on 13 September 2013
There is good reason for the fact that Farinelli is to this day the one most famous castrato singer. The young countertenor Philippe Jaroussky has now recorded an album dedicated solely to arias which Nicola Porpora, renowned composer and Farinelli's singing teacher, has composed for him. Many of those arias where composed for the Opera of the Nobility while both Farinelli and Porpora where in London, in a fierce musical contest against the opera of Handel. So those arias were intended to dazzle the audience, written by one of the most able composers of the time for the astonishing abilities of the singer whose voice and vocal skills nobody knew better than Porpora - and they did.
It is astonishing how Jaroussky masters these often technically extremely difficult arias not only perfectly and with obvious ease, but how they actually fit him as if they had been composed for him. This countertenor with his famously cristal clear voice makes the coloraturas, often over two octaves (as in "Come nave") not only seem effortless and delightful, but adds manyfold embellishments, showing a flexibility of the voice that is truly astonishing. He gets the opportunity to show his virtuoso abilities and how strong and clear, always sweet his voice is up to the highest register in difficult bravura pieces like "Nell' attendere", even against trumpets and horns.
But Jaroussky not only delivers notes, he always sings with heartfelt and intense expression, not only tickling the listener's ears, but also touching his soul. It is difficult not to be moved by such deeply emotional arias as the pathetic "Sente del mio martir" or the grateful and intense "Alto Giove". And a special pleasure is given with the two duets with Cecilia Bartoli on this album, where the two singers present duet singing in the best sense, listening to each other and in affectionate dialogue, the two high, sweet voices now blending, now entwining in what can best be described as musical ecstasy. Mr Jaroussky obviously experienced pleasure while singing these arias and duets, and certainly the listener also will.
Surprisingly, although one thought that all Farinelli arias were already known, the album Farinelli - Porpora" actually contains 7 world premiere recordings, which show Porpora indeed as a highly talented composer, especially for the virtuoso voice.
The ensemble is very good, fresh, creative and inspired, the acoustical quality excellent.
on 20 September 2013
Read the booklet and you will know a lot about Porpora and Farinelli, and especially the end of both at the same time, Farinelli as a castrato when he stopped singing, and Porpora as a composer when he lost his castrato. There is no explanation about that breach of professional collaboration, a real breakdown for Porpora who ended in misery and the full disappearance from the public eye for Farinelli.
But one thing is sure: the famous film Farinelli has to be remade, at least for its music sound track since there is a voice now that can sing like Farinelli without voice processing or whatever they used at the time.
Now a recording of separate arias is frustrating because you only have thin slices of the various operas but you do not get the dramatic dimension, the real charm of the opera and all that is happening on the stage. So you are reduced to listening to the voice and trying to enjoy it in its beauty scattered all over the recording studio. For Philippe Jaroussky it is a challenge to follow Farinelli and Porpora in their tracks but when are we going to get their operas?
And the voice is so charming that we forget all that dubitative blah-blah, and along with it the black sheep of criticism, critique and critics, and we dive into the beauty of this voice that has no limit in the conquest of our mental virtual sky, and that conquest is so real we are mesmerized, hypnotized, charmed and we are ready to lie down like Cleopatra and let the snake do its work. In two arias we are beyond reason, beyond control, beyond the real world that has just vanished like a dark cloud dissolved in the bright sunshine of this mystery, and mystery it is in its old Renaissance meaning. You have to be initiated to appreciate it. But don't be afraid, the initiation is simple: once again, lie down and open the breast of your mind to the snake that comes up from this treasure chest of this voice and let the snake get warm in your brain and try to enjoy the slow comfort that comes from its cool warmth.
I absolutely love all the tracks but I have to choose one or two, maybe more, that are more striking than the others and that sent me in such an acme of pleasure that I nearly fainted, they would have said swooned in older times, pass me the salts, please.
The third track is one of that kind, with that power. The wild conqueror is just running after us, up our fortified slopes and over our crenellated defenses and there he is jumping out of his wild box into the serene yard of our private garden and he just stamps and tramples with full force our roses and we just stand, kneel, lie there and ask for more of this astounding vocal power. You beg for pity and you pray it may go on for ever. Beauty is at times the most brutal thing that we can hardly bear and yet we want to let it penetrate us so deep that we lose our mind, loosen all our canons and we become popish sinners and with no astuteness like Pope Francis. Just plain vocal and auditory sinners who like being dragged into that forceful sin that is enjoying a voice that beats us about in its tournament and we are no equal to refuse or resist that chasing knight who will, it's sure, transpierce us with his spear and then put us on the grill for more exquisite enjoyment of the beauty of his voice.
The fourth track is a duet with Cecilia Bartoli and we wonder who is the soprano and who is the countertenor though we know who is the man and who is the woman, the woman and its trembling voice as if she was awed and frightened by the man in front of her. And they come to a perfect moment when the two voices are merging and merged together and yet it is a miracle because you can make the difference between the two, especially since at that moment they are singing a cappella.
The fifth track is long and of a completely different style. We are amazed by and at the double tone we have in this aria. Aci is thanking Jove for the goddess he gave him. We expect awe and joy, happiness and humility, and we get all that probably but yet this spirit is completely over-drowned in some tone that the singing alone, and the music then, carries through with such a force that we are wondering if this is not a lamentation, a dirge. At least in the first part of the aria. To be grateful to Jove the human's subservience has to be expressed with some sorrowful tone that maybe regrets the conquest of the goddess was not exactly romantic, just divine, by divine decision; There is then in Aci something like an attempt to recapture himself. And move away from the lamentation, but that is short lived when the lamentation comes back, when it becomes a contemplation that has to make that poor human who receives a goddess as his love partner absolutely impotent and unable to perform what Jove authorizes him to perform. No shiny knight in a golden tournament, just a plain teenager meeting his first sexual partner, like begging for the divine inspiration that could make him up to the task. The humility this singing contains is more than just humble love. It is a dirge, as if it regretted and repented the fact he is going to lose, maybe waste, his human virginity on a goddess he desires, he wants, he longs for, he fantasizes and yet who will leave him emasculated on the bed. And yet the last note is a total submission to the pleasure of this encounter, joy in the instant no matter what may come afterwards: just take this instant of orgasm as what it is supposed to be a gift from the gods that will only last an instant but will leave your mind and body so fully satisfied that then the future, life or death, torture or the stake does not matter any more. That's what love is and it may last forever though the instant of pleasure will only last a minute.
The seventh track is just another aria in which ambiguous and contradictory motivations are expressed by the music and the voice. Though Phoebus is requiring the sacrifice of a virgin on the altar to blow the Greek fleet to Troy, how can he, or rather Achilles, accept the sacrifice of this beautiful Iphigenia he must be in love with? And both the composer and the singer excel in that ambiguous dual allegiance: the duty to go on that punitive war against Troy and at the same time the gallant dedication to protect and love the beautiful Iphigenia who will nevertheless be sacrificed for the first duty to be fulfilled. That's where Philippe Jaroussky is best because he can use his voice with such subtle nuances in his expressive feelings that we just wonder at times if that singer is not the devil himself capable of fascinating and capturing all our attention and mental energy into total submission to the sad sorrow of this chant, the beautiful exquisite suffering of this hymn to life in and beyond death.
The eleventh and last track starts as a dirge and it is dedicated to love. Orpheus is in love, is singing his love and yet he is in mourning, mourning his love and that last piece is a prodigy of vocal expertise and genial inspiration. Philippe Jaroussky is for me one of the rare singers, if not the only singer who is able to use his voice to express joy and sadness together, pleasure and suffering as the two sides of one single coin. And that duplicity, duality of his singing makes him the doppelganger of my most intimate desires and impulses. How can a man be so divided in his unity, unified in his division, so much able to merge together the antagonistic dimension of life and death?
To compose such ambiguous arias for Farinelli, Porpora must have been in love with this voice, and probably man, that and who could bring together in the same notes, in the same sequences, in the same measures both the accents and the tempos of sorrow and joy, of sadness and happiness. This is so rare, so amazing that we remain totally frozen in front of such depth and multiple facets of life and death so well crisscrossed together that we just wonder if love is not hate, if hate is not desire, if desire is not destructive of the love we started with and that remains discarded in a way into impotence and sterility, fantasy and virtuality. And yet every musical sentence, every vocal cadenza is full of the belief and even faith that love is the most human value, I would like to say the human-est value.
Philippe Jaroussky makes the voice that some see as the voice of angels, or of God, or of the Holy Virgin, or even of the Devil and Satan, Philippe Jaroussky makes this voice, his voice so human that we are ready to die for it, I mean die with pleasure, die from enjoyment, die for the promise of an orgasmic communion with supernatural beauty. I only felt that emotion with the first soprano I ever listened to: Teresa Stich-Randall singing some cantata by Johan Sebastian Bach.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU