Argentinian countertenor Franco Fagioli has always been a live wire. A glimpse at any of his richly compelling stage performances – try Vinci’s fascinating Artaserse – should convince you that here is an artist prepared to take risks in the pursuit of something invariably rich and occasionally strange.
A previous recitals of arias for the great Caffarelli and a disc of Porpora were on the Naïve label (now seemingly defunct) and won raves, not least from Limelight. This Rossini recital is his solo debut on Deutsche Grammophon and has all the hallmarks of a Fagioli classic.
The first to study countertenor in his native Argentina, Fagioli apparently started out singing bel canto rather than Baroque, so this is a homecoming of sorts, but there’s not a castrato aria in sight, let alone a Bel raggio lusinghier or a Di tanti palpiti. Instead, the singer has gone out on a limb to intrigue and entertain with a selection of arias for male characters that were written for, and usually sung by, women.
Choices range from the unusual (the less famous arias from Tancredi and Semiramide) to the downright obscure (who knows Eduardo e Cristina?). Each one, however, proves a gem, lovingly turned in the light of Fagioli’s luminescent technique and given its chance to beguile, glitter and gleam.
For those who don’t know the voice, it’s a supple, warm – almost fruity – instrument. A hint of cover lends it a smoothness and a burnished quality, more individual in timbre, say, than some of his contemporaries – you’re never in doubt that this is a male voice. Ripe and plangent at the bottom, it can rise clarion-like to encompass some thrilling top notes, while his agility is faultless, ensuring that line is never sacrificed to empty effect.
With such a surfeit of riches, it seems churlish to choose favourites, but the two substantial scenes from the underrated opera seria, Adelaide di Borgogna, are superbly carried through, Fagioli capturing heroics and tenderness in equal measure. Likewise Arsace’s ardent Ah, quell giorno rammento from Semiramide, which runs a remarkable emotional gamut and climaxes in an exhilarating top B.
His regular collaborator, Greek maestro George Petrou, matches the dramatics with his crisply articulated period band Armonia Atenea. Listen to the bite at the beginning of the scene from Matilde di Shabran, or the punchy march rhythms accompanying Ottone’s welcome in the first Adelaide excerpt. It’s beautifully recorded too, with just enough depth and immaculate balance. Highly recommended.