Philippe Jarouskyby Philippe Gervais et Pascal Lysaught
/ August 6, 2006
Ceux qui n’ont pas vu Philippe Jaroussky
à Montréal ou à Québec en mai dernier pourront se rendre
au Domaine Forget (www.domaineforget.com) pour un récital Vivaldi,
le 15 août, avec l’ensemble Artaserse.
Counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky’s
first visit to Quebec hasn’t gone unnoticed
– and for good reason: he’s 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 – 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
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
Falco’s coach, a marvellous teacher with whom I’ve 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 – Jean-Claude
Malgoire, then Gérard Lesne, who asked me to sing in Scarlatti’s
oratorio Sedecia. I was 21 at the time, and it was my first CD
appearance! I’ve been very lucky to have inspired confidence at such
a young age. It enabled me to work when I was still a student, something
that’s not given to everyone.
When did you meet Marie-Nicole
While recording Vivaldi’s 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 hadn’t been further projects. We
met again for two other Vivaldi operas with the same chamber group –
Fida Ninfa and Griselda (which is being released this fall
on CD). We were also in Berlin together for a production of Monteverdi’s
Return of Ulysses with René Jacobs. Next year we’ll be sharing
the stage again for the Opéra de Nancy in Handel’s Giulio Cesare.
Marie-Nicole will sing the title role while I do the Tolomeo role. We’re
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 don’t go together best. It’s the result, the chemistry, that
counts. Also, our temperaments complement one another. I’m more reserved,
more focused on the musicological side of things, whereas she’s 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, René Jacobs, and Lesne, for example
– each seems to have a timbre and technique that is all their own.
Yes, that’s very true. It’s the same
for Dominique Visse, Andreas Scholl, and many others. You can’t help
recognizing them! The counter-tenor voice
doesn’t 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
“your” voice when you develop in this register, and make it special?
You shouldn’t 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 couldn’t sing the role of Julius Caesar
in Handel’s opera, for example. I’m not yet ready to attack the
alto repertoire. However, on DVD I’ve sung the Speranza in
Monteverdi’s Orfeo and Nero in Handel’s Agrippina
– 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. I’ve seen him again recently. He’s 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 there’s 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 Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater?
At the risk of surprising many people,
I enjoy presenting little-known works, as in my last CD, “Beata Vergine.”
Even Vivaldi’s cantatas with bass continuo that I had performed in
the past are far from being familiar works. But I’ll do the Stabat
Mater eventually, when my voice has developed its lower range. In
July I’ll 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 doesn’t necessarily represent the period. His career
was fairly short and he didn’t sing many masterworks. Consequently,
I think it’s interesting to familiarize listeners with Carestini’s
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 women’s
voices are more appropriate than men’s today to handle the virtuosity
and exceptional vocal range of the
There’s 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 today’s 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
– 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 Vivaldi’s Orlando furioso,
where she dresses as a man. She achieves a heroic effect that I don’t
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 wouldn’t be able to sing Orlando’s mad
scenes with enough dramatic effect, but I’m 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 – something
you see a lot these days.
You’re doing more and more opera.
Have you been faced with staging that you didn’t like?
We’ve all been victims of poorly planned
productions, and will be again! There’s a feeling that singers are
just actors on the stage and that they have to deal with their voices
no matter what they’re 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 Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses,
I had to work very hard to portray the character’s 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. I’m learning a lot right now listening to French song.
In opera there’s a tendency toward caricature, whereas when you see
Jacques Brel perform, for example, it’s 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 don’t want to illustrate every word, even though the text is very
visual, because then I’ll lose the magical dimension. Bartoli may
be my model, but at the moment I’m trying to find a natural approach.
I want to refine my technique and delivery. It’s harder to do this
with seventeenth-century music than with eighteenth. You’ve got to
find a delicate balance, to avoid having too little expression or going
over the top.
You really take recordings to heart!
It’s my way of leaving a mark, however
small. Look at how large a place Callas or Menuhin holds in people’s
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 public’s admiration for geniuses like Vivaldi or Handel, who have
contributed so much to the development of humanity. n
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.