Les Talens Lyriques
Christophe Rousset, conductor
I always welcome albums like Ann Hallenberg’s Farinelli with great pleasure since they give me the spur to gather information on the life of singers of the past which otherwise I may neglect.
Farinelli’s nickname is probably an homage to the family name of his first patrons, the brothers Farina, but his real name was Carlo Broschi (1705-1782). He was born in Andria, in the South of Italy, and was directed toward the musical profession from an early age, as his elder brother Riccardo, who became a composer. Carlo studied in Naples with Nicola Porpora, one of the most important composers of the time and a renowned voice teacher, and made his debut in his teacher’s opera Angelica e Medoro (1720), based on a libretto of the soon-to-be famous Pietro Metastasio, who became the singer’s friend for the rest of his life.
Soon after his debut, Farinelli performed in Rome and later his presence extended to the rest of the Italian peninsula, Austria, Germany, Spain and England. His talent won him the admission to the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, which counted many important musicians among its members.
Farinelli has been a legend already in his lifetime and many spurious legends surrounded him – but, as Charles Burney stated, he «furnish[ed] not one disgraceful anecdote», differently from many other singers of the time and there is more than one anecdote to testify his humble and good nature; I think the best is his answer to a friend who asked him to write his memoirs: «For what purpose? It is enough that you know I had no prejudices about anyone. I would also add my disappointment at not being able to do all the good that I would have wished».
We have many contemporary accounts of Farinelli’s singing and one of the most quoted is this one by the German composer, flutist and flute maker Johann Joachim Quantz: «Farinelli had a penetrating, full, rich, bright and well-modulated soprano voice, whose range extended at that time from a to d’’’. A few years afterwards it had extended lower by a few notes, but without the loss of any high notes, so that in many operas one aria (usually an adagio) was written for him in the normal tessitura of a contralto, while his others were of soprano range.
His intonation was pure, his trill beautiful, his breath control extraordinary and his throat very agile, so that he performed even the widest intervals quickly and with the greatest ease and certainty. Passage-work and all varieties of melismas were of no difficulty whatever for him. In the invention of free ornamentation in adagio he was very fertile».
I would like to remember that Farinelli has been also a composer (he wrote a farewell cantata to London, Ossequisissimo ringraziamento), a fine harpsichordist and a viola d’amore virtuoso.
Hallenberg’s album has been recorded in 2011 during the International Festival of Bergen and collects music by Riccardo Broschi, Geminiano Giacomelli, Nicola Porpora, Leonardo Leo, Johann Adolf Hasse and – the most famous of all – Georg Friedrich Handel. You maybe remember from my review of Arias for Marcolini that I am a fan of Hallenberg, but believe me when I say that Farinelli is a recording of rare perfection and artistry, where everything is measured and balanced and where the inspiration and the skill of the performers is indisputable.
On the one hand, there is the consummate art of Christophe Rousset and Les Talents Lyriques. They are such a charming, accomplished ensemble and it is always a pleasure to listen to their polite and elegant playing, to which the conductor is always able to add inspiration and depth.
On the other hand, there is – of course – the wonderful Hallenberg. The timbre of her voice is warm, light and lovely and her technique is simply astonishing, even disarming when she sings arias as Sta nell’Ircana from Alcina and In braccio a mille furie from Porpora’s Semiramide riconosciuta, where you will be stunned by her perfect and brilliant virtuosic coloratura. There is not very much “dramatic temperament” in her, but this does not mean that some psychological depth does not characterized her singing and actually her simple, basically lyrical interpretation is rich, fresh and vivacious and allows her to win the listener’s sympathy and to give full justice to the beauty of the arias, also to those which are clearly not written by great composers.
Rousset and Hallenberg convey an idea of quietness where the beauty of music reigns supreme, where there is nothing rash and where the result is enchanting. I would like to remember for example the singer and the conductor’s delicacy in the interpretation of the most famous aria of the collection, Lascia ch’io pianga from Handel’s Rinaldo. Maybe it is a little slow, but nonetheless it is evocative and sensitive. Other fine pieces (of completely different kind) are Ombra fedele anch’io from Idaspe with its disconsolate music and Già presso al termine from Adriano in Siria, where the orchestra echoes Hallenberg’s coquetry. In every piece you will listen how close the collaboration between the two artists is and you will be fascinated by the enchanting tribute to Farinelli they have been able to realize.