Countertenor Alerts: Jaroussky, Roth Costanzo and Barna-Sabadus

The rising tide of exciting new countertenors is one of the most important offshoots of the early music movement. 

My favorite among the young countertenors is Philippe Jaroussky. I’ve heard him perform at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall with Christina Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata.  I’ve been avidly collecting his recordings for several years now.  Most recently, Virgin Classics has issued a DVD collecting excerpts from video recordings of his concert appearances in France and Germany — many of which have turned up on youtube — and a two-CD tribute album called “The Voice.”  I have only one complaint; having collected all of Jaroussky’s individual CD releases, I already have most of the recordings on “The Voice,” but I felt compelled to buy it because it includes six previously unreleased recordings, including a spectacular performance with Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata of Monteverdi’s Laudate Dominum – presumably recorded for, but left out of, their “Teatro d’Amore” release, probably for reasons of space or subject matter, since that disc is devoted to secular music. 

The other big countertenor news is Jaroussky’s most recent complete opera recording, Leonardo Vinci’s Artaserse, conducted by Diego Fasolis, also on Virgin Classics (this just an audio CD).    This is a real feast for countertenor enthusiasts, since the cast include five (count ’em, five!!) countertenors.  Jaroussky sings the title role, Max Emanuel Cencic, who has become a frequent duet partner with Jaroussky, sings the second lead role of Mandane, Franco Fagioli sings Arbace, Valer Barna-Sabadus sings Semira, and Yuriy Mynenko sings Megabise.  With so many countertenors, you need a scorecard to know who’s singing.  The opera is truly spectacular and deserves a performance revival in the U.S..  I’ve heard that Jaroussky and company have given concert performances in Europe.  Come to NY!

Valer Barna-Sabadus,who sings on the Vinci recording, is a Romanian-born musician who grew up and studied in Germany. He has recently released a solo album that puts him in line to challenge Jaroussky for primacy among the young countertenors.  Called “Hasse Reloaded” (Oehms Classics), the disc includes four arias from Johann Adolph Hasse’s “Didone abbandonata,” the cantata “La Gelosia”, and an insertion aria that Nicola Porpora wrote for use in a London staging of Hasse’s “Artaserse”.  The splendid orchestral accompaniment, provided by Michael Hofstetter and Hofkapelle Munchen, helps to make this a must-hear recording.  Barna-Sabadus is brilliant in this.  At times I thought I was listening to Jaroussky, although the younger man is not quite there yet in terms of injecting some more personality into his singing.  That will develop with experience, I’m sure.  The disc also include the three-movement sinfonia that Hasse wrote as an overture to Didone.

Another recording by Barna-Sabadus worth hearing is “Baroque Oriental” on the Berlin Classics label.  Barna-Sabadus takes on Jaroussky directly with Monteverdi’s “Si dolce e’l tormento,” which Jaroussky sings on Pluhar’s Teatro d’Amore album.  He also sings several other solos by Monteverdi and contemporaries, amidst a program that also provides some Turkish music of the period to provide a multicultural stew. I think Barna-Sabadus is developing quite beautifully – definitely a musician to watch out for.

Another young countertenor who is now being heard frequently in New York is Anthony Roth Costanzo.  I first hear him several years ago, when New York City Opera was still at Lincoln Center and he sang in a Handel production.  His career has really taken off since then, including debuts at the  Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, as well as a summertime production at Glimmerglass.  No CDs to report as of yet, but he can be seen and heard singing in the new DVD release of the Baroque pastiche opera debuted on December 31, 2011, at the Metropolitan Opera, “The Enchanted Island.”  Costanzo’s character only appears in the last act, but he was also “covering” the lead role performed by David Daniels, and got to sing it a few times later in the run.  From what I’ve heard, the Met will be bringing back “The Enchanted Island” next season, and Costanzo will again be singing Ferdinand and “covering” Prospero.  I most recently heard him as an excellent soloist in a performance of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio last month, after attending a thrilling evening he presented together with a NYC Ballet dancer at a smaller venue in New York, and I plan to attend one of his performances at Glimmerglass next summer, when he will sing (and dance) in a staging of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.

And the mention of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater brings me full-circle here, since some on-line research shows that Valer Barna-Sabadus has recorded this piece, which I now have on order. 

It’s a great time for countertenors and those who swoon to their sound.

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