Franco Fagioli: "Arias for Caffarelli"
Arias by Cafaro, Hasse, Leo, Manna, Pergolesi, Porpora, Sarro and Vinci. Il Pomo d'Oro, Minasi. Texts and translations.
Naïve's new CD furnishes a calling card for Franco Fagioli, an Argentine countertenor of Italian heritage who's been kept very busy these past few years in European Baroque stagings. Fagioli's principal North American credit to date was Cavalli's Giasone for Chicago Opera Theater in 2010. He is scheduled to make his Covent Garden debut next season, as Idamante in Idomeneo.
Fagioli demonstrates astounding agility and technical command singing Neapolitan arias written for the professionally revered if scandal-causing castrato Caffarelli (né Gaetano Majorano, 1710–83). Fagioli's hard-to-describe timbre seems at times to blend the recent, sopranoish sound of Cecilia Bartoli, as heard in her Gluck and Steffani albums, with the lower range of Teresa Stich-Randall — with a dash of theremin thrown in. Unlike the voices of David Daniels and Andreas Scholl, Fagioli's tone quality will not appeal to those who simply don't like — or think they don't like — countertenors. I could appreciate it more on repeat listenings, which some of the staggering feats of vocalism certainly warranted.
Fagioli commands fluid runs, good dynamic control and astonishing skips throughout a wide range — sometimes dipping into baritonal resonance — though trills are not always gracefully articulated. Verbal clarity is a more complicated issue for this singer: his success in articulating his ancestral language seems to depend on the range and velocity given lines demand. The range of emotional expression shown is not infinite, but that also speaks to the nature of Baroque arias.
Since the concentration here is on Neapolitan operas, we don't hear some of the best music Caffarelli created at his zenith, including the title characters' arias from Handel's Serse and Faramondo (both of which had their premieres in London in 1738). The two contrasting arias from Hasse's 1733 Siroe that open the program prove rewarding. Rapid numbers — such as one by Porpora, with whom Caffarelli (like his contemporary, rival and fellow Apulian Farinelli) studied — are quite spectacular. Some of the slow, contemplative numbers here flag in melodic inspiration and/or development, but Pergolesi's extended "Lieto così talvota," with oboe obbligato, proves lovely and is among Fagioli's most vocally unified performances here. Quiet tracks by Leonardo Leo (Demofoonte) and the castrato's patron and namesake Domenico Caffaro (L'Ipermestra), however pleasant, engage the memory less.
There's a bracing rhythmic snap to the orchestral playing of Riccardo Minasi's new chamber ensemble Il Pomo d'Oro. Trumpets and horns — much in evidence in some of the more martial numbers here, such as "Un cor che ben ama," from Valdemaro,by Domenico Sarro (1679–1744), the oldest composer represented here — are characterful without the intonational waywardness found in some period ensembles. The booklet, containing essays and English and French translations, is unusually lavish, though frustratingly sparing on identifying the arias' librettists.
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