On May 14, 1763, Bologna’s Teatro Comunale opened with the world premiere of Il trionfo di Clelia. Completed a year after Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck’s setting of Metastasio’s story of romantic fidelity put to the test against the background of the Siege of Rome, was tailored both to display the new theatre’s capacity for spectacle (Act II calls for the collapse of a bridge and a heroic swim across the rising waters of the Tiber) and a cast hand-picked for their fioritura (embellishment of a melodic line). Thus while musicologists may cherish Il trionfo di Clelia for its pivotal role in the composer’s progress from the gilded cage of opera seria to the grand austerity of his reform operas, the rest of us can enjoy an inventive score.
Grammy-nominated artist Max Emanuel Cencic presents Nicola Porpora: Opera Arias, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Porpora’s death.
Decca’s new release brings together five of the world’s most renowned countertenors, who bring the rich world of baroque opera to life. Once rarely heard, countertenors are now firmly established on the operatic stage and concert platform and their popularity has reached an all-time high. This album features virtuosic highlights from baroque opera and showcases the extraordinary abilities of five astonishing artists: Max Emanuel Cencic, Yuriy Mynenko, Valer Sabadus, Xavier Sabata and Vince Yi.
Christoph Willibald Gluck has a place in the history books for a few big hits and for the idea of reforming the ornate style of opera seria serious opera in the 18th century, replacing it with a more natural ideal of melody. This reputation has rested on a very few pieces, and both bibliographic control and recorded explorations of Gluck's music are perhaps more sparse than for any other major composer.
Countertenor performances of 19th century opera are a historical and, ultimately, true novelty. This said, for those who love the sound of the countertenor voice and want to give it a try, there are several factors that recommend this release by countertenor Franco Fagioli, with the small orchestra Armonia Atenea under George Petrou. First is that castrati were still around in Rossini's time, although on the decline, and the composer was reportedly intrigued by their voices. Second, Fagioli, unlike the vast majority of other countertenors, studied bel canto singing rather than Baroque repertory exclusively, and a certain distance present in the work of other countertenors is absent here. And third, and most important, is Fagioli's voice itself. Of the countertenors active today, he's the one with the range, the power, the attitude to make you suspend disbelief and think for a moment that you're actually listening to a castrato. He enters into the various Rossini roles represented on this recording, several of which were mezzo-soprano "pants" roles; this adds to the layers of identity-switching happening, and the parts hit Fagioli's vocal sweet spot. A bonus is that several of these are from Rossini opere serie that are little played or recorded.