Arias for Farinelli and Castrato

Arias for Farinelli

Arias for Castrato

The popularity of the motion picture "Farinelli" (1994) contributed tremendously to the current surge of interest for works originally written for castrati. Of course, a cruel and inhuman custom of castration has since long gone, the best we can hope for is a vocal approximation performed by sopranists, countertenors, mezzo-sopranos or female contraltos. The following is a brief overview for the currently available "Farinelli" CDs (and one DVD) selected from my collections.

Arias for Farinelli

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Farinelli, Il Castrato (sound track)
Travelling K 1005 [July, 1993]
Idaspe: Ombra fedele anch'io (Riccardo Broschi)
Composers: Riccardo Broschi, George Frederick Handel, Johann Adolf Hasse, Giovanni Pergolesi, Nicola Porpora
Performers: Ewa Mallas-Godlewska (Soprano), Derek Lee Ragin (Countertenor), Les Talens Lyriques, dir. Christophe Rousset

Of course none of our contemporary singers can sing like Farinelli. Nobody has his vocal range (over 4 octaves) and a massive lung capacity to produce 250 notes in a single breath. Faced with this problem, producers of this movie used both soprano and countertenor voices to blend into a single voice. The process is called sound morphing and it essentially works like a graphical morphing. Ewa Mallas-Godlewska (soprano) and Derek Lee Ragin (countertenor) were chosen for the similarity of their timbres. A further discussion of this intriguing process can be found at Sony Online. Regrettably, the liner notes are minuscule and no lyrics are provided for this otherwise fine CD.

*If you ever wonder about the odd head gear on the cover picture, it meant to be a nightingale. In those days, castrato voice is often compared to that of male nightingale and many nightingale (usignuolo) arias were written for them.

Farinelli, Il Castrato (motion picture on DVD)
Sony Pictures Classics [1994]
1995 Academy Award Nomination "Best Foreign Language Film"
1995 Golden Globe Winner "Best Foreign Language Film"
Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

The story of this movie is loosely based on the historical account for the famous castrato, Farinelli. His real name was Carlo Broschi and a composer Riccardo Broschi was his elder brother. A monograph written in German by Hubert Ortkemper, "Engel wider Willen. Die Welt der Kastraten. Eine andere Operngeschichte" gives an in-depth analysis for the custom of castration in 18th century Italy. Translation of this book is available in Japanese but not in English. Hubert Ortkemper also wrote a booklet for Capriccio's "Die Welt der Kastraten" (see below).

Farinelli et son temps "Quel usignuolo"
EMI France CDC 5 55250 2 [July, 1993 and April, 1994]
Merope: Quell'usignolo (Geminiano Giacomelli)
Composers: Egidio Romualdo Duni, Geminiano Giacomelli , Pietro Metastasio, Carlo Broschi Farinelli, George Frideric Handel, Riccardo Broschi, Johann Adolf Hasse, Attilio Ariosti, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Performers: Aris Christofellis (sopranist), Ensemble Seicentonovecento, dir. Flavio Colusso

Aris Christofellis is a Greek sopranist who performs not only Baroque repertoire but also some contemporary pieces specifically written for him. This CD comes with a substantial booklet including lyrics and translation. Some may find his timbre a little too metallic but his intonation is perfect. I always associate his voice with a crystal clear diamond. It may be cold to touch but supremely beautiful. For more information about Christofellis, please see Male Soprano websiteand The Aris Christofellis Voice Page.

Arie di Farinelli
Bongiovanni GB 5564-2 [February 4-5, 1995]
Merope: Quell'usignolo (Geminiano Giacomelli)

Composers: Geminiano Giacomelli, Johann Adolf Hasse, Riccardo Broschi, Carlo Broschi Farinelli
Performers: Angelo Manzotti (sopranist), Maria Pia Jacoboni (harpsichord), I Solosti di Roma

Angelo Manzotti is a Italian sopranist who appears many Baroque opera as well as liturgical music. His voice quality is very different from that of Christofellis. His intonation may not as precise as Christofellis's, but his voice has more warmth and a vivacious quality. For one thing, this CD lacks lyrics for arias not to mention their translation. It could be a little inconvenience for those sing-along opera buffs. Additional information about Manzotti can be found at Male Soprano website and Angelo Manzotti official site.

Farinelli Arien
CSM 9842-D1 [Aug 17-18 and September 29, 1998]
Idaspe: Ombra fedele anch'io (Riccardo Broschi)
Composers: Riccardo Broschi, Geminiano Giacomelli, Nicola Porpora, Carlo Broschi Farinelli, Johann Adolf Hasse
Performers: Arno Raunig (sopranist), Paul Weigold (piano)

Arno Raunig is an Austrian sopranist. He sounds more ike boy alto than adult male voice to my ear. As of June 2002, this CD can be ordered online from the Disc Importers Music in England (catalogue No. CAFFA CD 002). No lyrics are provided in the booklet. Additional information about Raunig can be found at Male Soprano website.

Arias For Farinelli
Harmonia Mundi France HMC 901778 [January, 2002]
Merope: Quell'usignolo (Geminiano Giacomelli)
Idaspe: Ombra fedele anch'io (Riccardo Broschi)
Composers: Nicola Porpora, Johann Adolf Hasse, Riccardo Broschi, Geminiano Giacomelli, Baldassare Galuppi
Performers: Vivica Genaux (mezzo-soprano), Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, dir. Rene Jacobs

This is the only "Farinelli" CD sung by a female mezzo in my collection. Although her voice is more on the feminine side rather than masculine, an American mezzo, Vivica Genaux is an excellent singer. Her intonation is impeccable and her coloratura breathtaking. I usually do not care for a female mezzo singing castrato arias, but this CD is a happy exception. It must be pointed out that it was Jacobs who created the wonderful ornamentation for Genaux. In Farinelli's time, it was a singer's job to improvise an elaborate ornamentation for the stage. Otherwise, dacapo arias would be too monotonous. As an added bonus, a substantial booklet including lyrics and translation is handsomely integrated into the CD case. Vivica Genaux site

Arias for Castrato
L'Age d'or des Castrats
EMI Classics CDC 5552592 [1985, 1987, 1988]
La dolce compagna <Airs pour Farinelli> (Egidio Duni)
Composers: Giovanni Battista Bononcini, Egidio Duni, Johann Adolf Hasse, Nicola Porpora, Riccardo Broschi, Leonardo Leo
Performers: Aris Christofellis, Ensemble d'instruments anciens

The original version of this CD was released in 1986. It was reissued later in 1994 (with some changes made to its content) perhaps in response to the current interest in Farinelli. Unlike rest of the Christofellis collection, the accompanying booklet gives very little information about its content and no lyrics are provided. For more info see Male Soprano website and The Aris Christofellis Voice Page.

Pasticcio per Il Castrato Gaetano Guadagni
Aria 205515 [November, 1987]
Theodora: Sweet Rose and Lily (Handel)
Composers: George Frederick Handel, Nicolo Piccini, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Tommaso Traetta
Performers: Alain Zaepffel, Ensemble Stradivaria

Alain Zaepffel is a French countertenor. His vocal range is slightly on the narrow side, but his timbre is very sweet and pretty... and he's got a French accent ;-). Guadagni (1729-1792) was an alto castrato who created role of Orfeo in Gluck's opera "Orfeo ed Euridice". This CD was recorded in 1987 and reissued in 1996 after Farinelli vogue. The booklet provides no lyrics. It is now issued as a part of "Accord Baroque" series with a different cover picture (as of June 2002, it is only available in France).

Castrato Arias and Motets
CAMEO 2003 [August, 1989]
Ascanio in Alba: Cara lontano ancora (Mozart)
Composers: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Salieri
Performers: Arno Raunig (Sopranist), Wien-Landstrasse Chamber Choir, Amadeus Ensemble Vienna, cond. Walter Kobera

This CD was recorded and released pre-Farinelli vogue and reissued later with the same content but a different track order. No lyrics are provided. For more info see Male Soprano website. As of June 2002, this CD can be ordered online from the Disc Importers Music in England.

Les temps des castrats (compilation)
EMI Classics [1994*]
Composers: George Frederick Handel, Henry Purcell, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Adolf Hasse, Nicola Porpora, Antonio Caldera, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gioacchino Rossini
Performers: Jochen Kowalski, James Bowman, Alain Zaepffel, Rene Jacobs, Alfred Deller, Charles Brett, Michael Chance, Dominique Visse, Derek Lee Ragin, Aris Chiristofellis, Gerald Lesne, Alessandro Moreschi

This was my starting point of castrato aria collection. Taking an advantage of its extensive licensing agreements, EMI draws from diversified materials form Capriccio and Virgin labels as well as its own. The resulting compilation is very well balanced and covers most of the famous castrato arias as well as the famous performers. Nevertheless, not everything in this CD was meant for castrato voice. Purcell's titles were written for English style countertenors (i.e., falsettists) and J.S. Bach never had an access to castrato while working mostly as a local town Kapellmeister. Since women were not allowed to sing in churches at his time, Bach must have written them for boy also or possibly for falsettists. One noteworthy feature of this compilation is a rare 1902 recording of the last castrato of the Cappella Sistina, Alessandro Moreschi. For more information about him, please see Male Soprano website. The accompanying booklet is in French and German only. No lyrics are provided.

Die Welt der Kastraten (compilation)
Capriccio 10543 [1994*]
Composers: George Frederick Handel, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Johann Adolf Hasse, Claudio Monteverdi, George Philipp Telemann, Johann Sebastian Bach
Performers: Jochen Kowalski, Axel Kohler, Derek Lee Ragin, David Cordier, Alain Zaepffel, Dominique Visse, Rene Jacobs, Jean Nirouet, Ralph Popken, Kai Wessel

This is a compilation from German label, Capriccio. The selection is rather heavy on German side for both composers and performers, but it includes many lesser known yet good countertenors. The accompanying informative booklet is written by Hubert Ortkemper, who is also an author of the monograph about castrato (see above Farinelli DVD). No lyrics are provided.

La Musique au temps des castrats (compilation)
Astree AUE 8552 [1995*]
Composers: Christoph Willibald Gluck, Antonio Vivaldi, Gregorio Allegri, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Riccardo Broschi
Performers: Dominique Visse, James Bowman, John Elwes, Josep Cabre, Gerard Lesne, A Sei Voci, Ewa Mallas-Godlewska, Derek Lee Ragin

Obviously drawing from a single label limits the content of this CD to less singers and less composers. It is not a desirable feature for a compilation album, which is, after all, should be a sampler for as many singers/composerd as possible. This is not my first choice.

Les Castrats au temps de Mozart
EMI Classics 5 56134 2 [October 1994 and April 1995]Exsultate, jubilate, (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
Composers: Johann Christian Bach, Luigi Cherubini, Giuseppe Gazzaniga, Gaetano Guadagni, Giuseppe Aprile, Niccolo Jommelli, Venanzio Rauzzini, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performers: Aris Christofellis, Ensemble Seicentonovecento, dir. Flavio Colusso

This CD is a collection of the arias written for castrati, who were the subject of Mozart's family correspondence. My favourite one is W.A. Mozart 's letter declining a request to have Ceccarelli as a house guest: "In regard to Ceccarelli, it is quite impossible even for a single night; for I have only one room, which is not large and is so crammed already with my wardrobe, table and clavier that really I do not know where I could put another bed --- and as for sleeping in one bed --- that I shall only do with my future wife." (W.A. Mozart - Vienna, 17 November 1781). The accompanying booklet itself makes an interesting reading material. What makes it even more impressive is that Christofellis himself penned this scholarly writing (in French). Equally good English and German translation is provided as well as complete lyrics. For more info see Male Soprano website and The Aris Christofellis Voice Page.

Händel: Arie per Castrato
Bongiovanni GB 5566-2 [August 4-6, 1996]
Rinaldo: Cara sposa, amante cara (Handel)
Composer: George Frederick Handel
Performer: Angelo Manzotti, Camerata Anxanum

For this CD, Manzotti selected Handel's operatic arias from "Rinaldo", "Rodelinda", "Partenope", "Ariodante", "Aci e Galatea" and "Arianna in Creta". I like the cover picture more than anything else where Manzotti fashions costume of 18th C castrato and makeup to go with it :-). This CD might be worthwhile to get just for the sake of a novelty cover photo. (And who said one should not judge a book by the cover?) Additional information about Manzotti can be found at Male Soprano website and Angelo Manzotti official site.

*denotes release date, all others are recording date
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