For better or worse, here it is! I hope it's helpful.
J-M D.: This contest with the trumpet was really quite extraordinary. Was it a challenge to achieve?
Ph. J.: Yes, in fact, part of the Farinelli myth is this story of the competition with a trumpet during his beginnings in Rome when he was still very young. Obviously, he won!
J-M D.: You also won in a way. Did you have something to win or not?
Ph. J.: Trumpets (or rather the trumpeters, I guess! A.
) can go up to top D. I can’t manage that! In any case, I thought long and hard before doing a Farinelli project because he’s someone who fascinates but also arouses fear in singers. For a number of years, I’ve been reluctant to do a Farinelli project. In fact, it’s the music of Porpora that persuaded me (to do it). Above and beyond the personality of Farinelli, I wanted to talk about the fact that all these castrati were nothing without their teachers, without this very special Neapolitan school of singing.
J-M D: Briefly, on the one hand you have the teacher and composer, Porpora, and on the other hand, the pupil. It’s this relationship that you’ve drawn attention to ….
Ph. J. Yes, the two (personalities) were extremely closely linked. We don’t have any of their letters. There was no correspondence but we do know that Porpora shaped his pupil completely right from when he was very young, from the time of the castration. He fashioned him totally after his own tastes and I think that in the music – perhaps less in the bravura arias - but certainly in the long, slow arias, you can feel the affection and respect that Porpora had for his pupil.
J-M D: But nevertheless, you talk about Porpora as a tyrant …
Ph. J.: Well, I think of Porpora as being a great educator, very generous, who took his pupils into his own home, who lodged and fed them. He even took in Haydn at one point. When one is a great educator, one is very generous, as a rule – but I would imagine that there was also a patriarchal, rather strict side to him.
J-M D: You also say that Porpora was not a genius on the same level as Handel (Hell! Who is? A.
) but nevertheless you have chosen to record (his music). What do you mean by this?
Ph. J.: For me, the genius of Porpora manifests itself in his knowledge of the voice. You can’t compare it with the universal musical genius that was Handel with his gift for harmony and simplicity. You just can’t say that it’s the same thing. But Porpora is really a typical composer of the Neapolitan school who, along with a rather simple harmonic base, nevertheless has an unbelievable charm in the vocal line.
J-M D: He knew how to charm his audience …
Ph. J.: Absolutely! He was a real charmer.
J-M D: And he’s charmed you too …
Ph. J.: Hugely. And it’s true that the advantage of this sort of project is that you can pluck out the most beautiful arias from each opera. In fact, Porpora ear-marked, for the most part, his most beautiful arias for Farinelli – when Farinelli appeared in a production (of an opera), that is.
J-M D: Doesn’t this CD also reflect the pupil/teacher relationship with your own singing teacher, since you are still working together?
Ph. J.: Yes, I’ve had the good luck to work with Nicole Fallien right from the very beginning and it’s true that we have the same sort of relationship, since my teacher knows where I’m coming from. We continue to work on the exploration of colours, new ways of singing and it’s a relationship that goes beyond mere singing lessons. We’re really a team. She’s the person who knows my voice best. What I like in Porpora’s compositions for Farinelli – and it’s often said – and you can see it when you examine the scores – that many composers were in thrall to the vocal “monstruosity” of Farinelli – that is to say, that they felt obliged to write (vocal) pirouettes, very difficult things (to sing) – and Porpora was not particularly impressed by him since he knew him from when he was very young. I think that Porpora composes for Farinelli in a much more natural way.
J-M D: We’ll continue with another excerpt from “Polifemo” with Cecilia Bartoli, because you’re not singing completely solo on this CD.
Ph. J.: Yes, and what a great present! 2012 has been a bit of a Bartoli year for me and those duets are a wonderful gift. There are two duets and she interprets the rôle of La (Francesca) Cuzzoni, who was one of Farinelli’s favourite (singing) partners.
(04.28 Ph. J. looks s-ooooo sweet; pity the excerpt is so short – harrumph! A.
J-M D: … a duet with Philippe Jaroussky and Cecilia Bartoli on this Porpora CD, which comes out next week … Philippe Jaroussky, one gets the impression that there is an increasing number of countertenors on the French and international stage, and also in recordings. Is this a “fashionable” thing?
Ph. J. No, I don’t think so. Countertenors have been around for a number of years (I’ll say! Useless piece of information – Henry Purcell was reputed to be a good countertenor. A.
) and it’s true that we have a great variety of voices now – high soprano, mezzo and alto countertenors – and there’s a whole generation of young(er) singers who manage to have quite a technical and musical “baggage” whilst still being very young – really incredible. Actually, you could have seen this quite recently in ”Artaserse”. It was really quite exhilarating to have all these voices of such virtuosity together and it’s really beneficial for the countertenor voice, which is becoming more and more accepted as an operatic voice just like all the others. It’s a very positive thing.
J-M D.: And you find this stimulating?
Ph. J.: Hugely.
J-M D: It’s a kind of competition, isn’t it?
Ph. J.: No, it’s not competition. But in any case, it enables an artist like me who is already established, to evaluate certain things. This sabbatical year has also given me the opportunity to reflect more calmly about what I want to sing in the coming years.
J-M D: Well, then?
Ph. J.: Perhaps things with less virtuosity. This Farinelli CD may be one of the last “virtuoso” CDs dedicated to castrato voices. I’d like to concentrate on things which are a bit more spiritual – like Bach, Purcell – things which are in fact written (and more suitable) for a countertenor voice, like Handel’s oratorios. Indeed, I have future projects for such things.
J-M D: Philippe Jaroussky, I’m now asking you to listen to another type of music. (Is the interviewer worried that the listeners have such a short attention span that they will forget who the interviewee is? A.
) (It’s the inimitable Yves Montand singing “Les Feuilles Mortes”; I think this song is known as “Autumn Leaves” in English – another useless piece of information …A.
J-M D: We’d like to hear a bit more (better not, or I’ll get some weird urge to lead ladies of a certain age in a collective swoon – A.
) But we’d like to hear you first, Philippe Jaroussky (there he goes again – A.
). This song takes you back to the famous concert at Paris on the 14th July at the foot of the Eiffel Tower – you sang “Les Feuilles Mortes”. What memories do you have of this?
Ph. J. It wasn’t an easy choice. First of all, they asked me to sing a French song about Paris and we had quite a lot of possibilities to choose from; it wasn’t easy for me to find a song which would suit a countertenor voice, and mine in particular. One morning, I got up humming “Les Feuilles Mortes” (I’ve just gone weak-kneed at this prospect - A.
) and I thought that it was probably the best choice for me because it has a certain melancholy and a certain sweetness which could work. Obviously, it was a big challenge (Philippe, really!! What’s with all this “franglais”? – “un challenge” – what’s wrong with the good old-fashioned French word “défi”? A.
) because I was torn – on the one hand, I really didn’t want to sing it in an operatic or lyric way and on the other hand, I didn’t want to imitate the great French singers who sang these wonderful songs, either. I think I worked more on that song than for many operatic arias.
J-M D: You talked about your Bach project. Doesn’t this make you want to record the French chansons? Your parents listened to a lot of these French songs …
Ph.J.: Err, yes, I’ve already done projects on the French “mélodies” and these songs are really of the same musical quality – anyway, they’re not so very far removed from the “melodies” and I do have further projects on the “melodies françaises” – and perhaps in 5/10 years’ time - an album of French songs – why not?
J-M D: Well, there you are. Thank you for letting us know. In addition to your Porpora concert in Ambronay on the 19th, you’re also giving two master classes at Ambronay on the 12th September. Is it important to you, this passing on of your experience?
Ph. J. Yes, it’s something I’ve not had many opportunities to do and I intend to take it a step further. It will enable me to be in contact with young singers and to try to give them an idea of what it’s like to be in concert. A master class isn’t like a singing lesson but it’s an attempt to pass on all the experience one has gleaned during years of giving recitals. It’s the kind of exchange in particular that I would now like to do more often – two three times a year. That would interest me very much.
J-M D: Will it be open to the public? Can anyone attend?
Ph. J.: Yes, it’ll be public.
J-M D: What exactly will you say to those who come to this master class? What advice can you give to them?
Ph. J. Well, that depends on how (well) they sing! But it will rather be more geared towards style and what I can hear that could be improved in their means of expression and in terms of their stage presence. Being a singer is also very much a question of presence. It’s very interesting to share this with young singers.
J-M D: I’d like to go back to that Paris concert. Was it a good thing to sing with the Orchestre National de France? It was a kind of classical concert even if you sang “Les Feuilles Mortes” in front of the public at the Champ de Mars – a free concert for the public at large …
Ph. J. Well, let’s say that we found ourselves in conditions that we opera singers – well, me in any case, don’t have much experience of. It’s really like a big pop concert. There’s an enormous crowd around you and you can only sing for 3 minutes and 30 seconds and you have to sing over an enormous orchestra. It’s really very different but it’s also very exciting. It was a great experience for me – and especially at the end when everyone stood up and we all sang “La Marseillaise” together. It was very moving.
J-M D: Thank you, Philippe Jaroussky, for coming to France Musique this morning. The “Farinelli-Porpora” CD will come out in a week’s time under the Erato label. Thanks for giving us a preview – and the concert at Ambronay will be on the 19th, with master classes on the 12th – and the concerts at the TCE will be on the 23rd and 25th September – always “Porpora”.