Who will replace 'the three tenors'?

As the Three Tenors - Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti - make fewer onstage appearances (only Domingo seems to be still omnipresent), fans may be wondering: Who will replace them?

The concept of three tenors has ingrained itself on the public. An Internet search finds trios like The Irish Tenors, The Ten Tenors, The German Tenors - and comedy acts like Three Mo' Tenors and The Tatty Tenors, three Australians who explain: "We are a bunch of fun-loving, loud, moderately talented, poorly dressed tenors who love to sing." Clearly, the concept is going to outlive the current trio.

Recording companies are energetically promoting their favorite candidates, like EMI's Roberto Alagna and Warner's Jose Cura, both handsome and accomplished performers. But some opera fans have their doubts, like Wayne Koestenbaum, author of "Ode to Anna Moffo and Other Poems" (Persea Books). "I find very distracting the marketing of tenors around physical attractiveness," Mr. Koestenbaum says. "How a tenor looks shouldn't matter - there are some astonishing dumpy-looking tenors."

James Jorden, publisher of "Parterre Box," an opinionated and raucously accurate website (www.parterre.com) about opera, says his favorite candidates for superstardom begin with Mexican Ramon Vargas.

Vargas offers "very elegant singing - he makes all his effects within a very strict bel canto line, singing everything beautifully without exaggerating anything for dramatic effect," Jorden says. He also likes Marcello Giordani, a Sicilian who is "a class act, smooth and aristocratic onstage, a sympathetic figure - a really good tenor actor with a kind of elegance and glamour."

New York audiences will soon hear Giordani sing two performances with the Opera Orchestra of New York. Jorden is also excited by Argentine tenor Dario Volonte, who "really looks to have not only a big, dramatic voice, but also apparently a big star quality."

Volonte will sing the lead role of Calaf in "Turandot" in Pittsburgh next season and reportedly will record it for the Decca label.

In addition to these singers in their 30s, there's an even younger and gifted performer: Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez. "He's still a baby, around 27 years old," Jorden says, "he ... has a real tenor voice, with the technical ability to ornament, but is very natural and honest when he does it. He is also a charming actor."

Florez is booked to sing in Rossini's "Barber of Seville" at New York's Metropolitan Opera in January 2002, and his CDs for Decca of Verdi arias and a Rossini opera, both conducted by the noted maestro Riccardo Chailly, will be released soon.

George Shirley, a distinguished tenor and professor at the University of Michigan, adds: "Americans Gregory Turay and Charles Castronuovo bear watching; Canadian Ben Heppner has wondrous years ahead of him, and ... one other American holds much promise.... Scott Piper is his name, and he's launching his ship with a Zeffirelli film of [Verdi's] 'Aida....' "

Talent is not lacking. But if operaphiles continue to focus their attention exclusively on the best-selling Andrea Bocelli - whose future as a performer onstage is uncertain - will these singers receive the recognition they deserve? Whoever emerges, ardent fans are sure to disagree on their merits.

Such arguments seem to be a necessary part of the passion for opera more than 400 years after the art form was created in Italy.

Talented tenors

Juan Diego Florez

For sparkling roulades.

Meyerbeer: L'Etoile du Nord

Marco Polo 8.223829-31

Rossini: Duets with Valentina Kasarova

BMG 74321 57131 2

Roberto Alagna

For full-throated, hearty singing.

Puccini: La Boheme

EMI ClassicsCDC 56120

Verdi: Don Carlos

EMI ClassicsCDCC 56152

Jose Cura

For darkly dramatic attitudes.

Puccini: Arias

Erato - ECD 18838

Leoncavallo: Pagliacci

Decca - 467086

Ramon Vargas

For vocal elegance.

Massenet: Werther

RCA Victor Red Seal - 58224

Donizetti: La Favorite

RCA Victor Red Seal - 66229

Raul Gimenez

A master of ornate musical lines.

Rossini: L'Inganno felice

Erato - 17579

Rossini: L'Italiana in Algeri

Teldec - 17130

Ben Heppner

Heroic power and forthrightness.

Beethoven: Fidelio

RCA Victor Red Seal - 68344

Dvorak: Rusalka

Decca - 2LHO3 460568

Ian Bostridge

Raw emotional expressivity.

Bach: St Matthew Passion

Harmonia Mundi - HMC 951676/8

Bach: Cantatas & Arias

Virgin Classics Veritas - 45420

Marcello Giordani

Moving Italian lyricism.

Verdi: Jerusalem

Philips - 462613

Ian Denolfo

A young singer with plenty of voice.

Tchaikovsky: Iolanta

CPO - CD 999456

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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