(Photo: Benoit Auguste)
Over the course of the 17th century, the role of the tenor was displaced by the rise of the castrato. Whilst in opera’s early years tenors were given prominent roles, such as the title role in Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo,” by the middle of the century they were relegated to comic or travesti roles. During the early 18th century, however, they began to be assigned more significant, although not yet the central parts. It was a movement, however, which was eventually to lead to the tenor taking the pre-eminent male roles the in Romantic operas of the 19th century.
Among the tenors who took advantage of the changing tastes of the early 18th century was Annibale Pio Fabbri who, born in Bologna in 1696, went on to forge a successful career across Europe, performing roles in operas by the likes of Handel, Vivaldi and Scarlatti. He was noted for his strong stage presence and his “sweet, clear and firm” voice. Owen Swiney wrote that he “sings in as good a Taste as any Man in Italy.” Following a career in which he established himself as one of the leading singers of his day, Fabbri died in Lisbon in 1760.
The Italian tenor Marco Angioloni’s recent CD on the Pan Classics label, entitled “A Baroque Tenor,” contains a series of arias which Fabbri performed during his career and which helped him establish his European-wide reputation.
A Musical Grand Tour
The disk presents the arias as a journey, taking in the major cities of Europe in which Fabbri performed, with each city associated to a specific composer. It starts in the year 1716, in Venice, the city of Vivaldi’s birth, with five tracks taken from two of his operas “Arsilda, regina di Ponto” and “L’incoronazione di Dario.” He then moves on to Rome, presenting two arias from Alessandro Scarlatti’s 1718 opera “Telemaco,” before arriving in Naples for an aria taken from Domenico Sarro’s 1724 opera “Didone Abbandonata.” Next on the itinerary is London, in the early 1730s, where we find him performing arias from five of Handel’s operas, “Rinaldo,” “Partenope,” “Publio Cornelio Scipone,” “Poro, re dell’Indie” and “Lotario.” His journey finally concludes in Vienna with an aria taken from Caldara’s 1734 opera “Adriano in Siria.”
It is a format which works well. The distinctive style of each composer allied to their location captures the sense of being on a personal early 18th century musical journey across Europe. Moreover, the inclusion of three sinfonie and an overture from Handel’s operas ensures that the recording has a pleasing balance with space for the arias breathe. There is no sense of the compression which can often occur when listening to a recital disk, with one aria almost eliding into the next or forced randomly to sit next to a track with which it has little connection.
A Pure Lyric Tenor
Angioloni describes his voice as a “pure lyric tenor.” He possesses a high level of vocal versatility, especially in the upper register, founded on a solid technique, although the lower register lacks weight. However, what really appeals about his singing is his attention to the details of the text, with which he fully engages, and is illustrated perfectly in his delivery of Caldara’s aria “Leon piagato a morte” where he successfully captures his character’s pain through carefully placed accents, and coloratura passages suggestive of his cries. Likewise, in his rendition of Vivaldi’s aria “Cessa tiranno amor” he plumbs the depths of the emotions as he coats the voice with a heavy melancholy. The negative side of his ambitious approach, however, is that on occasions it can compromise the beauty of his delivery.
One of Angioloni’s notable characteristics is his genuine inquisitiveness, and the enthusiasm with which he wishes to explore new themes or overlooked pieces. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the disk includes eight tracks which have so far never been recorded, of which Sarro’s aria “Se dalle stelle tu non sei guida” is particularly pleasing. Supported by the ensemble Il Groviglio’s delicate, light accompaniment, Angioloni shows off his vocal versatility and convincing interpretive ability in a series of finely crafted coloratura displays, as the piece skipped forward with a pleasing momentum.
Filippo Mineccia performs in two pieces, singing a passage of recitative from Handel’s “Lotario,” and as part of the duet “Pur t’abbraccio pur t’annodo” from Vivald’s “Arsilda, regina di Ponto.” This interesting vocal combination of tenor and countertenor complement each other nicely, and along with the orchestra, create a pleasing texture, from which Mineccia’s distinctive voice is able to rise brightly, and to good affect. The bass Michele Mignone also a makes a brief appearance for a passage of recitative from the same opera.
Mention should also be given to the two previously unrecorded Scarlatti arias. He is a composer whose operas seem to be attracting increasing interest of late, and these two examples of his work will only add to it. Both are given fine presentations, of which “Io pavento il tradimento” stood out with its fast changing tempi, and Angioloni’s emotionally sensitively crafted phrases.
The playing of the musical ensemble Il Groviglio, under the musical direction of Stéphane Fuget, is graceful and elegant, and the instrumental tracks are delightfully rendered, in which the Act 3 Sinfonia from Handel’s “Partenope” caught the attention with its finely managed rhythmic contrasts, as did his very short sinfonia and accompagnato from “Lotario” which is lively and fresh, and sensitively supported by Angioloni and Mineccia’s equally short exchanges. The only negative criticism of their playing was that they are inclined, on occasions, to be overly passive when Angioloni is singing, relying on him to provide the full dramatic content of the piece.
As with his first solo recording “Il Canto della Nutrice” on the Da Vinci label, “A Baroque Tenor” comes with an informative booklet, and an attractively presented cover image of the singer.
Overall, this is an improvement on Angioloni’s previous solo disk. The voice has matured, it displays a greater degree of security and confidence, and his interpretative skills have benefited as a consequence. There is more balance, less need to convince the listener of his capabilities, and he is now more focused on interpretation. Moreover, the inclusion of so many previously unrecorded tracks is certainly an added bonus.