Juan Diego Florez, "L'Amour" (Decca)
Lawrence Brownlee, "Virtuoso Rossini Arias" (Delos)
For more than a decade, Peruvian Juan Diego Florez and American Lawrence Brownlee have been the world's leading bel canto tenors, thrilling audiences with their high notes and technical agility in operas by Rossini, Donizetti and other early 19th century composers.
Now in their early 40s, they have released new albums that show them in elegant form and offer a chance to savor the differences between the two light-voiced marvels.
Florez's first new album in four years is a compilation of arias from French opera, ranging from Adrien Boieldieu's obscure "La Dame blanche" to Offenbach's still-popular "La Belle Helene."
Especially noteworthy are three forays into romantic repertory usually associated with bigger voices — two selections from Jules Massenet's "Werther" and one from Charles Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette." Though Florez's sound may be a bit warmer and fuller than in the past and he sings with grace and sensitivity, his voice still seems small for such fare and still bears the penetrating nasal quality that his detractors have always found off-putting. And he clearly has to push the limits of his resources on the climactic high notes. How well he can handle such roles on stage remains a question to be answered when he debuts as "Werther" in a couple of years.
For many fans the album's highlight will be an irresistibly jaunty rendition of "Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire" from Adolph Adam's "Le Postillon de Lonjumeau." This aria is notable for ascending to a climactic high D, which Florez hits beautifully.
He is ably accompanied by the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, conducted by Roberto Abbado.
Brownlees's album — his first compilation of arias with orchestra — is all Rossini and all splendid. There's an ardent sweetness to his voice that contrasts strikingly with Florez's more astringent sound. And he is no less a technical magician. Note his repeated daring lunges to high C in "Che ascolta" from "Otello," or the astonishing 16 seconds he holds the final B-flat in a selection from the one-act "L'occasione fa il ladro."
Constantine Orbelain conducts the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra of Lithuania.