Naples in 1750 was one of the ten biggest cities in the world, and it spawned two of the biggest musical stars of the era: the castrati Farinelli and the much lesser known Caffarelli, whose real name was Gaetano Majorano. This release consists of arias written for Caffarelli, and you might treasure it for the flamboyant, high-volume singing of countertenor Franco Fagioli, who arguably comes as close as any of his contemporaries to conveying what the high-powered sound of the castrati was like (in the understandable absence of the genuine article). Or, you might be grateful to hear the music associated with Caffarelli, who in his own time had a reputation for being troublesome and has generally ignored by the historical opera revival movement. The composers represented on the program are not household names; the best-known of them was German Johann Adolph Hasse, and some, such as Gennaro Manna and Domenico Sarro, are all but unknown. The bright, blooming orchestral work of Il pomo d'oro under conductor Riccardo Minasi is unfailingly exciting. Beyond all this, however, is the presentation of the whole package.
Argentine countertenor Franco Fagioli has emerged as one of the rising figures in that hot field, seemingly with the Italian opera of the first half of the 18th century as a specialty. As such, he might be particularly well represented by this collection of arias by Nicola Porpora, whose activities cut across a cross section of important activities in the century's second quarter. He was the teacher of both Haydn and Farinelli. He snagged many of Pietro Metastasio's high-tragedy opera seria libretti for himself and set them with suitably florid music, but he also had a considerable for sheer melody that's on display in this well-chosen program. Fagioli is not an exceptionally powerful countertenor, but he's capable of sheer smoothness of line that's appropriate to Porpora, who was called the greatest teacher of singers among composers, and the greatest composer among teachers of singing. He gets excellent support from the sparse but extremely sensitive Academia Montis Regalis under Alessandro de Marchi, and he makes a strong entry in the continuing case that Porpora ought to be ranked among the operatic greats. A countertenor release that can be recommended for pure melodic beauty.(James Manheim)