Released on Decca Classics at the end of last week, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli celebrates over three decades on the Decca Classics label, with a new album commemorating the life and career of the castrato Farinelli, one of the most famous opera singers of the 18th century.
The recording includes two world premiere recordings, arias by Farinelli’s older brother Riccardo Broschi, and his teacher and mentor Nicola Porpora. It also features a new recording of ‘Alto Giove’ from Porpora’s Polifemo, which celebrates Farinelli’s unique capacity to sing long musical phrases and extraordinary high notes. Cecilia performs with the period ensemble Il Giardino Armonico and its conductor Giovanni Antonini, with whom she first collaborated on her Grammy award-winning Vivaldi album, and again on Sacrificium, her first castrati album from 2009 which also won the Grammy for Best Classical Vocal Performance.
Many arias included on this new release were written specifically for Farinelli, with the composers often writing innovative works with Farinelli’s voice in mind. In 1725, Hasse’s Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra premiered outside Naples, with the role of Cleopatra written for Farinelli (nicknamed “il ragazzo” – the boy – for his youthful beauty). A notable example of audiences’ love of anti-realism and the fetishisation of “hermaphroditic” voices during this period, an older, female singer, Vittoria Tesi performed the role of Marc’Antonio, something the elite and cultured audiences would have relished. This celebration of gender fluidity and its associated power dynamics has been brought to the fore for 21st century audiences by Bartoli for this new release.
Farinelli was born in Adria, Italy as Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi in 1705. Unlike many castrati, Farinelli was descended from nobility, and was castrated around the age of 12. Already a talented singer, having studied with the most famous singing teacher in Naples, Nicola Porpora, Farinelli’s fame grew exponentially during his adolescence and he became known across Italy as ‘Singer to Kings’. Future successes included performances in Europe’s gilded royal courts, and a lucrative period spent in London, originating new roles created by the eminent Handel. Farinelli’s career concluded with two decades engaged at the Spanish court, invited by Queen Elisabeth who believed his beautiful voice could cure her husband’s melancholia.
Cecilia Bartoli wanted to shine a light on the music behind one of the most famous names in opera and undress a few of the ideas surrounding sex and gender in historical performance. She released the bestselling album Sacrificium, her first foray into the world of castrati, featuring world premiere recordings by Antonio Caldara, Leonardo Vinci and Francesco Araia, among others. Throughout the following decade, Bartoli was the flag bearer for this music, and it inspired her decision to make Farinelli the focus of this year’s Salzburg Whitsun Festival, which she programmed as its Artistic Director.
Her desire to present Farinelli’s music in a contemporary setting is echoed in the album artwork, with Cecilia continuing to push boundaries by playing around with the presentation and perception of gender: “It is no coincidence that I can realise the idea [of exploring the art of great castrati] now, when discussions about the abuse of the bodily integrity of artists have become so topical… the phenomenon should be highlighted from different points of view, without neglecting the terrible historical context.”
Cecilia Bartoli has sold over 12 million discs worldwide and enjoyed a highly decorated career, gracing the stages of the world’s concert halls and opera stages for over three decades. On 16 May 1987, a nineteen-year-old Cecilia gave her debut performance of Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia in the opera house of her home city of Rome, and made her stage debut a decade earlier singing the role of the Shepherd Boy at a performance of Tosca, also in Rome. Since then, Cecilia’s inclination for discovery has led her to perform music by some of history’s lesser known composers. In addition to her many other awards, she has won five Grammys, more than a dozen Echo Klassik Awards in Germany, two Classical Brit Awards, the Victoire de la Musique in France, the Prix Caecilia in Belgium, and the Edison Award in the Netherlands.
Cecilia undertakes a Europe-wide tour from 23rd November, performing the music from her new release with her Baroque ensemble Les Musicians du Prince-Monaco.
The tracks: 1. ‘Nell’attendere mio bene’ from Polifemo by Porpora /2. ‘Vaghi amori, grazie amate’ from La festa d’imeneo by Porpora/ 3. ‘Morte col fiero aspetto’ from Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra by Hasse /4. ‘Lontan… Lusingato dalla speme’ from Polifemo by Porpora*/5. ‘Chi non sente al mio dolore’ from La Merope by Broschi/ 6. ‘Come nave in ria tempesta’ from Semiramide regina dell’Assiria by Porpora/ 7. ‘Mancare o Dio mi sento’ from Adriano in Siria by Giacomelli/ 8. ‘Si, traditor tu sei’ from La Merope by Broschi*/9. ‘Questi al cor finora ignoti’ from La morte d’Abel by Caldara/ 10. ‘Signor la tua Speranza… A Dio trono, impero a Dio’ from Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra by Hasse/
11. ‘Alto Giove’ from Polifemo by Porpora- recorded with Les Musiciens du Prince-Monaco / Gianluca Capuano
*Denotes a world premiere recording