Porpora

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Porpora
LABELS: NAIVE
WORKS: Arias from Ezio, Semiramide riconosciuta, Didone abbandonata, Meride e Selinunte, Il verbo in carne, Il ritiro, Polifemo, Carlo il Calvo and Vulcano
PERFORMER: Franco Fagioli (countertenor); Academia Montis Regalis/ Alessandro De Marchi
CATALOGUE NO: V 5369

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Inspired by Nicola Porpora’s little-known masterpieces, countertenor Franco Fagiolo lets his imagination soar. A legendary singing teacher, Porpora not only trained the era’s most dazzling virtuosos, including Farinelli and Caffarelli, but also composed for them. Fagioli forges his own powerful execution out of practices that Porpora helped invent. Ornaments of fiendish length, tempo and range spur Fagioli to ever-greater displays, racing ahead of the band. He is intense, yet precise, with a three-octave register that is astonishingly rich from top to bottom. The climax of the disc is ‘Gia si desta la tempesta’ (‘Already the storm is brewing’) in which, against the sound of a wind machine, Fagioli hurls volleys of diminutions with furious accuracy.

Fagioli’s vibrato, which lets him ornament delightfully, does however undermine the serenity of his messa di voce (starting a long note quietly, before swelling to full volume, then returning) in pastorals and laments. Conductor Alessandro de Marchi lets Fagioli dominate this sound world, as do the recording’s engineers. Where the band is simply laying down pulsing harmonies, this makes sense, but where obbligato violin competes with the voice – as in the aria from the cantata Il ritiro – this bias fails to capture the potential intimacy of these exchanges.

An historical argument can of course be made for this: Porpora composed in order to foster cults around singers from his studio. Franco Fagioli well deserves such a following.

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Berta Joncus