Arias for Caffarelli
Caffarelli sang in London for only one season (1737/38), and neither of his Handelian roles is represented in Franco Fagioli’s survey, which concentrates exclusively on the Neapolitan school of composers associated with the notoriously pompous castrato. The lavish book places style above substance: most of the six essays are inexcusably under-length (several needlessly repeat information) and fail to explain the dramatic contexts of the 11 arias. There are lots of pretty illustrations but a few are irrelevant – most bizarrely the portrait of George I of Great Britain (d1727).
Il Pomo d’Oro play with theatrical verve and Fagioli’s rapid high passages are astonishing in Hasse’s horn-punctuated ‘Fra l’orror della tempesta’ from Siroe (Bologna, 1733). This is contrasted with softer melodic singing in ‘Ebbi da te la vita’, although Fagioli’s literal heroic interpretation fails to convey Medarse’s sycophantic and treacherous personality. Caffarelli made his stage debut in Sarro’s Valdemaro (Rome, 1726), and his mercurial talent is hinted at in the lively ‘Un cor che ben ama’ (with elaborate trumpet solos played by Herbert Walser). The castrato performed most of the other arias at the recently opened Teatro San Carlo in Naples: ‘In braccio a mille furie’ from Vinci’s Semiramide riconosciuta (1744) is a rage aria packed with rasping trumpet fanfares and shows Fagioli’s high-octane flashiness at its most spectacular (and his mannerisms at their most unbridled), but Pergolesi’s lyrical ‘Lieto così talvolta’ (Adriano in Siria, 1734) brings about a welcome change of mood and texture, with its oboe obbligato played gorgeously by Elisabeth Baumer.