Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Sopranist

October 29, 2011

Philippe Jaroussky Photo: Ana Bloom
The California tour of the world’s greatest countertenors continued on Friday with an appearance by the French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and Cleveland’s own Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra. Earlier this month Andreas Scholl gave a fantastic show with The English Concert and the music of Purcell at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and this Sunday, David Daniels will start a run at San Francisco Opera in Handel’s Xerxes. But not to be outdone, the boyish Jaroussky staked his claim with a collection of Handel and Vivaldi arias at UCLA with a show he and Apollo's Fire will take to Northern California this weekend. Jaroussky’s an interesting vocalist with a very different sound than either of his above-mentioned colleagues. He's technically a sopranist countertenor with his range lying closer to a soprano's than a mezzo's. His voice is bright with very effortless top notes he can float above the audience for days. His coloratura work is significantly more agile and precise than most vocalists of any range and he used that ability for some remarkable moments as with “Con l’ali di costanza” from Handel’s Ariodante. However, the lower end of his range could become weak and fade out even with the small ensemble accompanying him. Yet, when he chose arias that stayed more completely in the upper part of his range he excelled as with “Si mai senti spirati sul volto”. (A sample of him performing this role follows.) Jaroussky trades in a delicate, pristine sound that may not always feel lived in, but is undeniably beautiful.

Of course, it wasn't just the aria selection that showed the singer's acumen, it was his choice of touring partners as well. Apollo's Fire was founded in 1992 by renowned harpsichordist Jeanette Sorrell. The small ensemble of players on this tour managed a delicate sound that perfectly matched Jaroussky's tone, never overwhelming it. Sorrell conducted from the harpsichord and as much as I've talked about Jaroussky, the show was easily as much hers and his. Her playing was exemplary and her control and balance of the ensemble were remarkable on all levels. There were several non-vocal works on the program from the same Baroque composers and her arrangement of Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso "La Follia" rivaled the quality of any other Baroque ensemble you could name. There were the expected tuning issues, of course, with period instruments that were particularly intrusive in the first half of the program. But a little too much scrappiness is always better that too little when it comes to Baroque music and by the second half of the evening everyone had hit their stride. The night concluded with three encores ending with a reduced version of Handel's "Ombra mai fu" from Handel's Xerxes. I'm always amazed how touching this love song to a tree is, and Californians can hear two different remarkable vocalists sing it in the same weekend.


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