24 Mar 2014
Composer: Leonardo Vinci
Other participants: Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagioli, Valer Barna-Sabadus, Yuriy Mynenko, Juan Sancho, Concerto Köln, Diego Fasolis
Shortlisted for the prestigious Gramophone Awards in 2013, the CD version of Vinci’s Artaserse was described by Gramophone as a “sensational landmark recording”; International Record Review judged it “an outstanding performance and the most important Baroque opera discovery of the year so far,” with the reviewer adding that “I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially if you like countertenors,” while The Guardian said that: “The singing is epoch-making.”
When, in late 2012, the opera was staged at the Opéra National de Lorraine in Nancy in an extravagant, Baroque-inspired production by Silviu Purcãrete, the response was no less enthusiastic. The Viennese newspaper Der Neue Merker summed up by saying that “such a skilful symbiosis, representing musical and scenic unity of the most elevated kind, is unlikely to come our way again soon.” The French website ResMusica reported that: “Working at the very highest level, the evening kept all its musical promises ... Diego Fasolis’ conducting [was] superlative ... The role of Artaserse is perfectly suited to the ethereal vocalism of Philippe Jaroussky ... Max Emanuel Cencic’s talents are shown off to the full in the variety and sensitivity of his palette in the introspective arias ... Franco Fagioli succeeds in every risk he takes, displaying a stupefying technique ... At the final curtain the cast was received with triumphant acclaim.” Classique News wrote that: “This remarkable work really deserved to return to prominence on the stage. If the CD recording had already proved persuasive, the dazzling beauty of the performances in Nancy will hopefully have convinced any remaining sceptics ... The action stuns with its dramatic intensity. The nobility of feeling and the intense psychological violence in the confrontations between the characters produce a rich range of nuances ... Silviu Purcărete’s staging is exceptionally intelligent ... Diego Fasolis’s conducting, with its mixture of elegance, substance and boldness ... presents his singers with challenges to which they all rise, taking pleasure in their virtuosity ... This magnificent production is a complete and blissful success. Don’t miss it.”
Artaserse, a story of the Persian emperor Artaxerxes, was first performed in 1730 at the Teatro delle Dame in Rome. At the time, a papal decree banned women from appearing on the stages of the city’s theatres, so the entire cast was male, with the female roles sung by castrati. This production (like the CD recording) rises to the challenge of single-sex casting with an impressive line-up of fine countertenors: Croatian-born Max Emanuel Cencic, who was a driving force behind the entire Artaserse project; the Frenchman Philippe Jaroussky (“It was clear why Philippe Jaroussky is a star among countertenors,” wrote Vienna’s Die Presse; “In the title role he united all the virtues ... subtlety of line and expression combined with presence and power.”); Franco Fagioli (from Argentina), Valer Barna-Sabadus (from Romania) and Yuriy Mynenko (from Ukraine). Joining them are a lone tenor, the Spaniard Juan Sancho, and the brilliant Concerto Köln directed by Diego Fasolis.
The Neapolitan Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730) was celebrated during his life as one of Italy’s leading composers of opera. In the words of musicologist Frédéric Delaméa, Artaserse – composed to a libretto by the great Metastasio – “is a key work of baroque opera and the genius of Vinci is still too little known.” The status of Vinci as a composer, and of Artaserse as his masterpiece, is reflected in the observations of the French scholar and traveller Charles de Brosses, who, 10 years after Vinci’s death from poisoning, wrote: “Vinci is the Lully of Italy: true, simple, natural, expressive, writing in the most beautiful, uncontrived way for the voice ... Artaserse has a reputation as his finest work, and one of Metastasio’s finest too ... It is the most famous Italian opera.”