Franco Fagioli : Rossini
There’s a perverse irony that the only operatic role Gioachino Rossini wrote for a castrato – Arsace in Aureliano in Palmira – isn’t included on Franco Fagioli’s new disc devoted to the composer. Rossini composed it for Giambattista Velluti (1780-1861), regarded as the last great castrato, but also famed for being a bit of a diva. Bernhard Neuhoff’s booklet-note tells us that apparently Rossini himself narrowly missed the snip as a child, so perhaps he had a special affinity with the unbroken voice. Castration was going out of fashion – Napoleon even banned the practice – so ‘trouser roles’ were part of Rossini’s compositional armoury. Fagioli essays half a dozen of them here.
The Argentinian countertenor certainly has a distinctive, plum-coloured voice, very mezzo ish in timbre, ranging somewhere between Cecilia Bartoli and Ewa Podles´. However, while Fagioli has quite remarkable florid agility, he lacks Bartoli’s evenness of tone across the registers, with the odd alarming descent into baritone territory. He certainly throws himself into high notes with abandon – a white-knuckle ride on occasions, with the sense that he’s just about clinging on by his coat-tails.
Two excerpts showcase Ottone from Adelaide di Borgogna, the Act 2 cabaletta coming off splendidly. Edoardo’s ‘Ah, perché, perché la morte’ from Matilde di Shabran is even more virtuoso, scuppered by some rather fruity horn intonation in the terrifying obbligato passages. The most familiar aria is Arsace’s ‘Ah, quel giorno ognor rammento’ from Semiramide, athletically dispatched. This is the only crossover in repertoire with Max Emanuel Cencic’s all-Rossini disc (Erato, A/07), with Fagioli’s darker tone preferable. Greater duplication occurs on Angelo Manzotti’s 2002 Bongiovanni album, which is worth hearing (once) for some distressing intonation.
Aside from some scratchy string tone, George Petrou and his Armonia Atenea provide lively support.