Talent-spotting is an art, and the Rosenblatt Recitals series has proved good at it. The idea is that you invest in a talent before others discover it, then reap the reward of loyalty when fame calls. The talent may be raw but you hear the singer’s natural artistry. Both sides of the coin were apparent in Monday’s recital by Joel Prieto, a Spanish-born Puerto Rican with a flourishing career in Europe – lately as Fenton in the Royal Opera’s Falstaff.
The first half consisted of what he felt he ought to sing – three Mozart songs and Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte – and the second half of repertoire in which he feels at home. Prieto has the sort of looks that advertising executives dream of, matched to an appealing sincerity. The voice is soft, tender, evenly produced – a beautiful instrument that projects well. But not for the first time in a Rosenblatt recital, here was a performer who, having shown promise on the opera stage, looked woefully inexperienced under the naked light of the recital platform.
Welcome as it was to encounter Beethoven’s song-cycle, the music made little impression. Prieto, attentively partnered by Iain Burnside, failed to tell a story, to vary his vocal colouring, to make anything of the words: he had to read them. If you sing Lieder at the Wigmore, you need to do your homework. In Mozart he seemed similarly disinclined to scratch beneath the surface – though there was much on the surface to admire, including a rendition of “Ridente la calma” that brought “Un’aura amorosa” (Così fan tutte) to mind.
After the interval the atmosphere relaxed, first with two jewel-like Ginastera canciones and then with songs profiling Latin American rhythm and vocalise. None explored Prieto’s range, so there was a welcome thrill when, finally, he had a chance to show off his glorious top in María Grever’s “Te quiero dijiste” (“‘I Love You’, You Said). Tosti’s Neapolitan songs would have been the logical next port of call, but the encore was Donizetti – a rendition of “Una furtiva lagrima” that made me want to hear Prieto’s Nemorino on stage.