Il Pomo d’Oro
Zefira Valova, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2018
After a recording where Franco Fagioli sings Mozart and Handel arias and several recordings of complete operas of the composer from Halle (among them, Berenice, Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno and Rodelinda), the Argentine countertenor finally presents his first Handel album. In twelve arias taken from more or less popular operas, Fagioli summarizes Handel’s London years with his own interpretation of roles written for the most outstanding castrato singers of the Baroque era, among whom the most important were Nicolini (the title role in Rinaldo), Senesino (Giulio Cesare in Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Bertarido in Rodelinda), Caffarelli (the title role in Serse) and Carestini (the title role in Ariodante).
«Something to say»
Handel Album is a true gem. In the present recording, Fagioli «wanted to record only those arias that affect me personally on the very deepest level and where I feel that I really have something to say». This concern is something that is manifest in Fagioli’s performance, even if you do not read the booklet notes where it is explained – they are just a confirmation.
There are two ways in which this purpose is realized. In the fast arias, where there is no time to linger on the expression of feelings, it happens first and foremost thanks to the countertenor’s vocal acrobatics, which sometimes are used to deepen the character’s psychology or the situation. It is the case of Crude furie from Serse, where the singing itself is expressive enough to conjure up the idea of disdain and indignation. Another interesting case is Venti, turbini from Rinaldo, where Fagioli conveys the idea of impatience of the hero and his appeal to the forces of nature emphasizing the “r” in «turbini» and, in the middle section, with intentional rhythmic stressing.
Fagioli characterizes the slow arias giving prominence to a peculiar emotion for each of them. Even though there is no dramatic power in his singing, there are some colours in his voice that naturally express the most varied feelings. Ombra mai fu, with its relief and serenity, the longing Cara sposa, amante cara, the sighing Se potessero i sospir miei (where it is notable the emphasis on all the “s”), the sorrowful Scherza, infida and the melancholic Ch’io parta? with its sad farewell are among the most remarkable moments of Handel Arias.
A Baroque Voice
Apart from the expression of feelings, few countertenors have voices as flexible and smooth as that of Fagioli. Easy coloratura and agility, trills, effortless sound even when he sings high notes and an extraordinary breath control that allows him to phrase as much as he likes are the most obvious features.
His registers connect smoothly and at the end of Venti, turbini you can hear that his low register is as sound as the upper. His diction is not exceptional, but it is good enough to understand the words in recitatives and in slow arias, although it is sacrificed in the fast ones – something, however, that can be considered a necessity.
Franco Fagioli’s refined singing, as well as the breadth and warmth of his interpretation, make Handel Album an outstanding achievement. His voice is ideal to give prominence to the soaring music and lush melodies composed for some of the greatest singers of their time, but part of the success of this recording must be attributed to the orchestra too. Il Pomo d’Oro, conducted by Zefira Valova, sets always the right atmosphere and carefully follows the singer in his musical journey.