Franco Fagioli Handel Arias – Il pomo d’Oro directed by Zefira Valova

David Barmby

Astonishing.
Franco Fagioli Handel Arias – Il pomo d’Oro directed by Zefira Valova

Image: Franco Fagioli via Deutsche Grammophon.

Every now and again a new voice comes along that astounds and seems somehow to eclipse everything I have ever heard before.  Without a doubt, such is the case with this remarkable new recording of the Argentinian falsettist Franco Fagioli.  The agility and range of his voice is to my mind unprecedented for its type.  He has worked with conductors of the highest calibre, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, René Jacobs, Marc Minkowski, Riccardo Muti, Christophe Rousset, Riccardo Minasi, Emmanuelle Haïm, Diego Fagiolis and George Petrou among them.  This second recording for Deutsche Grammophon released last month came as quite a shock to me.  The recordings are of arias from Handel’s operas, all Olympian for their technical demands.  There’s a well-worn English putdown in reviewing that generally goes, 'the voice may not be to everyone’s taste.'  And though this voice is quite feminine in character, indeed it could be mistaken for an excellent coloratura mezzo, I savoured it from start to finish.

Ombra mai fu from Serse is truly lovely.  I cannot say more.  Crude furie degl’orridi abissi almost spits bitterness, fire and venom while Cara sposa, amante cara from Rinaldo carries absolute, desolate tragedy.  But also listen to the jubilant outpouring of a new dawn in Dopo notte atra a funestra from Ariodante.  Ultimately, the final Ch’io parta? Si, crudele from Arsace strikes me as incomparable.  Words fail.  Astonishing.

What astounds is the range of this vocal artist; he sails well and comfortably in the c’ to g’ range normally reserved for sopranos but is able to go far higher (indeed to high c’’) as well as being able to seamlessly descend into a deep chest voice.  The da capo ornamentation is informed and stylish.  The tuning is spot on.  Trills are richly expressive and perfectly controlled.  Throughout there is a firebrand commitment to the temperament of each aria he sings.  His accompanying ensemble Il pomo d’Oro directed by Zefira Valova is superb.

Very highly recommended.

Rating: 4½ stars out of 5

Franco Fagioli Handel Arias – Il pomo d’Oro directed by Zefira Valova

Released in Deutsche Grammophon 12 January, 2018

0289 479 7541 0

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

David Barmby is former head of artistic planning of Musica Viva Australia, artistic administrator of Bach 2000 (Melbourne Festival), the Australian National Academy of Music and Melbourne Recital Centre.