Former TCO tenor presents wonderful recital at BU

Reviewed by Tony Villecco

Tenor Raul Melo offered an extremely attractive and diverse program of songs and arias last Saturday (Oct. 9) at Binghamton University’s Anderson Center as part of the annual Homecoming/Alumni weekend on campus. Melo, a former Tri-Cites Opera Resident Artist who received training at TCO and BU, has gone on to have an international career on the world’s operatic stages, including the Metropolitan Opera.

Melo has a big voice, make no mistake. His tone is burnished and dark, often sounding more like a baritone. But when the music propels him into his upper register, it is a silvery, clean and lovely top, though not as rich as the middle voice. There were a few moments where the voice had a sense of tightness or holding, but this dissipated as the evening proceeded. His timbre is nonetheless, unique.

Opening with two Scarlatti songs, he then offered “Air de Faust” from “La damnation de Faust” by Berlioz, an incredibly rich and seductive aria. Melo took full advantage of the composer’s intent to display both passion and introspection. It made one wish that this underperformed opera could make its way back into the regular repertoire of regional houses more often. Then again, how many tenors do we have today who can sing this demanding music?

Clearly, one of the most memorable set of songs was the “Petrarch Sonnets” by Liszt. One may think of Liszt as a composer for piano only, but he wrote an impressive canon of vocal literature. Melo had ample opportunity to ply his vocal and interpretive skills with these rich, melodious and oftentimes, dramatic musical lines. Occasionally Melo’s top seemed “covered,” which hindered the tenor’s vocal freedom. This was, I should point out, only on occasion and did not take away from the overall marvelous singing of these songs.

One must note his most excellent accompanist, Michael Recchiuti. Clearly Liszt wrote these with not only the voice in mind, and they were as much a showpiece for the pianist. Recchiuti was technically phenomenal. Audiences sometimes are oblivious to the work and skill it takes to have this good of a vocal accompanist — one who has to not only anticipate the singer’s every phrase, but to practically breathe with them as well. Melo has found an amazing partner.

I had not been familiar with Gisela Hernandez, a 20th century composer, but that changed on Saturday night. Although there is the notion that “modern” music is often dissonant or monotonous (sorry, everyone, but I personally think of Philip Glass), Hernandez offered melodious and lively songs, instantly likable. With them, Melo was much more exposed vocally but these pieces were a showcase for his upper register. In addition, she wrote some titillating arpeggios for the pianist who played them with a flourish.

Melo closed the program with four songs by Joaquin Turina (delightful, I may add) and, of course, two of the meatier Verdi arias which were probably what the audience had been waiting for. Melo is indeed a talented and moving artist. The one frustrating thing was such a lack of attendance. Perhaps due to music lovers’ other commitments or lack of publicity, the Concert Theater was embarrassingly empty. For such a talent one would have hoped for a larger turnout, though those in attendance were extremely generous in their admiration for this wonderful concert.

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