When I was growing up counter tenors were a rarity – Alfred Deller with his early English group was the one often heard and then mostly in twee English hey-nonney-nonney-nymphs-and-shepherds stuff. However in the past 15 years the voice type has become almost ubiquitous to the point that not too long ago William Christie gave a performance of Landi’s Sant’Alleso with 13 – count them – 13 counter tenors in various roles.
Of course there are counter tenors and there are counter tenors – I recall a few at the Opera Kameralna in Warsaw who sounded like strangled chickens, but then I’ve heard a few sopranos on recent broadcasts from the Met who sounded the same way – it isn’t restricted to voice type. But putting those aside you have the likes of Andreas Scholl, David Daniels, Brian Azawa, Behjam Mehta, Daniel Taylor and Phillippe Jaroussky.
Last year we heard Scholl, one of my favorites, and this year Salzburg gave us Jaroussky. Of the lot the young French singer has perhaps the sweetest voice and he gave us amble opportunity to enjoy that sweetness Sunday morning.
Sensibly he realized that an unbroken string of arias would be a trifle hard to take – pax Demofoonte – and brought along Ensemble Matheus to dazzle us with Vivaldi and Telemann. Let me get the one irritant out of the way first – the ensemble leader Jean-Christophe Spinosi resembled Nicolas Sarkowsy on a caffeine high. He had obviously had one too many expresso that morning, his antics both while conducting and during calls were at first amusing but ultimately irritating. However he proved himself an exceptional violinist when he and Laurence Paugam gave us a dazzling Vivaldi Concerto for two violins. It was almost possible forgive him for his inane clowning. In the second half flutists Luis Beduschi and Jean-Marc Goujon gave us another display of virtuosity with Telemann’s Concerto for two flutes.
But the main attraction was Jaroussky – and he showed us why he has been award classical singer of the year twice by the French music industry. His programme of eight arias was inspired by the career of the great castrato Farinelli – music written for him by Poppora, Hasse, Giacomelli and Duni. It ranged from the heroic to the pastoral and let us hear the full range of his talent. The beautiful Sposa, … non mi conosci, from Giacomelli’s Merope, was heart rending and listening to the lovely aria with flute obligato – a wonderful intertwining of voice and instrument – from Duni’s Demofoonte, almost made me wish it had been this version we had seen on Friday night. As I mentioned he shines in sweet lyrical singing and gave us displays of his exceptional technique in some beautifully floated passages in two arias from Poppora’s Polifemo and here in particular the da capo coloratura was exceptional in its seeming simplicity.
Again a stomping, cheering audience brought him back for two encores and even though the lights had come up and some people had begun to leave, called him, Spinosi and the ensemble back for another round of bows and applause.
02 giugno – Sant’Erasmo di Formia