Boulevard des Italiens is the title of French tenor Benjamin Bernheim’s second CD. Released in 2022 it offers 16 selections. The recital presents arias and one duet written by Italian composers to French texts or subsequently adapted to French texts for performances in France.

Bernheim was born in Paris and grew up in Geneva. Before he began his vocal studies at age 10, he studied violin and piano. This musical training doubtless adds to the finesse characteristic of his singing. In addition to being gifted with a beautiful voice, he is able to realize the notes and the text with great artistry.

Over the past several years he has emerged as the leading French tenor currently active. In an interview during the recent Forza telecast, he said he wanted to revive the style embodied by the French tenors of the last century. He mentioned Henri Legay, Georges Thill, and Alain Vinzo as the singers who best embodied the vocal characteristics he seeks to bring to his singing.

Bernheim made his Met debut last season in an Italian opera sung in that language – the Duke in Rigoletto. As of this writing, he is appearing in the Met’s run of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Roméo is better suited to his lyric voice.

The disc’s title literally refers to the Paris street that will take one from the Opera Comique to the Palais Garnier. Metaphorically it connects the music of Italian composers to the French text that Bernheim sings.

These composers are Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti, Spontini, Cherubini, and Mascagni. The duet from Don Carlos is sung with baritone Florian Sempey. He has a serviceable voice that doesn’t detract from the recital.

Unsurprisingly, the best of the arias are by Verdi and Puccini. The aria from Spontini’s La Vestale has a bit of interest, though it is almost never performed today. Mascagni’s opera Amica, his only work written in French, was composed for Geraldine Farrar. I attended a performance of it in Rome in 2008. It was the last of the run and there were more people onstage than in the audience. It is deservedly forgotten. Bernheim’s singing of the aria ‘Pouqois garder ce silence obstine?’ exceeds his material. It shows all his strengths. A lovely lyric voice with an easy top and the ability to sing softly without losing support. This latter ability makes the listener wonder why the tenor wanders into falsetto in some of the other selections when there was no need to do so.

Frédéric Chaslin conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna with sensitivity. The disc, or its online versions, is highly recommended for anyone interested in French tenors and the music written for them, especially when the French tenor is as gifted as Bernheim. Though recorded in 2021 and released the following year as stated above, I somehow missed it until now. But it was worth the wait.

Bernheim is an exceptional artist who if he stays with the music that plays to his vocal strengths, a lyric tenor of grace and ease, will add luster to the stages of the world’s major opera companies for many years. Bernheim’s depiction of Gounod’s Roméo will be telecast this coming Saturday. Nadine Sierra will be Juliette. There should be a repeat the following Wednesday.

Benjamin Bernheim (tenor)
Boulevard des Italiens
Florian Sempey (baritone: Don Carlos)
Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna
Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna / Frédéric Chaslin

If you wish to see why Bernheim is making such an impression on the operatic world view the video below.