LABELS: Virgin Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Vinci Artaserse
PERFORMER: Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagiolim Valer Barna-Sabadus, Yurily Myenko, Daniel Behle, Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera; Concerto Köln/Diego Fasolis
CATALOGUE NO: 6028692
Set in remote and exotic Susa, Artaserse tells of the ruthless Artabano’s attempts to seize the Persian throne, murdering King Xerxes and tricking the prince, Artaxerxes, into killing his own brother. Metastasio’s dark libretto reflects the bloodthirsty plot, while Vinci’s airy and felicitous music might just as well be about a garden party in Surrey.
Yet the work was feted in its day as ‘the greatest Italian opera’ and rigorously follows the conventions of opera seria, with solo da capo arias interlacing pliant recitatives, and a single, jolly chorus rounding off the implausibly happy ending. Indeed, Vinci (c. 1696-1730) could certainly bring the house down with his glittering showpieces and beguilingly lovely melodies.
This performance recreates the all-male cast of the original, when five castratos took both male and female roles, and a tenor, inevitably, played the bad guy. To modern ears accustomed to villainous basses and coloratura sopranos, the palette of vocal colours is somewhat limited, though conductor Diego Fasolis has cast five remarkably contrasted countertenors, each one creating a distinctive dramatic character. Philippe Jaroussky is agile and artless in the title role, Valer Barna-Sabadus convincingly silky-toned as his beloved Semira. Max Emanuel Cencic (Mandane) offers both eloquent and virtuoso singing, though the sound is rather edgy in his (or should I say her?) upper register, while Franco Fagioli makes a compelling Arbace, flitting effortlessly from flamboyant vocal fireworks to liquid bel canto. Undoubtedly, the cast is fine and the vigorous orchestral playing is discerningly shaped by Fasolis. But even so, the whole makes for a rather lacklustre dramatic experience.