Reviewing a CD of someone you have never heard live is always a dicey proposition. As we all know, a voice sounds very different in a big hall than it does up-close and personal.
So if Marc Hervieux is your favorite new tenor, please don’t put me in the “crosshairs” just yet. I freely admit I have yet to hear him live.
Mr. Herviex is French-Canadian and according to the insert his success almost sounds like a fairy tale. A “late bloomer” who became a successful pop star, he then crossed-over into opera with ease because, “unlike the recent crop of tenors who are pre-packaged for mass-market appeal, Hervieux has a true depth of talent that rivals that of any of the great opera stars on the world stage today.” (Oh, really?) There are quotes praising his “thrilling and absolutely first class” performances, and “his brilliant top voice.” He has evidently sung with Mehta in Israel, Gergiev in Russia, been a principal artist at the Met since 2006, and performed opposite Renée Fleming, Bryn Terfel, and Anna Netrebko.
Since I knew nothing about Marc Hervieux, I went to the Met Archive to see what he had sung there. No matter how I searched, his name never popped up. I then checked with friends who work at the Met, and they remembered him as a cover, but were unsure whether or not he had actually gone on, and you only show up in the Met Archive if you actually sing a performance. Digging a little further, I found a biography on his agent’s website, where it states that he was “on call” as Cassio at the Met.
That same biography describes a career that got off to big start singing lyric roles like Des Grieux, Hoffmann, Romeo, Faust, Rodolfo, Alredo, etc. More recent appearances include dramatic roles like Cavaradossi, and Canio. That would explain this CD; a lyric tenor doing what all lyric tenors do these days, trying to become a dramatic tenor.
In fact, the CD insert lays it out for you. It state that Hervieux “has the voice of a lyric tenor but, like Jussi Bjoerling, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Luciano Pavarotti, and some others of his illustrious predecessors, he is able successfully to sing tenore spinto. This is because of the relatively dark color of his vocal timbre, the richness of his medium [?], and especially his solid breath control.” That is all well and good if it were true. But on this new CD, Mr. Hervieux sounds taxed to the max by the demands of the spinto repertoire.
There is undeniably a voice here, possibly an important one, but at the moment it is all over the place. A warm, generous, middle voice gives way to a throaty, nasalized passaggio and strangulated top. There are indeed echoes of great tenors from the past in Mr. Hervieux’s singing. Unfortunately those echoes are from their declining years. Spread, effortful, colorless top notes remind you of late Di Stefano. He lunges and hooks all over the place like Carreras did towards the end, and he exhibits a marked tendency to drive the pitch sharp as Mr. Domingo has done for the better part of two decades. (And before I am disemboweled, I am talking about the later years of these great singers, not their prime.)
The solid breath control mentioned in the liner notes is nowhere in evidence. Phrase after phrase either fizzles or gets cut short because the singer runs out of air. His Italian sounds strange and unidiomatic. (Example, the word “mia” should have the accent on the first syllable (“MI-a”), not the second (“mi-A”). A phrase here and a high note there offer a glimpse of what the voice could be but isn’t.
I don’t know how much to blame conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Aria after aria sluggishly stumbles by with no thought to musical shape or forward motion. Things do not improve in the three opera intermezzi that pad this already short– approximately 54 minute — program. Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic could make magic of the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana at a plodding tempo, but Nezet-Sequin and the Orchestre Metropolitain do not.
To sum up: Buy the new Jonas Kauffman German Opera Arias CD instead.