Max Emanuel Cencic, countertenor
George Petrou, conductor
After the release of Nicola Porpora’s opera Germanico in Germania few months ago, Max Emanuel Cencic presents an album entirely about Porpora opera arias to remember the Neapolitan composer on the 250th anniversary of his death.
Nicola Porpora is best remembered as a singing teacher rather than as a composer. He taught two of the most important castratos of the Baroque era: Gaetano Majorano, known as Caffarelli, and Carlo Broschi, the famous Farinelli to whom at least two noteworthy albums have been dedicated in recent years (one by Philippe Jaroussky and the other by Ann Hallenberg). Next to this achivement, Porpora’s work as a composer and his opere serie were forgotten over the centuries, but his contribution to the genre must not be underestimated.
The son of a bookseller, Nicola (sometimes called Niccolò) Porpora was born in Naples in 1686. He studied at the city’s Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo. Even though he composed several instrumental works, his operas are the most significant part of his catalogue. His first opera, L’Agrippina, premiered in 1708, but, despite its success, it took several years before Porpora had another commission. His major works date to the years 1718-1741, while later his popularity began to decline.
Porpora was maestro di cappella to prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt and to the Portuguese ambassador in Rome. Later he settled in Venice, where he taught at the Ospedale della Pietà and at the Ospitale degl’Incurabili. He was active in London, Dresden (as Kappellmeister at the court of the Elector of Saxony), Vienna and Rome. He died in Naples in 1766.
Porpora lived in a period of transition as the musical taste in Italy changed significantly during his lifetime. The music written for the voice, in particular, became more lyrical and decorative and there is little doubt that Porpora influenced the change in taste.
Max Emanuel Cencic
It seems that all the recordings by Max Emanuel Cencic share the same bad taste for the cover and booklet photos, so that it is better to forget them and to focus only on music instead.
This album includes fourteen arias from some of the opera Porpora wrote when he was at the height of his fame. Half of them are world premiere recordings.
Considered one of the leading countertenors of our time, Cencic does not fail to meet the expectations. His voice is warm and flexible, characterized by amazing coloratura acrobatics and by astounding breath control. He phrases with elegance and smoothness and his natural insight is admirable.
The arias he has chosen («almost by instinct, by what ‘felt right’» as he states in the booklet) allow him to obtain the right dose of virtuosity, sentiment and audacity and to present all the situations in which a Baroque singer could have been. In fact, while arias as Se tu la reggi al volo (from Ezio) are characterized by flamboyant coloratura, there are other moments when the singer lingers on gentler feelings, as in Ove l’erbetta tenera (from Filandro), not to speak of the energetic aria Destrier, che all’armi usato (from Poro), just to mention one of each kind.
Nicola Porpora. Opera Arias is an excellent album. It is an introduction to some amazing and unfortunately neglected music and the arias of this collection are performed in the finest way by one of the leading singers of our time.