Separated At Birth: Valer Barna-Sabadus And Russel Brand

Russel Brand might be the more popular of the duo – which is not doing Mr. Barna-Sabadus justice, I find.

While Russel Brand is rather well-known as an entertainer, and for his marriage to Katy Perry – oh wait, this also can be classified as “entertainment,” now that I think about it …

Valer Barna-Sabadus is a countertenor, and a very good one on top of it. His voice is unique, and covers a huge range. He has style, he has taste – and he is actually quite a looker!

If you don’t know him yet, give him a chance. This is him, singing an aria from his album “Hasse reloaded.” Personally, with that title, I would have expected some cover art in Matrix style. With the title stuck to my mind, when I close my eyes, he is doing skilled and perfectly staged bullet-time-moves to Hasse’s solfeggi-like coloraturas.


I have to confess, I didn’t know him yet until a week ago, and only became aware of his existence when I was collecting some background info and sources for Artaserse by Leonardo Vinci, which is going to be performed  in November/December in several locations across Europe.

My dear colleague at work pointed out Mr. Barna-Sabadus’ similarity to Russel Brand, and yes, he has a point:

(I’m also shamelessly linking to my own article concerning “Artaserse” at this point. The one over there is structured quite clearly, in contrast to my private ramblings here. )

Let me try to explain why the prospect of being actually able to see this opera on stage particularly delights me. In fact, I cannot stop smiling like an idiot for days already. (In parts, my brain still seems to work, which enables me to go to work every day and actually be productive.)

First of all, Artaserse is a quite obscure opera, one might think, but in fact, this is not true. Even if most people don’t know Hasse’s pasticcio or Arne’s Artaserse, it is hard to not know any aria. The libretto has been set to music by many composers through the centuries, even if sometimes in excerpts.

So, Artaserse is an opera full of “Oh, no, I know this one!” Conservati fedele? Fra cento affanni e cento? Vo solcando? Per pietà, bell’idol mio? It’s all Artaserse, who would have thought.

I don’t know Vinci’s version yet, but I’m going to print the sheet music this week and try to learn at least the arias by heart before going to see the opera.

The singers are going to be an all-star-cast of countertenors. Philippe Jaroussky will sing the title role, the Prince and later King of Persia; his best friend Arbace is going to be sung by Franco Fagioli. (There is more than a little bromance going on there.) Now it gets complicated: Both have sisters, and they are promised to the respective others. Artaserse by the way disapproves of his best friend making out with his (Artaserse’s, just to get this clear) sister at the beginning. The two female parts are going to be sung by countertenors as well:  Mandane, Arbace’s lover, is going to be sung by Max Emanuel Cencic; Artaserse’s lover, Semira – and now we get to the point – is sung by Valer Barna-Sabadus.

I feel perfectly entitled at this point to state that I find this circumstance hot indeed, even hotter than Alice Coote in breeches, if such a thing is possible.

The director is going to be Diego Fasolis (and I swear holy oaths to never confuse his name any more with Mr. Fagioli.)

There is also Artabano, the general of Serse’s army, who is Arbace’s and Semira’s father. This tenor part is sung by Daniel Behle; Megabise, his captain and confidant is sung by Yuriy Minenko, another very promising countertenor.

In Baroque, and moreover in Rome, in 1730 when Vinci’s opera had its premiere,  it was basically like this: Heroes just have to be sopranos or mezzos, they have to be able to show off the top of vocal and coloratura skills, in short, they have to prove their worth; not only on the battlefield, but on the opera stage. Women obviously usually have high voices too. Tenors are alright as daddies, as a rule of thumb.

Rome was very Catholic at that time, through and through. Let us twist our minds around their morals back then. Their views can be summed up as follows: Women are saints or whores, and there definitely are no saints on stage. So, women on stage is just a no-go. To castrate boys without their consent at an early age is fine, of course, so let’s do that! They can also sing the female parts, and two castrated men playing love scenes on stage is much less disturbing to watch than a real woman up there.

These views resulted in Vinci’s original cast being exclusively male, so the cast now with five countertenors is very authentic in a way.

I won’t start to be a bigot here: Of course I will go to see the staged opera version in parts for the hotness factor. PJ as the Prince of Persia? With Barna-Sabadus as his sexy spouse? Of course!

However, I also have to say that I am not necessarily into fond hugs and holding hands on stage. I like it more subtle or more straightforward, either way. (Just a sidenote: There is nothing to be said against Don Carloses clinging to their Posas like the ivy to the oak, especially if the Posas are Hampson or Keenlyside.)

The stage director is going to be Silviu Purcărete, and we can safely assume the production won’t be about nice and tasteful costumes, and fond holding-hands. This is what it looks like when Mr. Purcărete gets his hands on Faust:

My estimate: The production is going to be a feast for the eyes as well as for the ears, and of course I’ll come to see as well as to hear, or I would wait for the CD, which is going to be released towards the end of the year.

And now, I’m counting the days, hours, minutes and seconds, while trying to maintain some sane state of mind. Actually, my colleague’s remark was rather helpful in this respect: Thanks to him, I can now redirect my thoughts from PJ to Mr. Barna-Sabadus, to Russel Brand, which calms me down significantly. If this doesn’t suffice, I will think of him making out with Katy Perry. This should do the trick.

If even this won’t help, I might resort to …

*Edit: According to my bf, Mr. Jason Momoa could be Valer Barna-Sabadus’ big brother.


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