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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Countertenor bonanza!, 10 Oct 2012
By 
Iain C. Davidson "iain1825" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Vinci: Artaserse (Audio CD)
I am becoming quite a fan of Leonardo Vinci, having discovered him via a couple of arias courtesy of Simone Kermes and Cecilia Bartoli, then a disc of lovely cantatas and a live recording of his opera 'La Partenope'. The present recording of his last opera 'Artaserse' is something really special however. Here we have five countertenors (two singing female roles) and a tenor to complete the cast. Generally speaking, I tend to prefer mezzo sopranos to countertenors BUT a really splendid cast has been assembled here and all the soloists are really excellent. Probably my favourite amongst them is Franco Fagioli in the role of the hapless Arbace - his is a glorious, velvety voice and I was delighted to see another reviewer here comparing it to that of Cecilia Bartoli because I had exactly the same thought! Coming a close second is Max Cencic who manages to sound convincingly feminine as his lover Mandane. Another terrific voice is that of Yuriy Mynenko as the general Megabise - a talent to watch. Although Philippe Jaroussky is probably supposed to be the main draw (as his image in on the cover) he is actually one of my least favourite voices on the recording although he does rattle of the coloratura amazingly well. The fifth countertenor, Valer Barna-Sabadus has a lovely, smooth if slightly bland voice. I felt all five voices were different enough to differentiate between on a first listen through. Completing the line up, Daniel Behle's fine tenor makes a welcome contrast of tone and he is searingly dramatic as the semi-villain Artabano.

Diego Fasolis is fast becoming one of favourite conductors of baroque music and he leads Concerto Koln in an exciting, dramatic account of what is a very fine score. There are some truly wonderful arias here. Perhaps there is none of the sheer beauty and dramatic truth so often found in Handel's operas but, wow there is some breathtaking stuff here - frightening coloratura, energetic strings and plenty for the trumpets and drums to do! This is a splendid recording and should be missed by no fan of baroque opera.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No female allowed opera, 6 Oct 2012
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migjurado (Madrid, Spain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Vinci: Artaserse (Audio CD)
This is a very nice recording. The 6 male singers (yes, no women in this opera) are wonderful. I don't understand why Jaroussky appears alone in the cover photo, since to me, the role of Fagioli is more important in the opera. I guess that Jaroussky just sells better. We can listen here no less than FIVE countertenors, so this recording is like a dream if you like this kind of voice. Jaroussky's voice seems a little bit darker than normal, he does not shine like in other recordings. I guess he was not in his best day, although he still sings very well. Cencic's singing is gorgeous, pure velvet, sometimes he sounds a little bit histrionic specially in the high register, but this fits very well with the character of his arias (in fact, she performs a female role). This is the first recording of Yuriy Minenko, and I really liked his voice, very powerful, with a big volume and wide vibrato, but always in baroque style. Barna Sabadus is a very promising singer, and I am sure he will lead the generation of new countertenors. He has a unique voice, very agile, and he has a special ability to sing the da capos, with beautiful details in ornamentation. The tenor Daniel Boehle is equally good. However the real star of the recording is the argentinian countertenor (should i say mezzosoprano?) Franco Fagioli. What a performance! His voice is harsh, but still beautiful, similar to Ceicilia Bartoli not only in color but also in trills and expresivity. Higher notes are outstanding, agilities are sung with a mathematical precision (alla Bartoli), you have just to listen to him to believe it. One of the best perfomances I have ever listened.
I agree with the previous reviewer that Concerto Koln pales a bit, but Fasolis conducting is very dynamic and he has the big merit of making this music interesting, because this is the main deffect of this opera, the quality of this music is just average. There are some good arias, but I guess that it would be a better idea to record an opera by Pergolesi, Hasse or Porpora, whose operas are still waiting to be recorded with decent cast and orchestras.
In any case, the opera is a pleasure to listen to. Fully recommended.
EDIT: after a second listening I must say that the music is exceptional!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So beautiful countertenors are just plain astounding, 23 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Vinci: Artaserse (Audio CD)
This rare "Dramma per musica", in other words opera, is admirable in many ways, and it should deserve a long commentary if not a study in depth. I am only going to make a few remarks. I will keep the fact that this recording is an all-male recording for the end.

Note the action takes place in Persia, hence everything is possible since they have very cruel gods over there. We must be surprised by nothing. Let's first look at the plot. The king of Persia, Serse, is assassinated by Artabano, the commanding officer of the royal guard. This Artabano is plotting the end of this dynasty, along with the main general of the army, Megabise. Artabano then tells Serse's son, Artaserse, that the culprit is his brother Dario. Artaserse orders him to capture Dario and put him to death, which is done very diligently. Artabano's plot is in fact to kill Artaserse too but within a military putsch that will bring his own son, Arbace, to the throne as the liberator of the people and the country. Thus after killing Serse, he had given the bloody sword to his son and told him what he had just done, which deeply perturbed the son. Artabano thinks that his son is going to play the game because he was banned from the palace by Serse because he had dared ask for Mandane's hands, Artaserse's sister, Serse's own daughter. To understand the situation we need to add at this moment that Arbace has a sister, Semira, who is deeply in love with Artaserse and Artaserse is in love with Semira too. But Artabano has negotiated Semira's marriage with Megabise to get the general's support in his plot. Finally Artaserse and Arbace are friends and their friendship is probably more love than just simple friendship, if there is a difference between the two.

At this point then, the opera is setting one against the other two love relations between four men. Artabano and his son Arbace, filial and fatherly love on one hand. This love implies that the son will never speak against his father and that the father will do anything he can to serve his son, even if the son does not agree or approve. On the other hand the love between the two friends Artaserse and Arbace and that love will lead Artaserse to trying all he can to save his accused friend Arbace who was found in the palace garden with the bloody sword that killed Serse and in a state of total derangement. Artaserse appears here as a childlike character who makes all types of mistakes because he reacts like a child, without thinking. He is reactive and in no way mental. He orders the death of his brother without wondering why his brother would have killed their father. He then orders Artabano to be the judge of his own son, thinking the father would show some clemency or leniency in, judging and sentencing his own son. Later on he will order the death of Arbace on one piece of information, Arbace's leading the rebellion, just before it is revealed to him that Arbace has just brought the mutinous army down and killed Megabise. Finally he will order the death of Artabano when Artabano confesses the plot and his guilt, and it will take a lot of energy on Arbace's side to convince him to be clement. It is useless to insist on the fact that the childlike clear voice of Philippe Jaroussky fits perfectly in that childish personality.

But the love between Artaserse and Arbace is so deep that we wonder at times if it is not more than love or friendship and we feel at times the relation that should exist between the prince, and then king, and the son of the commander of his royal guard is not inverted. It clearly seems so when we consider the two voices. Franco Fagioli has a deeper voice than Philippe Jaroussky and the music emphasizes this contrast so that at the end, when Arbace convinces Artaserse to be clement Arbace sounds like the man who is sound and able to make sound decisions whereas Artaserse sounds like the child, teenager or young man who is just able to understand and accept what Arbace tells him. The dominant character is Arbace. So that is more than love or friendship. That is a relation of political and mental dominance, developed and accepted by both men. Arbace becomes Artaserse's counsellor but founded on a deep loving relation between the two men which enables the King to follow his friend's advice, or rather decisions. This is all the more true when at the beginning of the third act Artaserse helps, and in fact orders, Arbace to escape before he be executed, what's more by his own father. It is this act that will enable the end and the defeat of the rebellion.

Then we can wonder at this point why Artabano is the only tenor among the men, all the others being countertenors. The question is particularly important since the opera was created in 1730 in Rome. The tenor here is two things: first a father who is suffering tremendously when his own plot sets his own son in a tremendous danger and when he sees that the failure of the plot might get his son in even greater danger. He has the deeper voice of a tenor and that fits with his being a father, and what's more a commanding father, if we can say so, that commands his son around and commands such a level of filial love in his son that Arbace will accept to play the game and remain silent when he finally knows the plot and his father's crime, even when he is accused of this very crime. He commands such a level of authority with his daughter Semira that she accepts to marry Megabise though she clearly says she will never love him and Megabise clearly says that what is important for him is to possess the body named Semira and in no way her love. This vision of love as a pure sexual commodity is nearly shocking for a modern audience, though the worse side is Semira's submission to her father's decision that turns her into a sexual sellable valuable and nothing else. And he commands such authority over Megabise that this latter one accepts to support the plot just with Semira as the prize of the venture. Yet in the last act Megabise becomes quite pressing as for the plot because Artabano is wavering because of the situation of his own son who has escaped his jail and is announced as being dead, which determines in him a new motivation that is limited since it is to kill Artaserse, the king, before he can kill himself in expiation of his son's death. That love between a father and a son is explored in such detail and poignancy that we can consider this element as one of the two major themes of the opera.

The second is the love between Artaserse and Arbace as we have seen. We could wonder which one is first and which one is second. But the question is flawed. The two loving relations and the conflict between these two loving relations are the heart and core of the opera. And there again the contrast between Artabano, a tenor, and his son Arbace, a slightly deep countertenor, is perfect both to set the father in his dominant position of authority and to set the son in a challenging position that is as submissive as necessary and possible, and yet represents the man who is going to fail the plot and kill the main associate of his father. That voice needs to be a countertenor with enough depth to convey this challenging role. And at the end when Arbace pleads for clemency in the name of his father with Artaserse the contrast of this slightly deeper voice is perfect with the rather childlike voice of Artaserse. Note that all along the opera when Arbace was expressing his despair of being entangled and imprisoned in a plot he disagreed with and rejected though he had to accept it and support it since it was coming from his father Franco Fagioli had a vibrating voice that fitting perfectly that dilemma.

We should add one more situation having to do with this tenor voice. Artabano is the one who is going to assist Artaserse in his oath as a king that ends with drinking a cup of wine. He has poisoned that cup. Artaserse is saved by the announcement of the rebellion outside. Later when Arbace arrives he is going to swear his innocence to the Gods with the same cup of wine as the sealing ritual, hence drinking the wine poisoned by his own father. That's the element that will trigger Artabano's confession to save his son. You can see the strategic position of this tenor voice in the first oath ritual, the dark voice of the plotting killer, and then the same strategic position of the tenor voice interrupting the two countertenors and his own son in that second oath ritual to save his son and confess his crime. That's dark indeed and this confession does not bring any light into the picture of this damned soul. When all that is understood we can understand the place of the tenor in such a very dark and yet central position by the fact that we are a long time before Beethoven's redefinition of the tenor as the heroic voice of the opera with Fidelio, a new definition that will triumph in Italy and Germany with Italian operas by Rossini, Verdi and a few others and with Wagner and later Richard Strauss.

But then we can wonder about the presence of the two women. They are indispensible to make the opera acceptable in the 18th century. Semira is only some exchangeable goods for her father and his co-plotter. But she is also the one Artaserse loves. Mandane is the one Arbace loves. Are these two loves negligible? That would be a mistake to believe so.

These two loves are present at the very beginning of the opera but as soon as Serse's death is announced things change very fast and Arbace disappears to be brought back on the stage as the accused killer. Then Mandane becomes a fury asking for immediate vengeance without a trial if possible, and when Arbace is sentenced to death by his own father Semira becomes a second fury demanding the recognition of her brother's innocence without any proof, just on the basis of logic and respect, on the basis of her own certainty. The confrontation of the two in the third act is such a show of total sectarianism that we wonder if these women were ever in love. They declare their mutual hatred. Mandane sings, in tears for her lost love:

"Ungrateful Semira,
I cannot bear
Such hatred, such fury,
From your enraged heart."

And Semira sings in her turn, probably in tears herself though maybe with some diatance:

"Madwoman, what have you done? I thought
By expressing my fears I might
Lessen them, but I have only increased them.
I thought I could soothe my heart
By offending Mandane
But I have pierced her heart without healing mine.
It is not true that our own troubles
Are lightened when we see
Another weeping.
For the sight of sorrow
Only prompts us
To further sighing."

And yet the only duet of the whole opera will be just one scene later the conclusion of the confrontation of Mandane and Arbace before Arbace leaves the palace as Artaserse has ordered him to do. But the structure is complex since we have first Arbace (3 lines), then Mandane (three lines), six short exchanges between them and finally the real duet in two parts (two lines + three lines), and then a coda of the whole section all over again. It is interesting to see the despair of Arbace and the inflexibility of Mandane at this crucial moment before Arbace's departure that will enable him to defeat the rebellion and kill Megabise.

"ARBACE
You want me to live, my beloved,
But if you deny me your love
You will cause my death.
MANDANE
Oh God, what bitter sorrow!
My blushes should be enough for you;
I cannot say more.
ARBACE
Listen to me ...
MANDANE
No
ARBACE
You are ...
MANDANE
Out of my sight ...
ARBACE
My love ...
MANDANE
Leave me, for pity's sake.
BOTH
Oh gods,
When will your cruelty end?
If through such great sorrow
I do not die of grief,
What is the anguish that can kill?"

I don't think I have to explain the extreme ambiguity of the final duet since they both sing the same thing and for each one of them it has a completely different meaning.

The two women do not close the opera. The end is the final and long exchange between Artaserse and Arbace about the necessity and beauty of clemency that exiles Artabano and this exile saves his life. The love for the women is not even, alluded to, the possible marriages are not an issue then. Then we can conclude the two women were there only to prop up, emphasize and amplify the two loving relations between Artaserse and Arbace on one hand and Arbace and Artabano on the other hand, the former by setting Mandane on Artaserse's side and Semira on Arbace's side, and the latter by setting Semira on Arbace's side as Artabano's daughter..

Then we can easily see that the choice of having two countertenors instead of two sopranos is quite justified since it gets the sexual element out of the picture since after all this sexual aspect is absolutely minor and secondary. Even in the voices the feminine presence is eliminated. Then the various one-on-one of these two women with male characters are not sexual but purely abstract, mental, political, or ethical. No love is wasted in that opera at all, no love whatsoever, meaning of course love between a man and a woman and a possible marriage and sexual encounter. The only marriage that is envisaged ends up with Arbace killing Megabise, and even so that marriage of Meagbise and Semira was certainly not a love affair.

Some may say that gives a gay dimension to this opera and they will be wrong since at no time is there any mention of such a gay sexual encounter between Artaserse and Arbace. We will of course consider the relation between Arbace and Artabano has nothing incestuous in it. In fact we are dealing with a society in which men have the upper hand in all matters and women are nothing but an everyday commodity that has to be in conformity and agreement with everyday demands and requirements. So if they are a commodity in society they cannot be in anyway put forward. They maybe should be sent back to the harem or the gynaecium.

And what about the music?

Rich recitatives and very powerful arias and one admirable duet. These arias express a tremendous palette of emotions, feelings, passions, mental states, etc. It is in line with the best music of the 18th century though I would say it does not have the brilliance of Handel nor the virtuosity of Vivaldi but it is quite pleasant and engaging for a drama that is absolutely bleak though it ends in the best Mozartian way though without the love that Mozart was so keen on singing and expressing everywhere and all the time, I mean the sexual love between men and women. The main asset of this opera is definitely the phenomenal use of countertenors who must have been countertenors and castrati at the time of creation.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange Delights, 12 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Vinci L'Artaserse (MP3 Download)
Had Amazon included a pdf. synopsis, or better still a libretto, as a guide to the plot of this typical Metastasian farrago of love, treachery, guilt, betrayal and generally dirty work at the cross-roads of the Persian Court, there would not have been enough stars to rate this recording by.
Normally the description 'authentic performance' may make the non-specialist opera-lover justifiably wary, especially when applied to a nearly forgotten opera contemporary of Vivaldi and Handel; nonetheless Leonardo Vinci (c1686-1730) was a prolific Neopolitan opera composer honoured by those more durable names and played in the great opera houses of Europe; this recording amply justifies the esteem in which hw was held in his day.. First time listeners might be even more wary when the principals are heard to be no less than FIVE countertenors versus a single tenor singer. One of these countertenor principals, the rightly honoured Max Emanuel Cencic, was the mastermind behind this recording, which seeks to replicate the first performance of 1730 in Rome where the Vatican embargoed women singers from appearing on stage - hence the plethora of 'drag' performers. [It is in keeping with popular contemporary opera story-lines that Vinci himself died shortly after this first performance, allegedly of poison].
Potential listeners may learn more from the January issue of 'Gramophone' magazine, which rated this their 'Recording of the Month'.
I use the term 'unique' with care; as an avid music-lover I have listened to quite a lot of music in my 80-plus years but I do not recall many occasions when the first hearing of a major work made so unusual an impact. Do not just take my word for it; for less than a fiver Amazon has brought us all over three hours of strange delights.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars iridescent singing by a peacock, 6 Dec 2012
By 
Philip Herring "vaslav" (soudley, UK) - See all my reviews
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Presumably it was after this opera that Jaroussky named his own ensemble in 2002. Reaching the end of this three hour work you can understand why Leonardo Vinci was so greatly admired in Italy and Europe. It is composed for five counter-tenors and one tenor, Behle, who proved the most dramatic of all (perhaps Jaroussky could take note). I was not familiar with Barna-Sabadus(Semira) but his silvery timbre, phrasing and use of colour soon impressed me. Similarly arresting was Fagioli(Arbace - sung by Carestini at the time)with his wide register and beautiful,secure high notes. Artaserse is the chief protagonist but all parts are given equal weight and arias to show off their virtuosity. There is one duet between Mandane(Cencic) and Arbace in Act Three, that forms a rich and anguished interchange. Since the plot is typically convoluted,I had Metastasio's cleverly crafted libretto propped on my knee and this revealed the skill with which the words are combined with the music. It is a story of false accusation, ambition,ruptured friendships, unrequited love and a central conflict between love, duty and honour. The dramatic tension builds so convincingly that I awaited the denouement with some impatience and trepidation! The opera ends with a triumphant chorus (Coro della Radiotelevisione svizzera) celebrating the victory of virtue,forgiveness and mercy,which must have sent the audience gaily out into the night. And the brass and percussion contributions of Concerto Koln were particularly overwhelming.How a work like this and composer like Vinci (this was his last opera,dying soon after at 34yrs. in 1730)could go into oblivion is difficult to grasp and underlines what a debt we owe to Jaroussky for helping to rehabilitate past forgotten works and composers. His quicksilver voice and luminous arias will have you reeling as usual.This is a highly polished and professional production by all concerned and well worth adding to your collection but I suspect you will still buy it,as I did, principally for the iridescent singing of that peacock on the box-lid and booklet.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Persian politics in the baroque, 26 Oct 2012
By 
Stephen Midgley (Tarbrax, West Calder, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Vinci: Artaserse (Audio CD)
There are already several highly complimentary reviews of this recording here on Amazon - all 5-star so far as I write. So I would just like to support the others and say that this is a terrific baroque opera in a brilliant performance. Of course five countertenors are a lot; but they are good, and to my ear their stratospheric tones are nicely balanced by the rich, colourful orchestration, directed here with superb pace and panache by Diego Fasolis, one of the most stylish baroque directors around.

Another reviewer rightly mentioned the amount of recitative in the score, and it's true that there's a lot - but, to my ear at least, it is all moved along at a very lively pace and hardly ever gets tedious. In any case, all this negotiation, discussion and reporting of the latest events and rumours is very much a part of the plot in what is essentially a political drama set in ancient Persia. So, apart from the usual unrequited passions characteristic of baroque opera, we have power struggles, deception, intrigue, cruelty, false accusations, guilty secrets, snobbery, treachery and rebellion. How different are the politics of today!

Back to the music, though, Jaroussky, Cencic and the other singers are terrific and so is the Concerto Köln orchestra. If you want to hear a few samples, try any of the three sections of the opening Sinfonia, or the final aria of Act I, 'Vo solcando un mar crudele' (I am adrift on a cruel sea), which apparently blew away Roman audiences in 1730. But in truth Vinci's music is full of invention and there are numerous fine arias; altogether this is an enterprising and outstanding recording of a work little known in recent times, and it's bound to appeal to just about all baroque opera fans.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Forgotten Treasure Reborn by a Dazzling Cast and Conductor, 27 Oct 2012
By 
Grady Harp (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Vinci: Artaserse (Audio CD)
The story of Artaserse as written in libretto by Metastasio is the tale of a Persian King Artaxeres. Though there are over 40 known settings of Metastasio's text, the libretto was first set by Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730) in 1730 for Rome. And it is this setting of the perils of the Persian King that is featured in this rather amazing showcase of countertenors from around the world. The text was also set by such composers as Gluck, JC Bach, Hasse, Galuppi, Myslivicek and Arne, but it is the original setting that gathers the most historic musical attention.

The opera is a string of florid pearls - arias so complex yet so penetratingly beautiful that it would seem after this recording that opera houses will begin to pay attention to the work. Of interest a French scholar, Charles de Brosses, wrote 10 years after Vinci's death from poisoning, `Vinci is the Lully of Italy: true, simple, natural, expressive, writing in the most beautiful, uncontrived way for the voice ... Artaserse has a reputation as his finest work, and one of Metastasio's finest too ... It is the most famous Italian opera.' And that is fine preparation for the performance captured here.

Diego Fasolis conducts the Concerto Cologne in a completely authentic manner. At the time of the composition of Artasere, a papal decree banned women from appearing on the stages of the city's theatres, so the entire cast was male, with the female roles sung by castrati. This recording not only recognizes that bit of significant history, it honors it with the challenge of single-sex casting with a spectacular line-up of fine countertenors from around the world: Croatian-born Max Emanuel Cencic, the Frenchman Philippe Jaroussky, the Argentine Franco Fagioli, Romanian Valer Barna-Sabadus and Yuriy Mynenko from the Ukraine. The sole tenor in the recording is the German Daniel Behle.

In addition to the beauties of the music both for orchestra and for singers that this fascinating work offers is the opportunity to hear the various comparisons of the differences in the qualities of vocal production of these five countertenors. Each voice in unique with some more florid in the upper range and others more dramatic in the lower - alto - range. In the end each of these gifted men is able to create a wholly credible character while at the same time offering some of the most thrilling examples of the gift of countertenor vocal production. This is a dazzling success of a recording! Grady Harp, October 12
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rarity full of wonders., 6 Oct 2012
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This review is from: Vinci: Artaserse (Audio CD)
I always look out for new recordings with Jaroussky and Cenci and so looked forward to hearing this new, and to me, quite unknown opera by an unknown composer, Leonardo Vinci. This CD set does not disappoint. However, go no further if you are not a fan of the countertenor voice as this is an all male cast of 5 "castrati" and one tenor. The excellent booklet of notes explains why the opera is performed by all male singers and the cast of this recording is of stellar quality. Led by Jaroussky and Cencic the singing is uniformly glorious. Early Bel Canto at its best - fine legato sound together with musicianship and some hair raising virtuosity. On repeated listenings it becomes easier to distinguish between the 5 countertenors (3 of them unfamiliar to me) and I recommend following the libretto translation to understand not only who is singing what but to find out which of these extraordinary voices is playing the one female role! I think that the one minus here is the lack of variety in giving the ear music for lower voices. The one tenor role, sung beautifully by Daniel Behle, comes as a relief in the lower octave with the rest in the stratosphere.

The orchestral playing of Concerto Koln under Diego Fasolis I like very much; full of vigour with splendid articulation in fast string passages, though this may be for some an acquired taste as being rather too aggressive.

The main drawback of this opera, with the usual mixture of love and palace intrigue, is the dialogue. We have fine arias (and one duet) linked by oceans of secco (dry) and some accompagnato recitative. To understand the entire plot, of course, you have to wade through this and follow the text with the translation - at least for the first two hearings. After that I suggest the solution I used; I downloaded all the orchestral and aria tracks to my iPod and left out the recitatives altogether! Glorious listening. 5 star CD set.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZING, 15 Dec 2012
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This record is amazing, excellent cast (all of them), Fagioli is my favourite, beautiful voice. Those who love baroque opera MUST to have this.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Countertenor heaven, 3 Oct 2012
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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Leonardo Vinci's life was short - several contemporary sources claim his death was due to poisoning by the jealous husband of his lover - but apparently colourful. His opera Artaserse, on the political machinations in the Achaemenid Persian empire, was performed in Rome just three months before his sudden demise. Unlike the usual practice of the time, his works continued to be performed after his death, indicative of the admiration in which his compositions were held.

Artaserse was one of the most celebrated operas of the age, even though its initial performance run was short due to Pope Benedict XIII's death. Legend has it that the Pontiff's quietus was announced to the audience at the end of the second act of the performance on 21st Feb 1730; Carestini being ordered to leave the stage carried on singing his aria, emphasising the word "lascietami" - "leave me", at which the audience erupted into cries of "Evviva Carestini!". A nice story, and not true, yet indicative of the mythical aura surrounding the work. Despite this setback it was revived many times throughout Europe, giving it an unprecedented degree of success. Although Vinci was the first to set Metastasio's libretto, many other 18th century composers created their own setting, and a translation was employed by Thomas Arne in that rare beast, an English language full-blown Baroque opera - Artaxerxes.

Vinci scored the work for no less than five castrati - the strictures imposed on Rome's theatres would only permit male performers - plus one tenor; many of the most famed singers of the age were cast, including Carestini, Farinelli and Caffarelli. In our day and age chopping the balls off promising young singers is somewhat frowned upon, but director Diego Fasolis has perhaps controversially resisted the temptation to employ mezzos or contraltos and retained an all-male cast with five countertenors.

And what a line up - Phillippe Jaroussky and Max Emanuel Cencic are probably the finest countertenors of the moment, and Franco Fagioli, Valer Barna-Sabadus & Yuriy Mynenko are all good enough to stand alongside such greatness. Daniel Behle is solid as the solitary tenor. The playing of Concerto Köln does leave a little bit to be desired at times in my opinion being slightly rough-edged. Perhaps there may be a question mark over casting in terms of who has the more feminine timbre - should Jaroussky have switched with Cencic to play the 'skirt role', to coin a phrase? (Or has my discernment gone bad?) But never mind that. Overall I think whether you are going to like this set or not is, not surprisingly, down to whether or not you are a fan of countertenors.

The recording comes packaged in a hinged cardboard box, with three discs in individual cardboard sleeves, along with a chunky booklet providing some excellent background notes, synopsis, libretto and translations (English, French, German).
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Vinci: Artaserse
Vinci: Artaserse by Leonardo Vinci (Audio CD - 2012)
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