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.
Baroque opera masterpiece created to dazzle the Roman Carnevale of 1730. Vinci who was born in 1690, in Napoli, succeeded Alessandro Scarlatti as vice director of the Royal Chapel in Napoli and was one of the teachers of Pergolesi. Because of his friendship with Metastasio, he became, along with his rival Porpora, a pioneer of the Neapolitan opera seria. He gave special attention to the natural setting of text without undue harmonic or orchestral devices which was meant to facilitate and support the vocal lines. Handel was clearly influenced by Vinci's writing in Artaserse. The work is vigorously rhythmic and highly dramatic, and has extraordinary energy, and many beautiful arias. The performance on these discs show it all to great advantage, with the fiery crackling tempi of the orchestra under the direction of Diego Fasolis, the Concerto Köln's sparkling historically informed performance, and the stratospheric energy level of the singers. The performance is a precise display of baroque fireworks without any early music mannerisms. Philippe Jaroussky's bright voice has a light, ethereal quality, and his tapered phrasing and projection of the text are outstanding. Valer Barna-Sabadus has a softer, gentler timbre, which suits the female character of Semira. Barna-Sabadus is well-matched by the more strident tone of Max Emanuel Cencic, whose dramatic and vocal performance of the female role of Mandane is most fully projected. The voice and performance of Franco Fagioli in the role of Arbace is sheer Baroque extravagance and virtuosity, unmatched by any other of the counter-tenors in this performance. His voice is really exceptional and quite unique - thrillingly fearsome and sumptuous, with a stunning upper register; it seems to come from another world altogether. His brilliant rendition of the show stopping final Act I aria is magnificent.
Other arias of note are : CD 1, track 7: Arbace (Fagioli) "Fra cento affani" (Torn by endless troubles) in which Arbace reacts emotionally to his Father's(Artabano) evil plot; CD 1, Track 11 Artaserse (Jaroussky) "Per pieta, bell'ido miu" (For pity my fair idol) a lovely aria in which he assures Semira of his love; this is Jaroussky at his best. CD 2, Track 4 Arbace (Fagioli) to his father "Mi scacci indegnato" (You send me away unworthy) CD 1 Semira (Barna Sabadus) "Torna innovente e poi" (When you appear innocent again), Semira's unsympathetic response to her brother's possible guilt and Sabadus gives us drama with intensity. CD 1 Track 25 Mandane (Cencic) super fast amazingly sung aria "Dimmi che un empio sei" (Tell me you are a criminal), this is Mandane's love hate aria to Arbace, her lover. The one duet "Tu vuoi ch'io viva o cara (You want me to live my beloved-Arbace) against "Oh dio, che pena amara" (Oh God, what bitter sorrow-(Mandane)", which occurs in Act III track 15 between Arbace (Fagioli) and Mandane (Cencic) is unbelievably stunning. In short an exceptional recording of a Baroque masterpiece by a little known musical genius.
The Guardian, Tim Ashley (11/14/12) said : "...the singing is epoch-making, above all from Fagioli, who seems to redefine the capabilities of the countertenor voice and take it beguilingly into territories new. Listen to him and be seduced!"
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.
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.
Beautiful singing from a wonderful cast. The opera was unknown to me before I bought this . Short recitatives keep the plot moving. There are some seriously beautiful voices on here,I would highly recommend this to anyone who is a fan of counter tenor voices