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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Castrato Arias
La finta giardiniera, KV 196:
Se l’augellin sen fugge (Ramiro) [4:18]
Dolce d’amor compagna (Ramiro) [7:52]
Lucio Silla, KV 135:
Overture [7:30]
Pupille amate (Cecilio) [5:12]
Il tenero momento (Cecilio) [8:29]
La clemenza di Tito, KV 621:
Deh, per questo istante solo (Sesto) [7:24]
Idomeneo, KV 366:
Non ho colpa (Idamante) [6:01]
Le nozze di Figaro, KV 492:
Voi che sapete (Cherubino) [3:04]
Valer Sabadus (counter-tenor)
Recreation - Grosses Orchester Graz/Michael Hofstetter
rec. live, 2-3 December 2013, Stefaniensaal Graz, Austria
No texts provided

It was about two years ago that I first heard Romanian counter-tenor Valer Sabadus. He appeared in the tremendously good recording of Leonardo Vinci’s opera Artaserse (review). This triggered me to hear him again and the present recital disc was a splendid opportunity. Sabadus has a beautiful dramatic voice, vibrant and warm of tone. He is technically accomplished and phrases beautifully. Add to this an exploring spirit that has led him to delve among the music Mozart wrote for various castrato singers. The resulting programme for this disc is certainly appetizing.

Mozart wrote his first Italian opera, Mitridate, for the Carnival in Milan in 1770. Three of the roles were for castratos. More than twenty years later, in his very last opera La clemenza di Tito, Sesto was also sung by a castrato. Sesto is represented here while from his early Italian period we get Lucio Silla, premiered in 1772. It was reportedly only a moderate success, whereas Mitridate saw twenty-one performances and was a resounding success for the 14-year-old Austrian. He had matured during the two years that separate the operas. In Lucio Silla we anticipate the master-to-be more than just occasionally. The lively overture with a more muted middle section is more or less what an overture was expected to be, which isn’t to say that he hadn’t done his homework properly. It is well-crafted music that would be an asset as concert-opener at any orchestral concert. The arias are even more than that and Pupille amate has claims to be an early masterwork.

Ramiro’s two arias from La finta giardiniera, premiered in Munich in 1775 are also excellent examples of the young Mozart’s art. Already nineteen he was an experienced composer but had the bad luck to get a libretto that was in no way worthy of him. Out of context the arias are fine vehicles for an accomplished singer and the lack of texts with this issue isn’t a big deal.

Five years later Mozart created his big opera seria Idomeneo, the gateway to the masterpieces that were to follow within a few years. Mozart himself regarded it as more than a gateway. He obviously loved it more than any of his other works. It is also structured differently from his earlier operas with dramatic choruses, several ensembles and more expressive writing for the orchestra. When composing the music for Idamantes Mozart encountered problems since Vincenzo dal Prato seems to have been a rather incompetent singer. Mozart wrote to his father: “he is incapable of making a meaningful entrance into an aria, and such an uneven voice! ... His breath is often gone in the middle of an aria … The entire fellow is unhealthy on the inside … the boy cannot do anything. His voice wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t in his throat. – By the way, he has no intonation whatsoever – no method - no sensitivity – just sings – about like the best of the boys who audition to be taken into the Kapellhaus.” Mozart saved the poor singer by giving him ample time to breathe – inserting many rests in the music. It is fascinating to see how Non ho colpa became a fine aria in spite of the singer’s limitations.

More than ten years were to pass before he wrote his last castrato role, for La clemenza di Tito, premiered in September 1791. The singer of Sesto was a veteran, already in his mid-40s, but he was an accomplished actor and singer and Deh, per questo istante solo is no doubt the greatest castrato aria Mozart ever wrote. It gets a noble reading here with full and rounded tone.

Now to the crucial question: How far is the sound we hear on this attractive disc from the true castrato sound? The recordings by Alessandro Moreschi, made more than 110 years ago, are the only source we have for the castrato sound, and seemingly he wasn’t a particularly good singer. Maybe he had been good – in his early career he was called “The Angel of Rome” – although he was still only in his mid-40s when he made his recordings. Anyway he definitely sounds like a man and the steely, penetrating tones he produces are far from the traditional counter-tenor sounds (read Alfred Deller) we have been accustomed to. Valer Sabadus belongs to the latest generation of falsetto singers, who have fuller, more virile, maybe even more masculine sounds. Voi che sapete from Le nozze di Figaro – which isn’t a castrato aria – is very convincingly the sound of a young man, whose voice has not yet broken. Whatever doubts we may have about the vexed question of male vs female executors of trouser roles, a modern counter-tenor could be a worthy alternative casting for Cherubino.

My general impression of Sabadus is very positive, and he is now added to my growing list of extremely good counter-tenors, some verging on being classified as sopranos. Max Emanuel Cencic, former boy soprano of the Wiener Sängerknaben, actually sang as a male soprano for some years, but has now transferred to counter-tenor.

The recording is good – 'live' the booklet says but there are few signs of an audience – and the orchestra play well. I wish there had been texts – most of the arias are far from standard fare. I would also have preferred the arias presented in chronological order. These objections shouldn’t prevent any Mozart-lover from acquiring the disc.

Göran Forsling



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