All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Contra-Tenor (Michael Spyres)

Michael Spyres (tenor); Il Pomo d’Oro/Francesco Corti (Erato)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Arias by Galuppi, Gluck, Handel, Hasse, Latilla, Lully, Mazzoni, Messe, Mozart, Piccinni, Porpora, Rameau, Sarro, Vinci and Vivaldi
Michael Spyres (tenor); Il Pomo d’Oro/Francesco Corti
Erato 5419729346   72:54 mins

Advertisement MPU reviews

Michael Spyres is a fine American singer who has already issued notable recordings of works by Handel, Mozart, Rossini and others. The title of this album, Contra-Tenor, is a bit confusing since usually a contra-tenor is a part name (sung against the tenor in polyphony), and a counter-tenor is a voice type (which he does not possess). What he does have is an impressive, very wide ranging tenor-baritone, and in this collection he valuably explores the historical emergence of such a voice type in opera c1680-c1780.

His technical strengths emerge clearly in the way in which he negotiates the switchback turns of Vivaldi’s ‘Cada pur sul capo’ (from Artabano), the cascading melodies of Porpora’s ‘Nochier, che mai non vide’ (from Germanico) and the cadenza from Niccolò Piccinni’s ‘En butte aux fureurs’ (from Roland) where he reaches a spectacular F above top C.

His emotional range is slightly less convincing. There is tenderness in Lully’s ‘Cessons de redouter’ (from Persée), but the subtle interplay of loss and questioning in Gluck’s ‘J’ai perdu mon Euydice’ (from Orphée) is not clearly reflected in the vocal characterisation. Also his somewhat robust approach to phrasing tends to resist subtle shaping: for example at the commencement of Mozart’s ‘Se di lauri’ (from Mitridate) we get full solidity on the first note even though the phrase starts with an upbeat and the stress falls on ‘lauri’. (Bruce Ford’s recording of this work provides a model). That said, this is a fascinating collection with several premiere recordings.

Advertisement MPU reviews

Anthony Pryer