When we first heard Yanni was returning with a new album, synapses of the 90s just fire off in the brain like fireworks. The Greek composer who essentially was the start for the mainstream acceptance of new age music in the US has always been somewhat of oddity after the success of his breakthrough album Live at the Acropolis. Portrayed to be more of the “Fabio” of composition than a credible “Brad Pitt,” Yanni’s contribution to the evolution of new age music is without a doubt unparalleled by any figure other than Enya. More importantly for the laymen public with little interest in operatic vocals, Yanni was the gateway to the world with more mainstream acceptability on levels that equaled even Pavarotti’s fame at his peak.
Inspirato resembles more of a remixed and re-imagined compilation of Yanni’s more widely-known compositions (perspectively of course) with an impressive top billing of who’s who in opera vocals. It’s fair to say Yanni’s textures are equally dependent on how adaptable the vocalists are to his often dramatic tune shifts and drastic drops. Luckily Inspirato‘s mixture of more worldly themes stands out for actually giving its roster of singers some of the most diverse ranges they have ever sounded. L’Ombra Dell’Angelo for example is probably the most sublime that pop-operatic singer Katherine Jenkins has ever come across – its vintage Yanni mixed with a more refreshed layering that modernized and without the gushy-ness the genre generally falls prone to.
Some of the performances are notable of blending a very open-air appeal while pursuing more focused vocals, often resulting in huge echoing bravado that doesn’t feel forced or out of place (Nathan Pacheco on “Amare Di Nuovo”).
Inspirato will of course be highlighted for the collaborations of its biggest billing acts Renee Fleming and Plácido Domingo. Both are fairly prominent in their presence on their solo tracks (Fleming on the opening “I Genitori” and Domingo on “Ode Alla Grecia”) with commanding breaths and carrying the instrumentals rather than guiding. While not exactly as Earth-shattering as such a pairing would ultimately result in, their duet on “Hasta El Último Momento” – the rework of Yanni’s iconic “One Last Breath” from Live at the Acropolis, is for the most part competent and delightful enough. In some aspects, Fleming whips out her closest to a “Celine Dion-ish pairing with Peabo Bryson.”
The real stunner of Inspirato will be the all-out ensemble gathered for “Riconoscimento.” Every voice in unity, every note soaring to heavenly splendor, “Riconoscimento” is every bit what an opera, new age, and a bit broadway fan would appreciate.
Yanni’s chops at mastering the art of voice is no more apparent than his use of Lauren Jelencovich on Usignolo. Simply put Jelencovich is practically a goddess of the chords and Yanni’s control of pacing to create a richly vivid imagery is absolutely inspirational. And for spanish tenor Rolando Villazón, his voice has never sounded finer, more in command, and more colorfully warm than “La Prima Luce.”
Though a Yanni greatest hits would not be anything without the inclusion of “Aria.” While it’s tough to hear or accept anything but the original mix of “Aria,” young newcomer Pretty Yende’s performance of “Ode À L’Humanité” is nearly as emotional and stirring as the memories of the twenty year old piece that made Yanni a household name. The more jungle-feel inclusion is less desired and off-setting given how familiar ears are to the original, but Yende’s serenading voice is arresting in ever sense of the word.
Inspirato is and isn’t what you expect of a Yanni album. The new age feel remains with the open air ranges roaming free and expanded throughout. But the extra adaptation Yanni has added in (and by that meaning less is more in terms of compositional experimentation) is what gives Inspirato a real energized but tactfully tasteful jubilance. The nostalgia factor of Yanni’s works are so profound and vivid, it’s hard to comprehend these are actually re-envisions. While twenty years ago the depth of the repertoire may have been questioned, the inspired vocals performances allow them to reveal new character and magic that many, even the hardcore of hardcore Yanni fans, would have overseen.
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