Carlo Broschi, alias Farinelli, wrote six arias
for Maria Theresa of Austria in 1753. The Queen liked music
and ‘The Empress’s Notebook’ is now kept in the National Library
in Vienna. Broschi had studied with Porpora in Naples and with
Domenico Scarlatti in Spain but whilst he did compose – he wrote
some arias and keyboard sonatas during his tutelage with Scarlatti
for example and was known as an adept keyboard player – this
1753 collection is one of his most substantial.
Broschi the composer has long been outstripped
by Farinelli the Castrato. The fabulous and outré legends that
have accrued to the legendary singer are one thing but the arias
that he wrote for himself to perform are strictly another though
they share the same florid, dramatic, occasionally risible,
but stratospherically virtuosic cloth. It’s fair to say that
the demands in five of these six arias are staggeringly unceasing.
To attempt them in this first ever recording is that great rarity,
a male soprano or sopranist, Angelo Manzotti.
Manzotti has made his mark on disc before now
and he has been admired. Back in the mid-1990s he even released
a disc of Farinelli arias. On this occasion I am duty bound
to note that I wish that a delegation of performers and engineers
and record executives had convened seriously to consider the
frailties inherent in these performers. It would have been better
I think not to pursue publication. The question of male sopranos
is one I don’t think necessary to address here but with so much
in these arias of such monumental difficulty and with countertenors
unwilling or unable to take on this repertoire it’s really only
a female voice that could do justice to them.
The descending scale in Son qual nave
takes us from the - admittedly remarkable - upper reaches of
Manzotti’s voice to his natural baritone chest voice. The results
are, alas, more comic than triumphant, the registral break being
simply weird. His divisions are messy, intonation frequently
compromised, the voice registrations sometimes simply bizarre.
I have no doubt that Manzotti can be a remarkable performer
– one doesn’t hear a male sopranist every day – but the performances
here are so unstable and so flawed that it’s not a fair reflection
of his talents to judge him by this disc. The accompanying band
is dutiful but no more than that. There are full texts.
Perhaps Michael Maniaci or another of the new
breed of sopranist might one day have a go at these arias but
not, I think, for a while. They are florid and by and large
lacking in expressive potential. Best to pass by this one.