Franco Fagioli: Handel Arias
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Franco Fagioli: "Handel Arias"

CD Button Il Pomo d’Oro, Valova. Texts and translations. Deutsche Grammophon 479 7541

Recordings Fagioli Cover 618

ARGENTINE COUNTERTENOR Franco Fagioli has star status in Europe, singing many Baroque roles as well as the occasional Gluck or Rossini. Onstage, Fagioli often sings Handel. He’s made many recordings, but this release constitutes his first all-Handel recital. The seventeen-member Il Pomo d’Oro, with its outstanding concertmistress Zefira Valova, provides springy rhythms without the unduly raw string sound of some competitors.

The disc’s generous program (seventy-nine minutes!) offers a dozen arias of varying familiarity. Fagioli opens with the classic naval simile aria “Agitato da fiere tempeste,” which he dispenses well. More than four decades into the Baroque revival, record companies still demand that every Handel-aria recital include “Ombra mai fù,” Fagioli suggests in the booklet essay. It and “Dove sei,” from Rodelinda, are the only numbers here joined with their recitatives. Fagioli’s treatment of the Larghetto is sincere, but he’s more compelling (and exciting) in Serse’s wide-ranging final aria, “Crude furie.” 

Fagioli’s decorations are ambitious, harmonically daring and well executed. But to me the mark of a fully mature Handelian is the ability to vary constantly the emotional tone and temperature in oft-repeated verbal phrases. By this standard—as in Rinaldo’s “Cara sposa,” which Fagioli sings with considerable beauty and technical accomplishment—he’s still on an upward curve, making progress since some of his earliest recorded da capo arias. He blazes through the other Rinaldo excerpt, “Venti, turbini,” after which it’s nice to hear the under-programmed lyrical plaint “Se potessero i sospir’ miei,” from Imeneo, marred only by a harmonically peculiar final cadenza. The dazzling skips and rollicking tempos of “Sento brillar,” from Il Pastor Fido, are a welcome novelty, as the singer dips into baritone reserves. 

Fagioli also sings other familiar pieces from Rodelinda and Ariodante. But, admirably, he programs “Se in fiorito,” a fantastic, flowing piece too little chosen for CD recitals, rather than the usual Cesare chestnuts. An emotional but overdecorated “Ch’io parta?,” from Partenope, concludes this worthwhile disc. —David Shengold 

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