After his acclaimed Arias for Caffarelli, Argentinian Countertenor Franco Fagioli turns his attention from pupil to master in his latest album, Porpora il Maestro.
Franco Fagioli, along with the Australian David Hansen, is one of a new generation of countertenor performers whose vocal range and technique allow them to take on the more daunting works of the famed Castrati, Farinelli and Caffarelli. Fagioli’s three octave range, his security and flexibility in the upper register, warmth in the mid-range, and unparalleled use of the modal voice in the lower range, make him the natural interpreter of the soprano and mezzo-soprano arias created by the master Baroque composers for the unearthly voices of the Castrati. Having successfully tackled a remarkable selection of arias penned for the star Castrato Caffarelli (Arias for Caffarelli), Fagioli’s latest album takes a look at the work of Porpora, composer and teacher, whose pupils included both Farinelli and Caffarelli.
The album begins with the frenzied fireworks of “Se tu la reggi al volo” from Ezio. Describing the flight of an eagle, the aria’s melismatic phrases soar and plunge as Fagioli displays his outstanding flexibility and skill for coloratura singing. The obligatory “storm” aria on the album is the frenetic “Già si desta la tempest” from Didone abbandonata. Beginning with the combined force of a wind and a thunder machine, Fagioli and the Academia Montis Regalis, conducted by Alessandro de Marchi, set out on a firecracker of an aria, with coruscating pyrotechnics both from Fagioli, and from almost every section of the orchestra.
Fagioli’s three octave range is displayed at its apex in the spectacular “Nell'attendere il mio bene” from Polifemo, with a repeat of the remarkable D6 (modern pitch C#6) which so stunned the audience at Nancy in “Vo solcando un mar crudele” from Vinci’s Artaserse. While the nadir comes during the extended a cappella cadenza concluding the fiendish “Spesso di nubi cinto” from Carlo il Calvo, with Fagioli descending through his surprisingly well integrated modal range to C3 (B2 in modern pitch).
Probably the most intense aria on the album is the sublime “Alto giove,” also from Polifemo. Fagioli weaves an hypnotic enchantment from the onset, using his excellent support during the long piano phrases to devastating effect. A delightful gem is the cantata “A voi ritorno campagne amene,” an ode to the freedom of the “delightful meadows,” marked by the profusion of haunting dissonances and suspensions between Countertenor and Violin. Fagioli suffuses the desperate lament from Meride e Selinunte, “Torbido intorno al core,” with tortured suffering, wringing every last drop of pathos from Porpora’s simple yet elegant phrases.
The Academia Montis Regalis, led by the exceptional Alessandro de Marchi, were the perfect ensemble to accompany Fagioli in this exploration of the work of the Neapolitan composer and teacher. Crisp performances, tasteful and intelligent tempo choices, and intuitive interactions with Fagioli underpinned the extraordinary calibre of this album. This is a must-have for any Baroque music aficionado!
The latest version of Handel's Tamerlano is blessed with a fantastic collection of performers, including John Mark Ainsley in the difficult role of Bajazet. This is, without doubt, a disc for any Handel lover's collection.
The title role in this production is in the hands of Xavier Sabata, who brings a youthful petulance and spite to Tamerlano's music. His coloratura is both clean and exciting, never thinning out or losing the plummy tone that distinguishes his sound. His contribution to the ensemble pieces is intelligently delivered, and adds much depth to the overall understanding of the character.
As with most roles written for the castrato Sesesino, Andronico lies across the modal/falsetto divide, which can cause difficulties for mezzo and soprano tessitura countertenors. Max Emanuel Cencic has no such difficulty with the role, managing to make the "join" between the voices almost unnoticeable. The fullness of tone in the lower falsetto register makes Cencic's voice a perfect vehicle for the low tessitura of Andronico's arias.
From the opening words of Bajazet's first aria, "Forte e lieto," John Mark Ainsley authoritatively set his mark upon the character. His mellifluous voice has acquired an extra darkness in the lower register over the years, adding a beautiful richness to his sound, yet still possessing that ringing brightness in the upper register which makes his voice instantly recognisable. Ainsley's fierce rendition of "Ciel E Terra Armi Di Sdegno" was as passionate as his tragic performance of the wretched "A' Suoi Piedi" (in which Ainsley drops to an Ab2 in the B-section) was moving. "Empio, per farti guerra" was suitably explosive, while never resorting to barking or disturbing noises. The death scene was the highlight for me, as Ainsley wrenches every last bit of feeling from the score while never over-dramatising.
Karina Gauvin brings an iron strength to the role of Asteria, infusing the character with the determination and force which comes only through suffering. Gauvin's performance is one which comes as a result of a totally committed performance. The highlight of the Canadian soprano's performance must surely be her bewitching rendition of "Cor di padre" - something I will not forget in a hurry!
As mezzo-sopranos go, Ruxandra Donose possesses, like Romina Basso, a darkness of tone which makes her capable of successfully tackling Handel's lighter contralto roles. Her "Par Che Mi Nasca In Seno" was wonderful, with a truly molasses-like low register. The exciting discovery of the recording was, for me, the Russian bass Pavel Kudinov as Leone. His stunning third act aria "Nel mondo e nell' abisso" was crowned by a stunning two octave descent from F4 to F2 at the beginning of the Da Capo.
The orchestra, Il Pomo d'Oro was conducted by Riccardo Minasi, whose clear understanding of the work was apparent from the onset. His choice of tempi and dynamics was appropriate both for the piece, and for the singers at his command.
Australian countertenor David Hansen’s first solo CD, Rivals: Arias for Farinelli & Co, is an exciting collection of long-forgotten arias from the Baroque period. The selection has been perfectly chosen to showcase his lyric-coloratura voice and his deep understanding of the music of the Baroque period.
Rivals is dominated by the composer Leonardo Vinci, who had the ability to create both stunningly beautiful and fiercely energetic music with the most simple compositional devices. The other composers featured are Leonardo Leo, Giovanni Battista Bononcini and Riccardo Broschi. The arias included were all written for some of the most famous castrati of the day: Farinelli, Caffarelli, Carestini, Bernacchi. Now, thanks to performers such as Hansen, Bartoli, Fagioli and Kermes, these soprano-tessitura arias are again coming to light, wowing audiences both in the concert hall and on disk.
The first aria, “In braccio a mille furie” from Vinci’s Semiramide riconosciuta, is a whirlwind piece, with a high tessitura and runs which move through the whole of the range. Hansen’s laser-like voice is effortlessly clear and on pitch in the high register. Hansen creates a palpable sense of urgency in the B-section, while his ornamentation in the da capo coruscates across the intense accompaniment provided by Alessandro de Marchi and the Academia Montis Regalis. The second aria from Vinci, “Sento due fiamme in petto” from Il Medo, showcases Hansen’s excellent support and technique, as he moves through the languid phrases with grace and tenderness. His pause on the leading note at the end of the cadenza at the start of the da capo is sublime.
Two more arias come from Vinci’s Il Medo. “Non è più folle lusinga” is a slow aria with a very scaled-back accompaniment, which leaves Hansen’s voice exposed, particularly in the high register. His tone is never squeezed, always restrained and fully supported. The tessitura of “Taci o di morte” is firmly in the alto range, and here Hansen shows his technique in the lower falsetto register and the modulation in and out of the modal voice over the course of a legato phrase. The final offering from Vinci is “Risveglia lo sdegno” from Alessandro. This is a foot-stomping extravaganza, complete with horns and timpani, Hansen positively revels in the coloratura and arpeggios, powering through them with a truly heroic sound.
Leonardo Leo is represented by two arias. The first, “Talor che irato è il vento” from Andromaca, contains Leo’s trademark leaps to A5 and B5, and long phrases which leap throughout the range, which Hansen execute with frightening ease. “Freme orgogliosa l'onda” from Demetrio is a hellishly difficult aria, with several awkward intervals, a phrase consisting of octave leaps up to and down from B5, and many transitions into the low register. This is definitely one of the best arias on the CD. Bononcini’s “Cara Sposa” from Griselda is a typical love aria of the period. Hansen’s voice floats ethereally above the continuo, and weaves like a gossamer thread through the accompanying upper strings.
But the highlight of the album is Broschi’s “Son qual nave”. This version, which was rediscovered in an archive in Vienna, has Farinelli’s own ornamentation marked in his own hand, and Rivals presents it as a world premier recording. It also includes two horns, a completely new B-section, and several changes to the composition of the A-section for both voice and orchestra. With an astounding range, unending lines of coloratura, and many rubato phrases, this is most definitely a show-stopping extravaganza of an aria, and a true indication both of the vocal prowess of the castrati, and of Hansen.
The new CD from Naïve records is a stunning collection of arias written for the star castrato Caffarelli. Performed by the Argentinian countertenor Franco Fagioli and Il Pomo d'Oro, led by Riccardo Minasi, it is packed with world-premier recordings.
The CD begins with the astonishing “Fra L'orror Della Tempesta” from Johann Adolf Hasse’s Siroe. Fagioli’s formidable virtuosity is on display from the onset, ascending the first of several A5’s at the beginning of the second phrase. The punishing tessitura would be unmanageable for many singers, yet Fagioli seems to revel in the high phrases. His navigation of the four consecutive trilled A5’s in the A section is a delight to listen to. In the second Hasse offering, “Ebbi Da Te La Vita”, Fagioli’s incredible legato and support come to the fore, each phrase handled tenderly.
From the opening fanfare of Vinci’s “In Braccio a Mille Furie” it is clear that this aria is going to blow the listener’s socks off. Fagioli spins a furious dance across nearly two octaves, running seamlessly from D4 (the only note Fagioli modulates into the modal voice to sing) and A5 and B5. Leonardo Leo’s “Misero Pargoletto” is a tense, atmospheric piece, which Fagioli performs with intelligent choices in both dynamics and tempi. By sustaining a slow pace throughout the aria, he envelops the listener in the fluidic texture of the composition, in a similar mannaer to Bartoli in arias such as “Sposa, non mi conosci”.
More fireworks abound in the frenetic “Un cor che ben ama” from Domenico Sarro’s Valdemaro. Mention must be made of the spectacular virtuosity of the trumpet playing in the aria. The maturity and depth in Pergolesi’s “Lieto cosi talvolta” is apparent from the opening few bars. Following the showy spectacle of the previous aria, “Lieto cosi tavolta” allows us to admire Fagioli’s ability to turn the simplicity of Pergolesi’s line into a masterclass of breath-control, technique, and beautiful, exposed high notes.
In “Sperai vicino il lido”, Leonardo Leo alternates between pensive slow phrases, and speedy virtuosic passages. Fagioli navigates these changes well, with some stunning register shifts as he masterfully dominates the aria’s wide vocal range. By far the most elegant aria on the album is the pensive “Rendimi più sereno” by Cafaro. Fagioli plays on the pastoral feel of the aria, weaving a sumptuous fabric of tonal colour and phrasing. The showy and ebullient “Passaggier che sulla sponda” by Porpora has Fagioli leaping across his vast vocal range with tremendous precision and impeccable tonal integrity.
Beginning with a beautiful messa di voce, the high tessitura of Manna’s “Cara ti lascio, addio” is a showcase for Fagioli’s tremendous and well supported high falsetto range. His light touches on the dissociated high notes in the longer phrases are deliciously tender, never resorting to breathiness or tightening the tone. Finally, as if to rid the listener of any doubt to Cafferelli’s supreme skill and obvious dominance in the Baroque world, Fagioli finishes the CD with the astounding “Odo il suono di tromba guerriera”, also by Manna. Sailing up to a B5 in the first minute and a half, the whole aria is a stunning finale showcasing the sheer breadth and stamina of Fagioli’s voice. The da capo sees him descend to a fierce E3 in the modal voice, which seems more like a contralto’s lower register than the “second voice” of the countertenor, and soar up to D6 (A-415) in the final cadenza.
This is a must have for any countertenor fan, and an amazing addition to the collections already existent which form part of the ongoing Baroque music revival. With this fantastic CD, Fagioli does indeed redefine the capabilities of the countertenor voice.