I promised I’d write a small review of the Jaroussky concert, so here it is. I thought that with the distance of almost a week, I could manage a post that would be objective, and less personal, but I assume I cannot do it, so I’ll try and split it in two parts at least.
The choice of pieces and arias for the evening seemed very selective, with “only,” Vivaldi repertoire, but in fact, it was rather designed to show the many facets of Vivaldi — a barber’s and part time musician’s son, later priest — an obligation he revoked after a few years — handsome, successful, versatile (He played the cello, the violin, the viola d’amore, and the cembalo)… Jaroussky is a very versatile person and artist as well — no wonder he apparently is very fond of Antonio Vivaldi, who cannot even be restricted to a style. Until when is it Baroque, from when on must it be called Galante? Vivaldi won’t fit well in any category, neither does Jaroussky.
One of the earliest pieces that evening must have been “Se in ogni guardo” from Orlando finto pazzo (not to be confused with the Orlando furioso). What I think was the one written latest was “Se mai senti spirarti sul volto” — Vivaldi’s “ “Se mai senti”. It also was a little wink into the direction of his fans, as he also recorded two other versions of “Se mai senti,” — Caldara’s, and Hasse’s. (There’s also a Clemenza by Gluck, and one by Mozart of course.)
His voice is splendid — nothing like I’ve ever heard. There are singers that almost disappointed me when I first heard them live, and some where I have to say that nothing I heard on record had prepared me for the experience — Gruberova and Tomlinson fall into the latter category.
Hearing Jaroussky was still altogether different. He has a voice that is more recognizable than any I have ever heard. It is personal, with every single note — there is no way of mistaking it for another.
I was not only fond of, but in love with his voice even before I went to the concert, so there was hardly any way to top this. Still I was surprised how round, and warm his voice sounded — not the metal of a mezzo, but the round warm tone of a lyrical soprano, if any reference should be made to female voices — he defies categories set by other countertenors at any rate. His voice is often referred to as the “voice of an angel,” and similar. Of course, this is meant as a great compliment, but in my universe, angels don’t have a sex. His voice might sound androgynous to some, but for me, it is just the voice that belongs to him, inseparably. He doesn’t show off — other than with flawless technique — he lets his voice be what it is. It’s just he, he doesn’t sound like any other. The verve of a boy at times, but also the seriousness, and focus of a child, the devotion and allure of an adult who knows perfectly well what he is doing, all covered with the gloss of a splendid voice that always sounds free, no matter how accurately it is reigned along the cobblestones of virtuosic coloraturas.
What impressed me was that he dared to make the audience listen, and the splendid Ensemble Artaserse supported him with lovely pianos.
The two concertos set at the centre of the two parts were wonderful. I have to admit, I only knew the what I guess is the more popular one, before, the one named “Grosso Mogul.” Imagine J.S. Bach, planning to go out on a Saturday night — for once — spontaneously re-writing some of his Partitas, in a more cheerful mood, but with no less virtuosity, and add a small orchestra for extra colours. The concertos are absolutely fantastic — if you don’t know them yet, give them a try.
The soloist, of which the name I was unable to find out until now, was great. All of the Ensemble were, in fact — the only one I knew by name was Yoko Namura playing continuo. I will amend it as soon as I find out, and found it a bit odd it didn’t even mention the soloist on the program.
The program of the evening, divided vaguely into a sacral and a secular part, was as follows:
“Longe mala umbrae terrores” RV 629 motette for soprano, strings and b.c.
Concerto for viola d’amore, lute, strings and b.c. d-minor RV 540
Nisi Dominus RV 608 Psalm 126 (127) for alto and strings
“Se in ogni guardo” – from “Orlando finto pazzo”
“Se mai senti spirarti sul volto” from “Catone in Utica/La clemenza di Tito”
Concerto for violins, strings and b.c. D-Major RV 208 “Grosso Mogul”
“Vedrò con mio diletto” – from “Giustino”
“Armatae face” – from “Juditha triumphans”
“Alto Giove” — from “Polifemo” — Nicola Porpora
“Sento in seno” — from “Giustino” — Antonio Vivaldi
For now, I’ll leave you with the encore.
Porpora’s “Alto Giove”
Porpora’s Polifemo was written at about the same time as Handel’s Alcina and Ariodante. So, for parity, here the competition:
I would give my LIFE to have been there, back then and see such premieres. How great it must have been, and how tasking, for both Carestini (with Ariodante) and Farinelli to sing those as world first, without people comparing their singing to versions of other singers.
For me, listening to Jaroussky does the trick; he makes me forget all other versions of an aria I have heard before the moment he starts to sing.
The ticket itself had a typo on it, but at least they got the name right.
A woman next to me was looking at Jaroussky’s Œuvre of CDs, toying with a CD in hand, the cover stating “Vivaldi — Nisi Dominus” amongst other pieces. So, the lady asks the person in charge of the CDs:
“Is it classical?”
“No, it’s Baroque.”
“I don’t like Baroque.”
*silence, the vendor scrolling through Wikipedia on his android*
“Is it a church piece?”
“Yes it is.”
“No, I don’t like church music.”
WHY, for St. Therese’s sake, do you go to a concert announced as “VIVALDI, NISI DOMINUS” then? I won’t even start to explain how much and on which levels this annoyed me.
Those few anecdotes I just reported to illustrate: I found the audience overall very annoying, with a few nice exceptions, and only the fact that I could blot it out quite well from my place on the balcony helped me to forget it by and by. People shuffled a lot, clapped half-heartedly, or with vigour, but in between the movements of a cantata or concerto. All in total, a beautiful example for the German term “Fremdschämen”; I felt vicariously embarrassed indeed — truly ashamed for the audience that however they liked it couldn’t be asked to give a decent ovation. Half of the audience left in a rush after the second encore (which would have been the last at any rate, I guess) but still, it was devoid of style.
The audience was older than I would have expected by far, most of them were women around my age and older with their husbands, or vice versa. I think I could distinctly sense
when he appeared on stage the first time. (I will write something about fandom in general, but will do so in another post. )
The Swabians… Joie de vivre is not something they so easily allow themselves. The greatest compliment around here is not to be brilliant, or splendid, but to be “fleißig,” — industrious. Extremely funny in the context is, by the way, that the comment I overheard most often that night was, “Surely it takes much work and practising to be able to sing that way.”
The Hegelsaal is not a lovely concert hall by any means either. It’s efficient, one storey is reserved for business meeting rooms — this about mirrors the feeling. The hall stayed fully lit during the performance — I would have preferred it otherwise; I’m unsure if the concert agency, or the artists liked it to be that way. So, in total, the surroundings were very Puritan — or rather, mirrored Swabian Protestantism. Especially the almost mystic or very intimate pieces like “Cum dederit,” or “Sento in seno” made me miss a better frame for the vocal and musical splendour.
I am actually glad there was; I would have found it disgraceful if fewer people would have cued for autographs. Stuttgart used to be renowned for its culture — and it still is, from the Staatsoper to Helmuth Rilling, but in my estimate, the audience is small compared to places like Cologne.
I had the chance to meet him after the performance, and honestly never had I been so much in awe before. My first sentence actually was something like, “I have thought so much about what to say to you that now I’ve forgotten all of it.”
I won’t report exactly what we talked until we were cruelly separated by Mr. Jaroussky’s tough schedule. Looking back it was a huge stroke of luck I even got the chance. He has got the most charming hint of an accent in German, his eyes make me regret my camera isn’t a ten megapixel one, or I would print only his eyes in poster-size, and I am still wondering how I survived his touch.
When I came home, I couldn’t even answer simple questions like, “How was the concert?” and it took until 1.24 a.m. — my boyfriend says he looked on the watch — until I could answer a simple question with more than a nod or a shake of the head.
Il gran dono … che il tuo cenno… sovrano mi fa.
Nicola Porpora (1686-1768)
(From the opera “Polifemo”, Acis’s aria)
Alto Giove, è tua grazia,
è tuo vanto il gran dono
di vita immortale
che il tuo cenno sovrano mi fa.
Almighty Jupiter, your grace
and your fame are the great gift
that you give me in a sovereign gesture.