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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 11, No. 10 August 2006

Philippe Jarousky

by Philippe Gervais et Pascal Lysaught / August 6, 2006

Version française...

Ceux qui níont pas vu Philippe Jaroussky ŗ Montrťal ou ŗ Quťbec en mai dernier pourront se rendre au Domaine Forget (www.domaineforget.com) pour un rťcital Vivaldi, le 15 aoŻt, avec líensemble Artaserse.

Counter-tenor Philippe Jarousskyís first visit to Quebec hasnít gone unnoticed Ė and for good reason: heís star material. Like Cecilia Bartoli, the 28-year-old sings without a score, making instant contact with the audience entranced by the breadth of his expressive range and colour palette Ė his crystal-clear high notes, daring vocalizing, and expressive phrasing. All the magic of baroque theatre combined with an overriding sense of naturalness is present here. He can look forward to a magnificent career.

LSM: When did you discover your vocation as a singer?

PJ: I began as a violinist. Then, at 18, I heard a counter-tenor in concert. The singer was Fabrice di Falco, whose ease of style and clear, clean high notes impressed me. I thought I could do the same, that I had it in me. I decided to study with di Falcoís coach, a marvellous teacher with whom Iíve been working for the last ten years. It saved me from jumping from one teacher to the next, as many singers do. I began meeting a lot of people Ė Jean-Claude Malgoire, then Gťrard Lesne, who asked me to sing in Scarlattiís oratorio Sedecia. I was 21 at the time, and it was my first CD appearance! Iíve been very lucky to have inspired confidence at such a young age. It enabled me to work when I was still a student, something thatís not given to everyone.

When did you meet Marie-Nicole Lemieux?

While recording Vivaldiís Orlando furioso with Jean-Christophe Spinosi and the Matheus Ensemble. I have to say that we were immediately drawn to each other. But our friendship might not have developed if there hadnít been further projects. We met again for two other Vivaldi operas with the same chamber group Ė Fida Ninfa and Griselda (which is being released this fall on CD). We were also in Berlin together for a production of Monteverdiís Return of Ulysses with Renť Jacobs. Next year weíll be sharing the stage again for the Opťra de Nancy in Handelís Giulio Cesare. Marie-Nicole will sing the title role while I do the Tolomeo role. Weíre really looking forward to it! Both of us have established a real working relationship. For example, I asked her to sing on my latest CD, and we clearly want to work together whenever possible.

Yet you have very different voices.

Yes. But, you know, the most similar voices donít go together best. Itís the result, the chemistry, that counts. Also, our temperaments complement one another. Iím more reserved, more focused on the musicological side of things, whereas sheís spontaneous and fiery, which means we have a lot of fun together. By the way, Marie-Nicole is hugely popular in Europe.

The best counter-tenors have very distinct voices. Take James Bowman, Renť Jacobs, and Lesne, for example Ė each seems to have a timbre and technique that is all their own.

Yes, thatís very true. Itís the same for Dominique Visse, Andreas Scholl, and many others. You canít help recognizing them! The counter-tenor voice
doesnít get the traditional lyric treatment, so it can be approached in a very personal way at the outset of training.

How then do you find ďyourĒ voice when you develop in this register, and make it special?

You shouldnít try to find a different voice. You should preserve the intrinsic qualities of your natural voice and work at getting rid of flaws. The originality of my voice lies largely in my high-range harmonics. My register is closer to that of a mezzo and even of a soprano in its very clear colour. My tessitura is very distinct, which means that I couldnít sing the role of Julius Caesar in Handelís opera, for example. Iím not yet ready to attack the alto repertoire. However, on DVD Iíve sung the Speranza in Monteverdiís Orfeo and Nero in Handelís Agrippina Ė two roles usually reserved for women.

Is there a particular counter-tenor whom you admire?

James Bowman was one of the first I heard sing. Iíve seen him again recently. Heís incredible, especially in the English repertoire. Henri Ledroit, who died early, also influenced me. His voice had a great deal of warmth and emotional expressiveness. His recordings were very distinctive and are perfect, even today, from the musicological standpoint. Lesne actually was greatly inspired by him, to the point where thereís a real French counter-tenor school, as there is an English or American school. In fact there are many young counter-tenors everywhere now, dozens in fact on both continents.

You have a fine recording career before you. Are you planning to do your version of the most outstanding works, such as Vivaldiís Stabat Mater?

At the risk of surprising many people, I enjoy presenting little-known works, as in my last CD, ďBeata Vergine.Ē Even Vivaldiís cantatas with bass continuo that I had performed in the past are far from being familiar works. But Iíll do the Stabat Mater eventually, when my voice has developed its lower range. In July Iíll be recording a Vivaldi album with the Matheus ensemble, as Cecilia Bartoli has done with Giardino armonico. It may seem overconfident to follow in her footsteps, but my recording will be different from hers; none of the selections will be the same.

You will also be bringing out a recording honouring the castrato Carestini. Was his voice similar to yours?

Yes, although not at the beginning or end of his career. Like many castrati, he began as a soprano and ended up as an alto. Luckily Carestini sang in the mezzo range for a good part of his life, which is why I chose him. People always talk about Farinelli, but he doesnít necessarily represent the period. His career was fairly short and he didnít sing many masterworks. Consequently, I think itís interesting to familiarize listeners with Carestiniís repertoire. He worked for Handel (and was the first to sing the role of Ariodante), as well and for Porpora and Gluck.

A number of people think that womenís voices are more appropriate than menís today to handle the virtuosity and exceptional vocal range of the

Thereís a lot of discussion about this currently. In order to replace the castrati, should you use a counter-tenor or a woman? The castrati did indeed have vocal capacities that were greatly superior to todayís counter-tenors. Castration reduced the lengthening of vocal cords and stopped the larynx from growing. At the same time, it caused lung capacity to grow more than usual. These singers therefore developed powerful voices that women today can recreate in a more convincing manner, to be honest. Just look at Cecilia Bartoli Ė she sings castrati music divinely, holding her notes and projecting her voice in a way that few counter-tenors can. Marie-Nicole Lemieux also comes to mind, as in the title role of Vivaldiís Orlando furioso, where she dresses as a man. She achieves a heroic effect that I donít possess. However, in the same opera I think the role of Ruggiero fits me well. It has a certain child-like aspect, a mix of strength and refinement that can be troubling. I wouldnít be able to sing Orlandoís mad scenes with enough dramatic effect, but Iím able to give a dreamy quality to Ruggiero. So you see a counter-tenor and a contralto can take part in the same production, each in their own way Ė something you see a lot these days.

Youíre doing more and more opera. Have you been faced with staging that you didnít like?

Weíve all been victims of poorly planned productions, and will be again! Thereís a feeling that singers are just actors on the stage and that they have to deal with their voices no matter what theyíre doing, lying down in some impossible position and so on. That being said, I have to admit that one often feels an urge to dig more deeply into the psychology of the characters. For example, when I sang Telemaco in Monteverdiís Return of Ulysses, I had to work very hard to portray the characterís complex nature. I found it interesting, even if not everyone understood what was being done. I prefer a production that dares to go further to one that is simply nice to look at.

You attach a lot of importance to the libretto, to diction.

Yes. I like to find just the right stress for a word. Iím learning a lot right now listening to French song. In opera thereís a tendency toward caricature, whereas when you see Jacques Brel perform, for example, itís clear that he knows how to prepare for the words by his facial expression, to anticipate the note, to place the consonants, and finally to give it the necessary delineation without exaggerating. When I sing the Stabat Mater by Sances, I donít want to illustrate every word, even though the text is very visual, because then Iíll lose the magical dimension. Bartoli may be my model, but at the moment Iím trying to find a natural approach. I want to refine my technique and delivery. Itís harder to do this with seventeenth-century music than with eighteenth. Youíve got to find a delicate balance, to avoid having too little expression or going over the top.

You really take recordings to heart!

Itís my way of leaving a mark, however small. Look at how large a place Callas or Menuhin holds in peopleís imaginations nowadays! I hope that my recordings will endure, even if for only a few listeners. We performers are the means of keeping alive the publicís admiration for geniuses like Vivaldi or Handel, who have contributed so much to the development of humanity. n

[Translated by Jane Brierley]

Those who missed Jaroussky in Montreal or Quebec City last May can catch him at the Domaine Forget (www.domaineforget.com) for a Vivaldi recital with the Artaserse chamber group on August 15 and at Festival Vancouver (www.festivalcancouver.ca) on August 11.

Version française...

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