Philippe Jaroussky has done it again! The great French countertenor has been exploring the by-ways of 18th century opera in search of buried treasure and has come up with another winner. After earlier scoring big with a wonderful disc of castrato arias by Johann Christian Bach, composed in mid-18th century London, he has gone to Vienna a few decades earlier for "Forgotten Castrato Arias" from the operas of Antonio Caldara, a Venetian musical polymath who ended up as deputy Kapellmeister to the court of Austrian Emperor Charles VI. Jaroussky has mined the archives to find suitable material from operas dating from 1718 through 1736. (Caldara's dates are c. 1671-1736; the exact date of his birth is not known.)
Caldara was a slightly older contemporary of Vivaldi, and wrote in a slightly older style, but with no lack of rhythmic excitement and virtuosity, and his works provide plenty of raw material for Jaroussky and his collaborators, Emmanuelle Haim (who directs from the harpsichord) and early music ensemble Concerto Koln. Anybody who has thrilled to Jaroussky's virtuosity and excellent musicality will find this an indispensable addition to his recorded catalogue. After transferring the recording to my iPod, I have been listening repeatedly with the greatest pleasure to these new discoveries.
Virgin Classics is issuing the program in two physical formats: a "normal" CD package with loose booklet in the usual plastic-jewel box, and a "deluxe" edition with a substantial booklet bound into a hardcover book (of thick CD album dimensions). Full texts and and translations for the arias are provided. I haven't seen the leaflet in the "normal" product, but I can vouch for the beauty of the deluxe production, which includes fine reproductions of paintings of Caldara and his royal patrons Charles VI and Empress Elisabeth Christine, as well as of prints of relevant buildings from Vienna, portraits of some of his librettists, and facsimiles of music. There is a lengthy, well-written and fascinating biographical essay on Caldara, who led a very interesting and unusually peripatetic life, by Frederic Delamea, well-translated into English by Paula Kennedy. Delamea also provides context for the opera excerpts heard in the recording.
I purchased my copy from prestoclassical.com, a UK-based classical website that had it available for order weeks before the U.S. release. For some reason, EMI and its associated labels continue to release classical things earlier in Europe than in the US; they've already released in Europe a new Vivaldi opera recording in which Jaroussky sings, not available yet in the US, or at least not yet available at the retail outlet I regularly patronize, J&R Music on Park Row in Manhattan. I say "continue" because this was also the pattern back in the days of LP; I remember reading ecstatic reviews of new EMI releases in Gramophone and then waiting and waiting and waiting for the US releases, which sometimes never came but usually were delayed by months or even a year or more.
I recently had the pleasure of hearing Philippe Jaroussky perform in person for the first time, at a Zankel Hall concert mixing repertory from the recent Monteverdi Teatro d'amore album with other works by contemporaries of Monteverdi. Whether he's singing the early baroque 17th century music of Monteverdi & friends or the late baroque and early classical opera of the 18th century, Jaroussky proves a true master. His occasional forays into more modern fare, such as the disc of French romantic chansons, are also interesting. Last weekend I heard a performance of Britten's Les Illuminations with soprano Kate Royal, and I couldn't help wondering what Jaroussky would do with this unusual setting for high voice of French verses by Rimbaud. It would be thrilling to hear…