When the new tenor on the block wants to make his mark on disc, he usually starts with the classic operatic repertoire, Italian or French, depending on his roots. Only when he’s running out of ideas (or if he’s signed to a label determined to ‘popularise’ him for a larger market) does he turn to trotting out the popular song rep (Neapolitan or otherwise).
It seems odd, therefore that 27-year-old Freddie De Tommaso has chosen to debut with material that might cause the opera buff obsessed with ‘serious’ credentials to turn up his nose. Well, more fool them, as De Tomasso has a great deal to offer, and sniff at these songs though you might, their judicious selection and the hunt for ‘authentic’ arrangements has been a labour of love in itself.
De Tommaso grew up in Tunbridge Wells, the son of an Italian who came to the UK from Puglia, married an English woman, and later ran a restaurant. He studied French and Italian at Bristol University before being taken on at the Royal Academy of Music as a baritone. Blossoming into an Italianate tenor, a win at the 2018 Francisco Viñas International Singing Competition in Barcelona gave De Tommaso a boost up the ladder and earned him a string of appearances from Vienna to Covent Garden singing classic Verdi and Puccini roles.
This debut disc aims to celebrate four centenaries cropping up in 2021: the births of Mario Lanza, Giuseppe Di Stefano and Franco Corelli (De Tommaso’s vocal hero), and the death of Enrico Caruso. All four sang ‘proper opera’, but they also had notable success with the lighter material on Passione, songs familiar to the De Tommaso family rooted in the south of Italy.
First the voice. It’s fresh-sounding and clean as befits a budding lirico-spinto. Like Kaufmann’s its occasional darkness betrays its owner’s baritonal origins, but it has a ringing quality that lightens the texture, it’s reasonably flexible, and Tommaso can do piano without resorting to the covered croon. He’s also got plenty of spunk, crucial in this repertoire and, it would appear, a built-in cheese-o-meter that prevents him going too far over the top. Here and there you sense a note awkwardly placed in the voice, but such moments are rare. There’s an occasional momentary blurring in rapid passagework, but again that’s a minor quibble. Generally, he throws himself headlong at the lighter items with an appealing swagger. The more ‘serious’ items such as the two Puccini songs and Respighi’s Nebbie show he can also do thoughtful.
A big shout out too for Decca Executive Producer Dominic Fyfe who trawled the archives from London to La Scala for arrangements used by golden-age tenors on some of the great albums of the past. Scrubbed up new copies were prepared from faded scores allowing many of these arrangements to be re-recorded for the first time in decades. If this material floats your boat you’ll love Henry Mancini’s racing strings in Innocenzi’s Addio, Sogni di Gloria as used on Pavarotti’s album Mamma, or the skirling woodwind in Giancarlo Chiaramello’s colourful orchestration of Tosti’s Marechiare, another Pavarotti classic. We even get the Mantovani sound as written for Mario Del Monaco to accompany the castanet-laden Lolita and Gastaldon’s Musica Proibita.
Tastefully recorded and sensitively accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Renato Balsadonna, it certainly whets the appetite for hearing this exciting young tenor in the flesh. Plenty of the usual suspects have felt the need to give us their Neapolitan album in recent years, but none has given me as much pleasure as Freddie de Tommaso’s.
Listen on Apple Music.
Composer: Various Composers
Works: Selected Songs
Performers: Freddie De Tommaso, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Renato Balsadonna
Label: Decca 4851509