As far as I’m aware, Alagna never attempted any of these roles on stage, but, if these excerpts are anything to go by, he’d have made an excellent Faust and Cellini.
Though he negotiates Iopas’s high-lying tessitura well enough, I rather prefer a lighter lyric tenor in this music, and, conversely, I’m not sure he’d have had the heft for Enée on stage. Admittedly I’ve been brought up on the heroic sound of a Vickers here, but the role has recently been taken by Michael Spyres, a tenor with a lighter voice than Alagna. Having heard both Alagna and Spyres live, I’d have said Alagna would be more suited to the role’s demands than Spyres. The few excerpts included here certainly go very well. The excerpt from L’Enfance du Christ is quite charming and direct in its utterance and the Mab scherzo from Roméo et Juliette is suitably deft and witty.
Next come excerpts from La Damnation de Faust, with the addition of a rarity in the shape of a setting for tenor and guitar of Mephisophélès’s serenade, taken from the earlier Huits Scènes de Faust. Alagna is joined by his then wife, Angela Gheorghiu, for the duet Ange adorée, which is sung most beautifully. What a shame he never attempted Berlioz’s Faust on stage.
Like Iopas. Bénédict also probably needs a slightly less beefy voice, but Alagna manages his short aria well enough.
More convincing are the excerpts from Benvenuto Cellini, another role which I would have thought would have suited him well. He was apparently slated to sing it on the Nelson recording, but pulled out for some reason. He may not quite erase memories of Gedda in one of his greatest roles, but, on the evidence of the two arias recorded here (La gloire était ma seule idole and Sur les monts les plus sauvages, his voice had the ideal weight and penetration, not to mention his perfect diction and attentio to the text.
Charming in every way are the excerpts from Lélio, with the addition of texts spoken by Gérard Dépardieu, but Berlioz’s bombastic and over the top arrangement of La Marseillaise, which ends the disc, rather outstays its welcome and was all a bit much for me.
Bertrand de Billy’s accompaniments are all a little too reticent for my liking, and the disc would no doubt have benefited from the presence of a Colin Davis or John Eliot Gardiner in the pit. Nevertheless, if you like Berlioz, and I do, this is a highly enjoyable disc and an excellent reminder of Alagna at his considerable best.