Tenor Celso Albelo at Wigmore Hall
It’s a rare thing, intimate opera – an oxymoron even, like “subtle elephant”. But Celso Albelo’s soaring high notes – best when quiet, but satisfying when thunderous – enliven a hotchpotch repertoire of Hispanic songs with more than a little elephantine subtlety.
With ten concerts stretching into the New Year, the Rosenblatt Recitals bring established and future stars of opera to a small stage, shear them of an orchestra and let them pick their own repertoire. In Celso Albelo the lucky audience enjoyed a more-than-budding prospect from Spain, deftly accompanied by Juan Francisco Parra, on a lyrical journey over the Iberian Peninsula and on to South America and Italy.
This geographical sleight of hand is the one downer of an otherwise fantastic performance: the relatively-unknown Spanish music with which the concert opened simply wasn’t very “Spanish” or engaging. Turina’s lovesick Poema en Forma de Canciones and Guastavino’s low-key Pampamapa only weakly evoked anything remotely Hispanic, contributing to a subdued ambience from the get-go enlivened only by a restless guide dog in one of the aisles.
This genial but somewhat insipid mood was soon dispatched, however, by Ginastera’s superlative Canción del Arbol del Olvido. With this shot in the arm, Albelo was born anew, heartrendingly connecting with the audience through the song’s pianissimo pleas of “Vidalitay. Vidalitay.” Augusto Brandt’s Besos en mis Sueños followed, heralding with its Hollywood-esque grandeur a sea-change in the programme. Everything became bigger as the Wigmore Hall was enlivened with grandstand music condensed to chamber music orchestration. Gone were the unknown Spanish songs, and in their stead were barnstorming libretti complimented by Albelo’s newfound arms-a-flailing, operatic exuberance. Rigoletto and L’Elisir d’Amore were expected crowd-pleasers – and ones with which Albelo has considerable professional experience. But the undeniable highlights came from the less famous Vives’ Por el Humo se Sabe and Donizetti’s Spirto Gentil when Albelo blasted through the upper-echelons of a tenor’s tessitura with the audience hanging on his every note, thus proving that a piece’s success is independent of its renown.
Albelo is destined for the grand stage – his eye-bulging, lip-smacking musicality will make sure of that. But in Wigmore Hall’s smaller setting he nevertheless delivered a performance worthy of standing ovations and multiple encores that would get any Tom, Dick or Harry thinking: “Why don’t I go to the Opera more?”
Photo: Rosa Gallego
For further information and future events visit Celso Albelo’s website here.
Watch Celso Albelo perform as Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore here: