Rolando Villazón - Royal Festival Hall, 6 December 2010
Is Rolando Villazón's México! show a mere diversion from his operatic career, or the start of a new one? It's certainly more successful than his best-forgotten Handelian escapade earlier in the year.
Vocally, he easily met the demands of the material, all classic Mexican popular songs like Bésame Mucho.
But it was his exuberant personality, given free rein in between-song chat, that made the difference. He's a born communicator, a natural comedian. Spinning tales, sporting sombreros and shaking his maracas, he held the audience in the palm of his hand. He did two encores but could have got away with twenty, and the standing ovation at the end was spontaneous and sincere. I doubt if Agustín Lara will ever be my favourite composer, but I'd happily pay to hear Rolando sing his songs again - especially if he has the truly superb Bolivar Soloists with him.
The big question for London opera lovers though is whether he'll be up to singing Werther as scheduled at Covent Garden in May. Before this show I would have said no way. Now I'm not so sure. He did demonstrate a few problems even in this relatively unchallenging repertoire. His lower range was feeble and unfocused. There was the odd intonation problem. A couple of worrying little cracks crept in, and not on particularly high notes - just phlegm? Hope so. Amplification, though modest, made it hard to judge whether he could still hit the back of the stalls at the Royal Opera House.
But what he did show time and again was the sort of unimpeachable breath control and immaculately sustained notes more usually associated with the likes of Hvorostovsky. His middle range was strong and firm and there was none of the reckless belting he's been criticised for in the past. Against all the odds, maybe it's not time to write off Rolando Villazón the opera singer just yet.