Spurred on by my love of Artaserse, which I now know pretty much by heart, I’ve bought rather a lot of albums to supplement my existing collection of countertenor music. Most of the purchases have been from the back catalogues of the opera’s cast members. It’s been a voyage of discovery and a genuine delight, and I thought it’d be fun to share some of them here.
Of course, I have no background in music so I don’t know the technical language to describe what I’m hearing: this is all very much aimed at fellow newbies. If you’re like me – keen on the sound, but floundering a bit about where to start – this might point you to some music you’ll enjoy. The albums are arranged by release date and can be accessed via the links below. I plan to add my full collection over time.
Please feel free to either share your thoughts on the dedicated page for each album, or to recommend other albums here on the header page. Enjoy!
The Story of a Castrato Listen to this for: Porpora, Handel, Hasse and co. Shortly after buying Venezia, I spotted this album with its cover image of a brooding masked figure. It was my introduction to the French singer Philippe Jaroussky: his delicate, clear soprano was an eye-opener, different from Cencic’s voice but equally stunning. It … Continue reading Philippe Jaroussky: Carestini (2007)
Listen to this for: a bit of everything: Handel, Porpora, Hasse, and lots of Broschi This isn’t, strictly speaking, a countertenor album and, if I were to hear it for the first time now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it; but it’s where I started and so I include it out of nostalgia. The voice you hear on … Continue reading Farinelli: La musique du film (2009)
Listen to this for: something completely different We all know what countertenors sing, right? Renaissance and Baroque music with possibly the odd well-meaning excursion into Rossini. But then you hear Philippe Jaroussky with this collection of Belle Époque songs and you realise that, with the right music, a beautiful voice sounds beautiful no matter what period … Continue reading Philippe Jaroussky: Opium (2009)
Listen to this for: unsurprisingly, rather a lot of Handel When I was buying my first countertenor CDs, even though I’d been slightly sidetracked by Jaroussky, I hadn’t renounced Cencic, and kept being drawn back to his rounder, fuller voice. I bought this album at about the same time as Artaserse and it really shows off his … Continue reading Max Cencic: Handel: Mezzo-Soprano Opera Arias (2010)
Listen to this for: early Baroque Italian music Fagioli’s pre-Artaserse album is a collection of early Italian music. Stately and courtly, it’s generally a little more fluid than Purcell and Dowland, offering a rare opportunity to hear Fagioli in a much less frenetic mood. Most of the songs are by anonymous composers and are performed with the … Continue reading Franco Fagioli: Canzone e Cantate (2011)
Listen to this for: Porpora, Bononcini et al This is one of a number of CDs I’ve bought which focus not on the showy operatic pieces but on quieter, smaller-scale chamber pieces: it’s good for me to broaden my horizons. This album unites the two current idols of the countertenor world, and it’s a treat to … Continue reading Philippe Jaroussky and Max Cencic: Duetti (2011)
Listen to this for: more love for Hasse The Romanian Sabadus is the youngest of Team Artaserse: born in 1986, he was only 26 when he took on the role of Semira. He has a remarkably distinctive voice: richer than Jaroussky’s and considerably higher-pitched than Cencic’s, with something of a thrush-like warble (yes: see me, with my … Continue reading Valer Sabadus: Reloaded: Johann Adolph Hasse (2012)
Listen to this for: something a little different and more modern: piano works and song You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to track down Yuriy Mynenko. For someone who has such a fabulous voice – his Megabise in Artaserse was immensely impressive – he hasn’t recorded very much at all and, although he has a website, … Continue reading Yuriy Mynenko: Mortelmans: When the Soul Listens (2013)
Listen to this for: music by Purcell, Matteis, Poole and Dowland This is a bit of a curiosity in my music collection because it showcases some 17th-century English music, which feels rather mannered in comparison to Hasse and Vinci. However, Sabadus’s beautifully controlled voice gives it a bewitching elegance. As ever, his high notes have a … Continue reading Valer Sabadus: To Touch, To Kiss, To Die (2013)
Listen to this for: an embarrassment of riches: Vinci, Porpora, Hasse and more Moving on from spring water and honey, this is a little blast of champagne for the ears, as the Argentinian Fagioli shows off some glittering swagger-arias. Things get underway with Fra l’orror della tempesta from Hasse’s Siroe, with some splendid high notes. There’s … Continue reading Franco Fagioli: Arias for Caffarelli (2013)
Listen to this for: what it says on the tin. Much Porpora The combination of Jaroussky and Farinelli was too much to resist; and I loved the cover, with the two of them just hanging out having a chat. I have to be honest and say that I’m a little less fond of this album now … Continue reading Philippe Jaroussky: Farinelli: Porpora Arias (2013)
Opera Arias of the Serenissima Listen to this for: Vivaldi, Caldara and friends If you want someone to blame for all this countertenor business, you can point the finger at the Croatian Max Cencic. In February 2013 I returned from Carnevale in Venice, intoxicated with masks and costumes, and bought this album as a way to prolong … Continue reading Max Cencic: Venezia (2013)
Listen to this for: some love for Hasse This is probably a good moment to point out that Cencic has a very individual take on album covers. His outfits are often particularly off-the-wall (the current winner is his 2006 Scarlatti album), but when you have such a divine voice, I suppose you can wear what you … Continue reading Max Cencic: Rokoko: Hasse Opera Arias (2014)
Listen to this for: grace and fireworks from some of the best countertenors around There’s rather a lot of excited bouncing below, and not an awful lot of knowledgeable critique; but, with three members of Team Artaserse featured here, why not bounce? Let’s establish from the outset what this isn’t. You might think, from the title … Continue reading The 5 Countertenors (2015)
Listen to this for: fire, tenderness and some amazing Orlandini Xavier Sabata has too often been relegated to the role of secondo uomo in his operatic recordings, but this recital disc proves that he can be dazzling when he takes centre stage. Based around the dramatic concept of catharsis, this album focuses on moments of fear, … Continue reading Xavier Sabata: Catharsis (2017)