Countertenorphiles of the world, unite in jealousy of me. Last Friday night I saw Philippe Jaroussky in concert with the Brandenburg Orchestra. And he is fabulous. As you might expect, given all the awards he's won and his growing superstardom.
His voice wasn't quite what I expected. I think I was expecting something a bit looser and more mezzo-ish. But he's a soprano, and a terribly beautiful one at that. The voice is focused, full of colour; the tone so sweet it's practically edible and yet not cloyingly so. He throws himself into the most fiendish coloratura fearlessly and with an engaging physicality. His agility is impressive; what's most incredible though is his simply stunning breath control — and, hand in hand with that, outrageously perfect pianissimi. To begin at the end — the sustained first note of his encore, Porpora's "Alto giove", was not of this earth. And I don't mean that as a "countertenors sound ethereal and otherworldly" cliché — simply, it was a sound so shattering perfect it can't have originate from a boring flesh-and-bone human being. Alas, nothing in this paragraph gives any real sense of his appeal; he needs to be seen and heard. He's totally likeable; modest, even — no showboating, even when it would be quite justified. Besides which, the voice is something special. I like him a lot. I'm considering going back for seconds — he's delicious.
As was the programme — Ferrari, Monteverdi, Stradella, Handel, Vivaldi and more besides. In between his appearances, the Brandenburg Orchestra played orchestral bits and pieces, including some seriously impressive improvisations on seventeenth century pieces, where all that's survived are the melody and bass lines. Oh but it was as always upon the every word of the soprano that I hung — he was magical. With every item he just got better and better. D'India's "Piangono al pianger mio" was perhaps the point where he captured me properly, a quiet and spellbinding lament which elicited a collective audience sigh when it came to a close. The first half was fascinating — all seventeenth century — but in the second half, with Handel, Vivaldi and Fux, that he shone even brighter. Actually he reminds me a little of Cecilia — the gutsy, physical approach to coloratura, coupled with a serene, deeply moving way with a lament. He thrills with brilliance and then moments later he's all hushed devastation. Gorgeous. His final programmed aria was one of few truly familiar numbers in the programme — Rinaldo's "Venti, turbini". To which all I can respond is — wow. Wow.
This, clearly, is not a review. I'm in devotion mode. Harriet Cunningham's review in the Herald provides a bit more balance and detail, though she loves him too. I would take issue with her opening words, however. I actually don't think it is "still a shocking sound". I think we're well and truly over that, aren't we? At least, those of us who hear a reasonable amount of countertenor singing, and I assume that's the case for both myself and Harriet Cunningham. Calling it "shocking" just seems to me a reviewing cliché. Be brave, say something different; just review the singer without feeling obliged to acknowledge how "weird" a male soprano supposedly is. Anyway enough reviewing-of-the-review. At any rate I certainly can't argue with the last word of her review. This was definitely bliss. If Philippe Jaroussky isn't a part of your life already, make him one.