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Carlo BROSCHI or FARINELLI (1705-1782)
Il Quaderno dell’Imperatrice arie per soprano di Farinelli dedicate a Maria Theresa d’Austria (1753) [50:31]
Angelo Manzotti (sopranist/male soprano)
Ensemble Isabella Leonardo/Maurizio Schiavo
rec. Chiesa di S.Albino, August 2007 
CONCERTO CD 2007 [50:31]

Experience Classicsonline


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.

Jonathan Woolf


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