Richard and I heard tenor James Valenti in recital at the Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts and Sciences on 8/7. We're here on vacation, renting a house with a group of friends. A couple of months ago I went to Google Maps to see what was nearby. This part of LBI has practically nothing within walking distance, but the Long Beach Island Foundation for the Arts and Sciences is a ten-minute walk down the street. I went to their website to see if there was anything amusing happening during our week, and lo and behold, they were presenting a recital by this guy, an up-and-coming tenor. He's sung at the Met, La Scala, Covent Garden, Paris, Sydney, Buenos Aires, has had quite a career. I heard him once before, sometime around 2000 or 2001, in the second level of the Met auditions in Minneapolis. My beloved Diane Schoff was one of the other singers that day, I think it was the next year she made it to the next level, in New York. He sang an aria from *I Lombardi*, an early Verdi opera, and he sang it with great panache and a sure sense of the Italian style. It doesn't hurt that he's tall and hunky, something you don't see too often in tenors.
A true Italian type - - non e vero? I sent an email to my beach friends telling them about the recital, asking if they were interested, saying I would buy tickets for them if they liked. Karen Miller used one of my favorite lines of hers: she said it sounds like the kind of thing she would enjoy more in my telling of it than she would if she were actually there. Turns out she was right!
I was pleasantly surprised to see a big audience there. Most of them were people in their 70s and beyond, what Richard called the Geritol For Lunch Bunch. The ladies were brightly colored, had probably bought a new summer frock just for the occasion and had been newly dipped (I'm talking about their hair color). The men had gone to pot.
His pianist was Danielle Orlando from the Curtis Institute. He had worked with her when he was a student at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. She was marvelous.
They walked out, everyone applauded. He gave a little intro speech saying that he didn't want this to be a stuffy, formal concert, he wanted to talk in between songs and give us a translation and a little sense of the mood. He did an OK job with this, but it made the whole enterprise feel like amateur hour, like he was dumbing it down for the most moronic audience member. It's not what I like, but the rest of the audience seemed to appreciate it, so there you have it.
He opened with "A Cloris" by Reynaldo Hahn. Gorgeous song, didn't really show him off to his best advantage, but it was nice. When the song was over he walked over to a shelf on the side of the stage and had a little drink of water. He did this after EVERY SONG. This is not good. How on earth does he made it through an opera performance without drinking water all the time?
Then he sang three Henri Duparc songs, "Chanson triste", "L'invitation au voyage", and "Phidyle." He sang these French songs like a great Italian tenor - - the voice poured out, full of robusto, but no poetry, no delicacy. Another red flag in the first Duparc: he landed on one highish note, the crest of a phrase. He landed on it as a major third in the chord, then he seemed to change his mind, he wondered if it really should have been a minor third. Then he changed his mind back. It might just be my imagination, but I think this vocal journey was accompanied by his eyebrows.
Next up: a set of Rachmaninov songs - - "A dream", "Spring waters", and "Lilacs." I reminded Richard that Anna Netrebko had sung "Lilacs" in her Met recital this year. It was the song when she went to the side of the stage and caressed the cherry blossoms. Longingly. Valenti didn't do that, there were no flowers on the stage. The Russian songs were a better match for his extroverted presentational style.
He ended the first half with "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Lehar's *The Land of Smiles." A wonderful "give the people what they want" kind of number.
Richard and I sauntered over to the back of the hall, silent. I asked him:
ME: What do you think of him?
RICHARD: He's got a very nice voice. [pause] Big in the hips.
Indeed he was rather hippy. And the jacket he wore in the second act showed that he has kind of a big ass, which was packed into his white trousers. I have to mention these things, it's my duty as a reporter. We talked a little bit about him having to have a sip of water after every song. Richard referred to this as his "drinking problem."
The second half was all Italian or faux Italian rep. He opened with "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's *Tosca.* My friend Cliff said that every tenor aria says either "I love you so much" or "Jesus Christ, I can't believe I have to die." This aria is the second kind, and he sang it very well. He does this thing that many tenors do when approaching a high note: he leans back slightly, gets a rather abstract expression on his face, curls back his upper lip to bear his fangs, and flings that mother out. Apparently it works every time - - he never cracked or showed any sign of worry.
Another thing that tenors often do: he raised his right arm, kept it there for a while, and then for the big finish, raised his left arm. I wonder if he learned this at the Academy of Vocal Arts, or if he learned it from watching Franco Corelli on Bell Telephone Hour (on youtube).
Next up: two songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti, "A Vucchella" and "Ideale." Not memorable. Then two Neapolitan songs by Ernest de Curtis, "Not ti scordar di me" and "Torna a Surriento." I got my finger on the pulse of one of Valenti's issues in "Non ti scordar do me." The refrain is a waltz, and the way he sang it, it had absolutely no lilt. And it needed it, desperately. His singing lacks elegance and ease. I think this works better in the context of an opera performance, in a fully staged production, with other singers doing their thing.
And shocker of shockers, he did those two de Curtis songs without having a drink of water in between! I said to Richard that thought he was going to call his sponsor after the recital, he was so proud.
He finished with three Mario Lanza songs, "Only a rose", "Because", and the inevitable "Be my love." These are gorgeous songs and he sang them with zest. I got chills, slightly against my will. And I was impressed that after an hour and a half of belting this stuff, he was still able to pull out a strong throbbing high C at the end of "Be my love." His voice never got tired. I just got tired of listening to it.