In review: Javier Camarena at Wigmore Hall
In a full Wigmore Hall, Camarena offered up a first half of opera, one hit aria following another. He sang from Lucia di Lammermoor and Roberto Devereux, serenaded with Les pêcheurs de perles, and stunned listeners with favourites from Le comte Ory and La fille du régiment. There were textbook high notes that hit you right in the sternum, and risky moments, bordering on crooning, that held you rapt. He proved himself a text-first artist with the Donizetti arias, with no sign of schlepping through the wordy passages, and keeping cadenzas simple and meaningful, even though he could have added some of his signature stratospheric notes above what was written.
The second half was full of Italian and Mexican songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti, José Serrano, Agustín Lara, and Jorge del Moral. Here, there were less pyrotechnics, and instead we heard his deep love of the music he sang. Camarena has a power in his middle voice that's fairly rare in a voice like his, which sits so comfortably up high. Listening to him sing the songs by Lara and del Moral, we were completely pulled in by the constantly gorgeous and satisfying sound. We could have listened to him all night; the rest of the audience felt the same, as they burst into applause after every single song, pulling two encores out of him before he finally left the stage.
At the piano, Rodríguez was spectacular, and noticeably humble. He played orchestral reductions with a smart mix of instrumental accuracy, and pianistic support; he kept plenty of resonant bass in his sound, and allowed himself some flexible rubato in the name of making music. It's a tricky balance to find, when a pianist is asked to become an orchestra in a concert setting, and Rodríguez found that sweet spot. The second half showed off more of his own chops, going from gentle and thoughtful sounds in the Tosti songs, to tearing up the keys with Serrano's "Te quiero, morena". His arrangements of the three Lara songs, melded together into a medley, were seamless and fun and duetted well with Camarena.
Camarena could have stood as still as a statue, and his voice would still have packed a punch. Instead, he had a contagious amount of fun onstage. He graciously turned to enjoy Rodríguez's playing, adding his own little moments of air piano. He danced and smiled and laughed, all while giving us countless (and effortless) high C's, and a few D's for good measure.
This recital was the best use of the "crowd pleasing" tactic. Camarena chose repertoire with which he just couldn't have gone wrong, but he followed up expectation with perfect delivery. It's no wonder that he holds rank along with Pavarotti and Flórez, as the third singer in 70 years to encore an aria at the Metropolitan Opera. This was a superb night, and we hope he comes back for another Rosenblatt Recital soon.