PORPORA Arias for Farinelli
Philippe Jaroussky’s conceptual recital unveils Porpora’s music for his pupil Farinelli. Frédéric Delaméa provides a fascinating essay about the overlapping careers of the star castrato and his singing teacher but the lack of information about the dramatic qualities of the arias means that an opportunity is missed to advocate Porpora’s arias as something more than flashy concert pieces. Most are drawn from the period when Porpora and Farinelli both worked in London for the Opera of the Nobility (1734 36). The only music familiar from several previous recordings is the gorgeous slow aria ‘Alto Giove’ from Polifemo (which competed directly with Handel’s Ariodante in 1735); Jaroussky and the Venice Baroque Orchestra give a subtly nuanced performance of the original manuscript version which includes passages that Porpora cut but it is not explained that this scene is the murdered Acis’s magical transformation into a bubbling fountain (knowledge that enlightens our appreciation of Porpora’s sublime dramatic music). Likewise, there is no explanation that ‘Sente del mio martir’ from the pasticcio Orfeo shows the title-hero lamenting his unrequited love for Euridice to an audience of trees, beasts and birds.
Jaroussky’s rapid passagework in quick heroic arias is precise (the spectacular ‘Nell’attendere il mio bene’ from Polifemo) and Cecilia Bartoli pops up for a couple of love duets but the outstanding moments are slow arias that could have been tailor-made for Jaroussky’s sweetly graceful melodic singing (‘Le limpid’onde’ from Ifigenia in Aulide, featuring the pastoral delicacy of horns, flutes and oboes). Andrea Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra produce admirable sentimental finesse or gutsy brilliance as required. Jaroussky did some research himself – although his endearing foreword gets some facts wrong, such as the date of Vinci’s death (not 1744 but 1730), and Farinelli’s letter to Metastasio in 1759 lamenting the elderly Porpora’s impoverishment is misinterpreted (the composer had not died, but lived until 1768).
Four arias recorded by David Hansen were also written for Farinelli. The remaining five were each written for different castrati of inconsistent relevance to the conceptual theme of ‘Rivals’. This recital focuses entirely on the isolated musical veneer of decontextualised arias without consistent sense of dramatic contexts or characterisations. The flamboyant Vinci arias that bookend the anthology show Hansen’s confident projection, agility and expressive use of embellishments, although the highest reaches of his tessitura risk sounding disconnected and thin. Copious reams of difficult passages are hurled out in a version of ‘Son qual nave’ that seems to have been considerably recomposed by Farinelli in 1753 (nearly 20 years after he had sung his brother’s original version in London) but its impact is curiously superficial. Hansen’s middle range offers melodic expressiveness and dramatic compassion, especially in Gualtiero’s remorseful ‘Cara sposa’ from Antonio Maria Bononcini’s Griselda (1718); the older style of the contrapuntal string parts and melancholic voice part shows that Hansen has immense talent to offer in the right roles. The capable playing of Academia Montis Regalis offers plenty of momentum but not always sufficient charm.