Franco Fagioli gentler than ever (Wigmore Hall, 13 November 2015)
Arias for Caffarelli (and a bit of Carestini)
After last year’s much gushed about debut, Franco returned to Wigmore Hall, a place where he was once again warmly received.
You might wonder why I always call him by his first name (as if we were cousins) when I call everybody else predominantly by their initials (the more the better – JDD, JDF, ACA!). Just as other singers exude this or that feeling, Franco appears to me particularly warm and sweet. If he really is not, he’s doing a damn good job at fronting! He’s the kind of singer who is constantly looking at the members of the orchestra with appreciation and excitement, as if to say “we’re doing great stuff together!” He’s more like a singer in a band than a soloist.
It’s this warmth that struck me again during last week’s performance. I felt it whilst he was singing too, especially in the very lyrical passages. I even asked myself is he currently in love or something? He’s just so sweet! (in a good way; he’s not schmaltzy). Now if that sounds suspiciously effusive, do not worry, I’m not developing a countertenor crush 😉 it’s just a very pleasant, affectionate feeling, like towards my cats… I’m saying all this despite my not so hot feelings about his Sesto. I still think his personality would work with Sesto. It’s the rest that needs some work…
But this was a Baroque recital and this is his home turf, where everything goes the way he wants. The thing with seeing someone again in the same repertoire is that you already know what wows you. Franco seems to (really) like and excel at bravura arias, the faster the better, where he can sway to the beat and make melty faces. I think I tended to take them for granted (the melty faces, too; I brought my opera glasses along). Of course he would rock them.The lyrical stuff made a very vivid impression by contrast. His voice is not quintessentially beautiful like Sabadus’. It’s the tender and gentle feeling he puts into his delivery that makes his singing so affecting. Last year I wrote:
Very, very tender; maybe the gentlest-yet-not-whingy I’ve heard live?
Check and check. He sounds genuinely “loving” in a way none of the singers I like a lot does.
Franco Fagioli countertenor
Riccardo Minasi director, violin
Stefano Rossi violin
Esther Crazzolara violin
Giulio d’Alessio viola
Ludovico Minasi cello
Riccardo Coelati double bass
Federica Bianchi harpsichord
Angelo Ragazzi (c.1680-1750)
Sonata for strings in G major Op. 1 No. 8 Sonata for strings in… Op. 4
Nicola Porpora (1686-1768)
Passaggier che sulla sponda (Semiramide riconosciuta)
Johann Hasse (1699-1783)
Ebbi da te la vita (Siroe re di Persia)
Nicola Fiorenza (c.1700-1764)
Concerto in A major for 3 violins and continuo
Leonardo Leo (1694-1744)
Misero pargoletto (Demofoonte)
Fra l’orror della tempesta (Siroe re di Persia)
There seems to be a theme between Minasi and Franco where Minasi gets to clown around whilst Franco leaves the fans waiting for a bit. At the very beginning I was disconcerted as – though I may not show it – I worry about singers cancelling at the very last minute, such as right before they’re due to step on stage. Eventually I got it, Minasi is a funny character who reminds me of (even looks like) an equally funny ex-work colleague. He explained they would play another sonata and I hope it was this one they swapped and not the one after the interval. I know nothing about Ragazzi so I could be easily fooled. I also don’t buy programmes…
The first aria sounded good, enough to signal that Franco was in very good voice. I could even make out the words (woohoo). That was a short lived joy, though. The diction issue returned to stay for the rest of the performance. I amused myself guessing words.
Minasi and Franco recorded these arias for the Cafarelli CD, so cool to hear them without studio interference (f I had my way, all music would be recorded live). They fit his voice but to me they are a bit run-of-the-mill Baroque arias. Ok, Misero pargoletto warmed my heart due to Franco’s commitment to the tender emotions I was going on and on about above.
Pasquale Cafaro (c.1716-1787)
Rendimi più sereno (Ipermestra)
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Se bramate d’amar chi vi sdegna (Serse HWV40)
Sonata for strings in F minor Op. 1 No. 4
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Lieto così talvolta (Adriano in Siria)
Giuseppe Avitrano (c.1670-1756)
Sonata in D major for 3 violins and continuo Op. 3 No. 2 ‘L’Aragona’
George Frideric Handel
Crude furie degl’orridi abissi (Serse HWV40)
The tender feeling returned with Rendimi più sereno. The mood was switched to passive-aggressive tantrum for Se bramate… Easy win, it got stuck in my head for the rest of the evening. I wouldn’t mind seeing him as Serse, I think he can pull off bratty and his voice works very well with it.
He was properly warmed up by now for the lyrical tour de force that is Lieto così talvolta. Sadly there was no dueting oboe; for this woodwind lover = a big letdown. Still heartmelting. If you remember, it’s the real hero Farnace (in love) who sings it in Adriano in Siria. He’s such a dreamboat, isn’t he? Loyal to his king, to his love, respectful of all around him, risking his freedom to save his damsel even though he thinks she doesn’t love him anymore. In short, oboe. Before the show, Leander was eager to see who – Franco or Erica – would win the Lieto battle. Well, hm. I perhaps liked Franco’s voice better but enjoyed Erica’s details more. I demand a re-listen. Which reminds me, Opera Settecento needs to promote its work on youtube etc.
This brings us to Crude furie, which were properly furious and melty-faced a la Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy video 😉 or a gentle version of that. I was very pleased with the outcome, though less venomous than Mynenko’s version on The 5 Countertenors CD. Franco likes these arias but he sounds like he’s moved on from Barking. What is cool with Franco is his ample range (of colours t00) and the ease with which he can manipulate his voice.
Dopo notte (Ariodante)
Fra cento affanni… (Artaserse)
The Dopo notte test
Dopo notte was my introduction to Franco. It’s an aria I often use as a test for singers. It’s long, difficult to sing, very joyful in a soulful way, so it requires a bit of emotional finesse on top of mad skill. When I first heard about him as one of the most exciting countertenors around today, I immediately looked to see if youtube was equiped with his version of Dopo notte. We are here because I was very impressed with that I heard that day.
So when he announced he would sing something from Ariodante, I mentally crossed my fingers, chanting Dopo notte, Dopo notte! very loudly inside. My records say this was the first time I heard this favourite aria live (a bit surprising). I’ve always thought Ariodante was a gentle chap and this time he went for this quality.
Here’s his Dopo notte from this September past at the Festival d’Ambronay. You can compare it to my benchmark youtube clip from 2012 and see how much more soulful he does it these days. In fact the change – starting with the much more relaxed tempo – is striking and significant:
I really like the energy of the first one – we’re here because I do! – but his 2015 take on it is indeed more appropriate for Ariodante. So he’s changing. I’d miss the energy from the old days if this new tenderness wasn’t so attractive. He also received exciting support from the harpsichord, who did an excellent job matching his trills.
During the intermission, the Operatunist, Leander and HM launched into a conversation about Franco sounding better than before and tried to figure out why. HM suggested his registers sound more blended. You be the judge, my ears aren’t very sensitive when it comes to registers. For my part he sounded lovely (and I possibly agreed he sang a bit higher or brighter than how I remembered him) and that was that.
The last item was a bit funny, as Leander let us know ahead of time she was hoping for Vo solcando. When he asked the audience if we knew Artaserse I thought she’s getting her tune! Oops. Fra cento affanni is a fun one nonetheless, if way shorter and less complex than Vo solcando. It was a snappy rendition, an approapriate closer that left you wanting more.
And there was more, as Franco was signing autographs once again in the foyer. Every time I go to Wigmore Hall I feel compelled to sing its praises. What a pleasant hall! How welcoming and simple and what good acoustics! What a cosy foyer! Once you queued up for a signing there you will find all other signing locations a too drafty and anonymous. But this year we all agreed to leave others the pleasure of 2min of Franco’s attention.
It was of course lovely to see Leander and HM again – we started talking because of Franco! – and meet the Operatunist himself (we also started “talking” because of Franco), whose blog I recommend to those who don’t know it, because it’s well written and witty. Sorry if I sounded all over the shop, I had no idea you were coming to the show 😀 Sometimes I do succumb to surprise.