Tenor Javier Camarena Eagerly Awaited at Al Bustan International Festival of Music and the Performing Arts

Nélida Nassar 03.08.2019

Pianist Ángel Rodríguez and Tenor Javier Camarena

Lebanon is about to take the measure of the Mexican tenor Javier Camarena, the king of bel canto, who will appear tonight for the first time at the Al Bustan International Festival of Music and the Performing Arts. He will sing a repertory he has honed in a number of theaters across the world. Most of the arias on the program are from the operas of Gioachino Rossini.

In the intimate space of the Emile Bustani Auditorium, his voice will sound big yet agile, and the tone bronzed and clean. On this occasion, he will be accompanied by Cuban-born pianist Ángel Rodríguez, though this is a voice you can imagine soaring over an orchestra with great ease. His technique is wonderfully secure: those high notes will ring out magnificently, and some will seem to go on forever. 

He will begin his concert with an aria by Manuel García, the father of two exceptional soloists, namely Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot. Garcia, a now-forgotten singer, composer and businessman from Seville, will prove to be the star in the first part of the recital. Camarena will rescue two pieces by him: “El gitano por amor Hernando desventurado Cara gitana del alma mía” from the opera The Gypsy for Love (1829) and “Mais que vois-je? … Vous dont l’image,” from the opera La mort du Tasse (1821). When he turns to the latter his tone will darken and display an admirably restrained intensity. He will close the first half with Rossini’s “Ecco ridente in cielo…” from Il barbiere di Siviglia and Ramiro’s showstopper “Si, ritrovarla io giuro!” from La Cenerentola.  

Camarena is no doubt aware of the risks he is taking in performing the practically unknown repertoire which precedes the Rossini. He will be singing one aria in Spanish, one in French, and two in Italian; each has a particular color, ranging from tragedy to comedy and through various moods, allowing him to exhibit his endless vocal resources. 

This is singing with capital letters. As soon as he stops, I expect the audience to be on its feet cheering. It could seem like pure exhibitionism to follow this first part of the program with Niccolò Zingarelli’s “Più dubitar mi fan questi suoi detti… La dai regni dell’ombre…” from his Giulietta e Romeo. But nothing could be further from the truth. It is all about the music, as will be obvious from the small details of his interpretation. More Rossini will follow with, first, “S’ella m’è ognor fedele… Qual sarà mai la gioia…” from Ricciardo e Zoraide , and then “O come il cor di giubilo…,” from L’italiana in Algeri. Next, in “O muto asil del pianto… Corriam! Voliam!” from Guglielmo Tell. Camerana will demonstrate how far from true it is that in bel canto the melody ignores the text. He sings with an exemplary legato, precise placement, and amazing diction.

Expect crispness, brightness and firmness in the high Cs, all executed with admirable intelligence and control. The Mexican soloist combines three virtues that are the key to success. First, he has the natural gift of an exultant and beautiful voice, which sounds easy and bright. Second, his career has been marked by restraint in his commitments, taking no false steps, climbing one step after another without stumbling since his debut in Zurich in 2007. Third, he is a meticulous musician who carefully studies the scores looking for the deepest link between text and music. Ángel Rodríguez, for his part, brings to each note both musicality and an evident connection with Camarena’s phrasing and feeling.

At just over forty years old, Javier Camarena promises a lot in the decades ahead – at least as much as what he has already offered to date, which is immense. He is clearly the tenor of his generation. I cannot wait to watch Rodríguez and Camarena perform together and see how they will finish the evening. With how many encores? Maybe Lara’s “Veracruz” will be offered as a tribute to the Mexican state where he was born in 1976. Will he sing “Ah mes amis” with its 9 high Cs from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment? Will he at one point ask the audience to sing along? What I can certainly promise is an unforgettable evening.