Alto Giove, è tua grazia,… or how to recover from meeting a god

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.


Personal notes

The very first person I encountered asked the lady at the counter if Mr. Sarkozy would be singing this night. I felt unable to bite back an “I’m glad he isn’t.”

Do not want.

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.”

Schiller has nothing to add.

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.

There was an intense amount of fangirling going on,  as you can see documented on this picture.

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.


Oh, and…

Nicola Porpora (1686-1768)
Alto Giove
(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
of immortality
that you give me in a sovereign gesture.


30 thoughts on “Alto Giove, è tua grazia,… or how to recover from meeting a god

  1. I saw him in Meldorf Cathedral on the 15th, a concert of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.
    There was a sublime atmosphere, only about 600 Visitors. Just see the report of the NDR…

    50 % of the audience never heard of him before, I estimate, the had the right to buy tickets earlier due to their sponsorship.Some heads turned when we stood up to give ovations.

    Well, those green eyes…….

  2. Oh, by chance I’ve seen this video just a few hours ago –Biri linked it. The location must have been splendid. I just find the questions of the interviewer very dreary. They could for once sum up what a countertenor is, I mean no one asks Chris Colfer or any pop singer in every interview, “How can you sing that high?” There are so many more interesting questions to ask. You won’t interview a Phyiscs Nobel Prize Winner and ask him to explain basic maths for the very last person in the audience.
    TV stations in general assume that their audience is stupid, and with that assumption, they create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe that’s what I dislike most of all about it.
    Have you met him after the performance?
    And oh, eyes. Yes…. and… everything really. 😉

  3. Oh, and I don’t mind clueless people at all, curiosity is as good a motivation as any to go to a concert. I went to a few concerts myself where I didn’t know much about the artist or the piece before. It is desinterest that bothers me.
    My funniest experience in spontaneous fangirldom was when I had the luck to see Lohengrin in Bayreuth with Peter Seiffert in the title role. The two girls I went there with had seen a few pictures of Seiffert, where he had a moustache (They called it, quite accurately, ‘Pornoleiste’) and laughed at me when I said I liked him, moustache or not, I like his voice and am curious to hear his Lohengrin.
    At the end I went home, it was wonderful, but with the one exception of Jaroussky I never felt the urge to go to an artist after the concert asking for an autograph.
    Surprise of the night: Seiffert had shaved his moustache off. This, in addition to the voice turned the giggling girls that had been picking on me into squealing fangirls who came home two hours later, clutching autographs.

  4. Hmmm…me too wanna take photos of his big beautiful eyes and his juicy lips…or rather…I want the original!!!
    He must have been so flamboyant singing Vivaldi!

  5. 😀 He was great. As much as I love the virtuosic and dramatic pieces… I think the undramatic ones are my favourites over the years. Alto Giove and Cum dederit… AAARGH
    I wrote it I think — the concert was pro forma spliced into a sacral and a secular part, but… Is it actually allowed to play the Nisi Dominus in church? In my perception, “cum dederit” it is the sexiest piece Vivaldi ever wrote. This underlying heartbeat and…. hnnnf! For so he giveth his beloved sleep…. Vivaldi is ear-porn. Honestly.

    • Cum dederit is good; I like the melody but I wasn’t aware of the meaning of the text…
      As music I prefer slow pieces, too. But I love PJ’s virtuosic performances for other reasons 😀

  6. It’s from a psalm… English would be:
    I put the “cum dederit” in bold

    Cum dederit dilectis suis somnum.
    Ecce haereditas Domini.
    Filii merces fructus ventris.

    From Psalm 127

    1 Except the LORD build the house,
    they labor in vain that build it:
    except the LORD keep the city,
    the watchman waketh but in vain.
    2 It is vain for you to rise up early,
    to sit up late,
    to eat the bread of sorrows:
    for so he giveth his beloved sleep.
    3 Lo, children are a heritage of the LORD:
    and the fruit of the womb is his reward.

    4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man;
    so are children of the youth.
    5 Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
    they shall not be ashamed,
    but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

    I also put it in here… I love the “cum dederit”.

  7. In German, btw it is a stand-alone term, that line, even if people don’t know where it comes from: “Den Seinen gibt’s der Herr im Schlafe.”

  8. The second part which includes the first line of the “cum dederit” yes. How to summarize part one… “Relax, Don’t stay up late wrecking your brain, God will take care of you while you sleep.” Part two:”Children are a gift from god, be proud and not ashamed to have them…. ”
    Back then it was still legal in Greece, e.g., to kill new-borns if you hadn’t enough money to sustain them (I would have to fish out sources again concerning that).
    I am not quite sure about the connection between the two parts, I have to find out more about this specific Psalm.
    The psalms are chants or prayers sung in the praise of God, one book of the bible is entirely Psalms.
    (The vocal line of the first vocalise.. “cum dederit dilectis su…” makes a very strong referrence, it is almost the line of a Gregorian chant, also the bass stays fixed at that part on one harmony, until the line and the accompaniement are loosened up in Vivaldi-style awesomeness.)
    The psalms are one of the oldest parts of the Bible, as far as I know. But some of the Psalms are supposed to be much older still than that, connections have been made with old Egyptian texts and prayers to several gods.
    It is only logical, really. People keep their favourite prayers, even if the name of the God is changed. The psalms are a great book in total and definitely worth reading, as well as Isaiah, e.g., or parts of Moses. A wonderful look into what people wished for, dreaded, and looked forward to back then.
    I am not a Christian, but I love the bible. I just find it futile to align my life to rules set several thousand years ago. I could as well live by the Articles of War from 1749, and it would be no less random.

  9. To get an idea of the melodics of Gregorian chants… Somehow there seems to be the urge to plaster pictures of sunsets over it on every video on youtube, but here’s one in “action.”

    At major holidays some parts of the liturgy are still sung in Latin. (In the video they wanted to render a good impression. Well they’d better — the Pope was visiting :P)

  10. Thanks! I have some ideas of the Bible as one of my friends tried to convert me and didn’t stop talking about it for a whole year. I just never seem to get the exact meaning of the ancient text without others explaining.

    I love the music you linked above! It’s my favorite style.

  11. Hah! Glad to get people to your blog, it’s an honour 😉
    Just looked it up… No, no “Definitely the Opera” leading to mine. Apart from the ongoing and futile quest of googlers for shirtlezz or n*de pics (won’t write it or they end up here…) or the name of Jaroussky’s bf (*eyesroll)… the most creative search today was: “anthem proven to be effective bonding”. Now I’m wondering.

  12. Hehehe… the question is rather… why would someone feel they should know this? To kill the bf? To stalk him, revelling in ‘I’m better than you’ thoughts? I find it a weird, on various levels.
    The internet is a scary thing really at times. I just answered a question on formspring… which i linked to tumblr, linking to twitter, resulting in posting it onto my facebook wall. Epic fail. I admire people who manage keeping private things private. It is obviously much more complicated if you’re famous. I absolutely hate it, seriously hate it if people say about celebs, “Oh no, he isn’t gay, he’s with a woman,” etc. Yes. Straight as George Clooney. Straight as Tom Cr*ise (swearwords get censored here). “One’s real life is often the one one does not lead,” is my favourite quote from Oscar Wilde. Our dreams, our desires, our imagination, our talents…. our soul define us. If PJ was going to make a public announcement posting wedding pics… surely I’d notice. Otherwise I’m honestly not interested. I hope he’s happy, and surrounded by supportive persons. If I take my in general uninteresting self as example… If someone bothers to find out my bf, takes a look at his pic, knows his profession even… they still don’t know a f* about me.
    In Jaroussky’s case, it may answer the question “who’s the lucky guy?” but that would be it.

    If I was allowed some private questions… those would be:
    1) Has he got a second name?
    2) Was he baptized or is he born a jew?
    … but I surely wouldn’t make the answers public, though I’d tell Biri and you 😉

  13. Because naming is hugely important still–and was for decades now–in the history of fight for queer rights and acceptance. This is why there is so much fuss about “coming out”. Secrecy = shame, for awfully too long in the history of queerdom. Plus, artists are still seen as ‘role models’ for all variety of reasons, and a celebrity who’s out and proudly dating, not hiding her/his same sex partner, will create huge cultural ripples (of the positive sort!)

    Sometimes people want to keep their social life invisible because they presume it would harm their careers… It’s a strange business, spectacle arts. So I won’t preach total outness to anybody, but will notice when there’s reticence. Reticence is bad queer politics, in my books.

    There’s also the fact that straight operatic stars flaunt their straight coupledom obnoxiously, and profit from it…

    But of course, we should give PJ benefit of the doubt. Maybe he doesn’t have anybody permanent. Or that person genuinely does not want to be reduced by the media to “the guy who dates PJ”. All acceptable.

  14. ….. this is frigging complicated. I will probably write a blog note rather than post the rant I have already written just now. I need some time to get my point across 😉

  15. Wow … Great review. Glad I stumbled on this site.

    I am happy because I have a ticket to hear Jaroussky in a concert series at UC Berkeley. Had to decide between him and David Daniels (who is singing in Serse at SF Opera). Should definitely have that kind of choice more often!

    So traded in the Handel for a different date and I get to see/hear both of them.

    • Why thank you ❤
      I like Daniels, a lot, even if his presence wouldn't reduce me to a blabbering fangirl like Jaroussky's does.
      I'm looking forward to your review 😉

  16. I found your blog right now and would like to give you some informations about Ensemble Artaserse.
    Two days before the Stuttgart concert I had visited the concert in Bad Kissingen – and this was so fascinating for me that I took immediately the chance when I realized that there are still tickets for the concert in Stuttgart….
    So, in Bad Kissingen they gave the audience more informations about the members of Artaserse:

    Violine and Viola dámore Alessandro Tampieri (the soloist!)

    Violine Petr Ruzicka
    Guillaume Humbrecht
    José Manuel Navarro
    Giorgia Simbula

    Viola Marco Massera

    Violoncello Ruth Verona

    Kontrabass Guillaume Arrignon

    Theorbe Claire Antonini

    Cembalo/Orgel Yoko Nakamura

    Did you hear the broadcast of the concert at “Meldorfer Dom” on NDR Kultur??? It was so great to hear this wonderful pieces again – although it was just listening, not looking….

    But – I will see (and hear!) him again in Vienna! I´m already nervous now…

  17. Thanks a lot for your comment and the details! No, I didn’t hear the broadcast, just the trailer. German TV really kills me with its stupidity so I have to admit I have my gold-fish-bowl-sized tv-set in a crate in the cellar for five years now. On the rare occasions as this would have been one I usually pester friends to record it for me 😀 This also allows me to watch it in small doses — I’m a little weird in my listening habits if it isn’t a live performance.

    I still wonder what was going on in the heads of the persons composing the guest-list for the NDR talk he was invited to. Oliver P*cher? I wonder on which planet this seemed like a good idea.

  18. Hey there 😉 There were a few. I actually deleted one paragraph from my original draft concerning fandom etc., as I don’t feel entitled to say anything final about Stuttgart’s gay scene and cultural scene. Not because Jaroussky’s gay himself, but because culture has something utterly camp to it in my perception — It’s quite hard to put it into fitting words right at the moment.

    At the concert, there were a few gay couples that wanted to be spotted as such (matching 3/4-length trousers (-.-) and designer glasses to match, e.g.), and probably a few more, but I didn’t give much heed to it.

    I’d say, the ratio was about 1:30, males to females in the queue. Two of the guys I knew from sight, funnily, back from my time at TV, and they are straight 😀
    What most annoyed me were some comments of the females in the queue, at times with their partners kind of next to them, so it was clear they weren’t queuing themselves.
    “I am really so grateful my husband is so nice he lets me go to this concert..” etc. Bah. I’ve never heard a male say the same if he goes to look at Netrebko’s bo*bs. (Changing the word, or my blog will get hits that way. Che orrore!)
    And I mean, what the serious ***. “The time of my thought is my own to spend,” as Tolkien put it so nicely. I can fancy whatever and whomever I like, and my partner has to put up with it! (And vice versa of course.)

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