It’s two and a half years since Franco Fagioli last sang in London, and a year and a half since I saw him as the eponymous Eliogabalo at the Opéra de Paris. Would time have wrought any changes on that distinctive voice? I came to his latest concert full of curiosity. This time his programme was devoted to music by Vivaldi and Handel, with the accompaniment of the Venice Baroque Orchestra, led by Gianpiero Zanocco. Part of the evening’s success must be attributed to their deft and zestful performance of the music, but – as I said to Dehggial – they are the Venice Baroque Orchestra after all and, if they hadn’t been able to play Vivaldi properly, it would have been a sorry state of affairs. And Fagioli himself? A very pleasant surprise. He’s stripped away some of the affectations that have irritated me before; his voice seems stronger than ever; and he turned in a performance that left the Barbican’s rafters shaking with applause.
(Opéra de Paris at Palais Garnier, 25 September 2016)
Please forgive the recent silence. This last week was extremely busy which, on one hand, means there was no time to write new posts, but on the other means that you have a glut of them coming up. First off is the most glamorous and exciting event: my trip to the Paris Opéra to see their new production of Cavalli’s Eliogabalo. This was the result of a last-minute (and very expensive) fit of spontaneity, and luckily it turned out that Eliogabalo was just my cup of tea. Focused on a lascivious, unpredictable ruler with a penchant for stealing other people’s girlfriends, it sounds at first very much like Xerxes.
(Festival Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca, 2011)
In late February 1730, Hasse’s Artaserse opened at the Teatro S. Giovanni Grisostomo in Venice, mere weeks after Leonardo Vinci’s version premiered in Rome. (I think you all know the story of this opera by now. However, if you’d like to refresh your memory, check here and possibly also take a look here.) Musically there’s quite a contrast between the two versions. Vinci’s simple lyricism gives way to Hasse’s ornamentation, bells and whistles. And it’s not just the music that’s different.
It’s just over a year since Franco Fagioli made his solo London debut at the Wigmore, a night which was memorable for several reasons. It was my first Baroque concert, and it also introduced me to a wonderful circle of friends with whom I’ve since travelled to operas and concerts across Europe. When we were in Halle in June we heard a very similar programme to that offered in Fagioli’s second London recital at the Wigmore last Friday, but his great strength as an artist is that he never sings an aria the same way twice. For me, the London concert was more adventurous and more emotionally engaged than the recital in Halle; and, in any case, there were two mouthwatering new additions to the programme: Se bramate d’amar and Crude furie. Franco Fagioli doing Serse? Now this promised to be seriously good fun.
(Opéra Royal, Versailles, 19 June 2015)
Versailles. The very name conjures up opulence and the Opéra Royal, nestled within the palace, is no exception. It’s a jewel-box of gold and crystal, festooned with chandeliers. Simply walking into our loge took my breath away, and I was glad of it. I’d waited for this night for nine months, having impulsively booked tickets three days after I first watched Artaserse. It was an expensive leap of faith. Now, tucked into the velvet-lined corner of our box with a superb view of the stage and orchestra pit (conveniently close to those fabulous horns), I was about to find out if the wait had been worthwhile.
(Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche, Halle, with Il Pomo d’Oro, 7 June 2015)
So, we’d started off the weekend with (arguably) the most famous countertenor in the world and we closed it in dazzling fashion with the most formidably talented: the crown prince of coloratura. In the high-vaulted surroundings of the Ulrichskirche, Halle’s church-turned-concert hall, Franco Fagioli was on fine form as he returned to the programme of his 2013 Caffarelli album. It proved to be a delightful complement to the Porpora recital we saw at the Wigmore back in September and, with orchestral support from the ever-vivacious Il Pomo d’Oro, directed by Riccardo Minasi, it made for a deliciously exuberant evening.
(Il Pomo d’Oro, directed by Riccardo Minasi)
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the CD is here. I meant to wait until Versailles before posting about Catone, but I’ve changed my mind and will write separately about the recording and the performance. There are two main reasons for that. First, Valer Sabadus announced last week that he won’t be singing either at the Opera Royal or Wiesbaden: illness prevents his rehearsing. Of course I’ll miss him, but his replacement is Ray Chenez, who sounds rather exciting on the basis of YouTube clips. I’m always happy to discover a new voice.
(Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 3-24 November 2014)
The one with the shark
There’s something rather exciting about going to see a production which has divided opinion as starkly as this new staging of Mozart’s Idomeneo. There has been at least one one-star review and one five-star review, but most critics seem to come down somewhere in the middle, struggling in a sea of interesting ideas which never quite come together. I sympathise with them. There were certain things I liked very much and some things I found self-indulgent and silly, but my overall impression was that it was a mixture of promising concepts which lacked the Promethean spark to bring them to life.
(Wigmore Hall, Academia Montis Regalis with Alessandro De Marchi, 21 September 2014)
If you have the misfortune to follow me on Twitter, you’ll be aware that I have signally failed to remain grown-up and detached about the prospect of attending my first concert of Baroque music. Forgive me. I can only beg the indulgence due to the zealous new convert, while pointing to my almost complete immersion in the Baroque for the last six weeks. And surely I can’t be blamed for my excitement, because I was kicking off my career as a barocchista with a concert by none other than the high priest of showmanship and bravura ornamentation, the inimitable Franco Fagioli.
(with I Barocchisti [CD] and Concerto Köln [DVD], directed by Diego Fasolis, 2012)
Before we start, I should emphasise: the composer is not the artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), but a completely different person, the Neapolitan Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730). I must also add a disclaimer. As you may remember, I know nothing about the technicalities of music. In this field I am, more than ever, merely an enthusiastic amateur. That’s especially the case in Baroque music, which must be one of the most technically complex and elaborate areas of classical music. However, as I’ve said before, I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of the castrati and, as such, this particular opera (and performance) was one I couldn’t resist.