Stupendous Handel From Franco Fagioli

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 10

I have finally figured out that like anchovies, you can’t convince people to like the countertenor voice if they don’t “get” it. Their infantile squeamishness no longer interests me; nor do their excuses–“it just doesn’t sound natural.” Birgit Nilsson sounds “natural”? Joan Sutherland sounds “natural”? Even the great tenors–Pavarotti, for example, singing an octave above a man’s everyday speaking voice–do not sound “natural”.

So no more excuses. This new CD of Handel arias by Argentinian countertenor Franco Fagioli, a star well-established all over Europe, is simply 80 minutes of great opera and all that that word encompasses, with deeply felt slow arias expressing grief or love sung with smooth, rounded tone and seamless legato, and wilder, fast arias, with their themes of vengeance or rage, spat out with sharp consonants. The latter need less “interpretation”: their wide leaps, roulades, cascades of notes, and impressive ornamentation imply their themes, and if the singer is up to the technical challenge, the points are made.

This is a great recital. Fagioli’s rapid passagework has become his calling card (earlier in his career he actually sounded like Cecilia Bartoli and could hurl out acres of notes, from C to high-C, with the great Roman mezzo’s ease, flair, and drama). Serse’s final aria, “Crude furie”, is a showcase of hate and virtuosity, and Fagioli makes a huge meal of it; similarly, the same character’s “Vente turbini”, in which he calls upon the power of the wind to fan his vengeance, is a thrill a minute, a hip-hop ride through rage, with all its requisite vocal fireworks.

There’s the occasional squally very-high note–mezzo-sopranos have a similar issue–but the artistry beats the vocalism. Then you hear “Ombra mai fu” for the 500th time on a recital CD and its direct sweetness and steady tone bowls you over, with a trill to die for. “Cara sposa”, Rinaldo’s great lament, is the picture of despondency. Here, as in “Scherza infida”, Fagioli sings introspectively, as from the heart, with nobody listening and with stunning messa di voce effects. If occasionally he goes wild with his own virtuosity, well, it’s still pretty exciting.

Back in the three-ring circus part of the recital we find the rarely heard “Sento brillar” from Il pastor fido, a piece of merry-making with lavish ornamentation and flights above, as well as dips way below, the staff. And then there’s “Dopo notte”, which uses the metaphor of a sunrise and joy after a dark, scary night to great effect, and is dispatched here with utter brilliance. There are a few others as well–Giulio Cesare’s fine, elegant “Si in fiorito”, and “Se potessero i sospir miei” from Imeneo–that are as unexpected as they are wonderful to hear. The period-instrument band Il Pomo d’Oro led by Zefira Valova offers stunning playing–stylish and superbly tuned.

If you still have no time, patience for, or interest in countertenors after this, you may not really like great singing of any kind.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Album Title: Handel Arias
  • HANDEL, G.F.:
    Arias from Oreste, Serse, Rinaldo, Imeneo, Il pastor fido, Rodelinda, Giulio Cesare, Ariodante, Partenope
  • Franco Fagioli (countertenor)
  • Il Pomo d'Oro, Zefira Valova

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