the time scale, Dude, Mascagni’s only French-language opera, created in Monte Carlo in 1905, offers, despite its verista genome, the opportunity to once again expose a blue camouflage of remarkable subtlety. Benjamin Bernheim is not one of those tenors who sing freehand with an open throat. Fans of wild outbursts will be able to reproach him for his temperance, which, on the contrary, is characteristic of French singing, where intelligence prevails over instinct.

Less essential, the two Puccini arias, thus translated, are a curiosity.

French conductor leading an Italian ensemble, in keeping with the spirit of the programme, Frederic Chaslin he conducts with all possible care an Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna that sometimes one would like to shake more to stimulate the pleasure felt when contemplating this admirable azure.

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