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 Kansas City´s Online Journal of the Arts on 05.02.14

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PostSubject: Kansas City´s Online Journal of the Arts on 05.02.14    7th February 2014, 10:24

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Classical editor Karen Hauge spoke with leading French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky about his busy singing career, his current and upcoming projects in both Baroque and contemporary music, and his February 14 concert at Yardley Hall for The Friends of Chamber Music and Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College.


Karen Hauge: You began your musical studies not in voice but in violin and piano, correct?

Philippe Jaroussky: Yes, that’s correct.

KH: What led you to singing, especially to discovering your talent as a countertenor, which is fairly unusual for a singer?

PJ: Yes, it’s unusual, of course. There are more and more countertenors now starting their careers! I started music quite late; I started violin when I was eleven years old. Of course I loved to play violin but I wasn’t so happy with the instrument because [playing] it was telling me that I was a good musician but I should work more intensively with technique! When I started to sing at age eighteen, it’s true that I really wanted to sing directly in this high voice. Maybe because I was a violinist, maybe I have a taste for high notes, I don’t know! I really didn’t want to sing baritone or tenor. When you feel comfortable […], for me, that’s the best way to do music with the voice. I never sang as a boy, and I never wanted to imitate a female singer. That’s how it started for me. I started to discover and love this [Baroque] repertory, [and] singing it when I started to be a countertenor. It’s a surprise of life, you know; I would never expect to become a countertenor and to sing everywhere with this type of voice.

KH: I never would have imagined that you were born to be anything but a singer from listening to you—I never would have known that you didn’t start studying singing until you were eighteen.

PJ: Maybe it helped me, of course, to be a musician before, because I could relate directly to the scores. At the same time, I started my career quite quickly. My first concerts and my first operas were [performed] at age twenty-one. My musical maturity was bigger than my natural ability concerning my body, which wasn’t really [ready] to sing such difficult stuff, like bigger arias written for castrati. After two, three, years of sing[ing] professionally, I had some troubles. It was too soon, too early, and I needed many, many years to finally put this countertenor voice more in my body, and to be more with everything, you know? And it’s true, that finally, to really feel that you are a singer, you need many, many years of training for sure; it’s not just because you are gifted and you have a nice voice that you can become an opera singer and be strong enough to assumethat. I needed many, many years to finally find a serenity about all these things.

KH: You mentioned that you were attracted to the kind of repertoire that one might find as a countertenor, particularly, and most of what you focus on in your recordings and performances is the Baroque and early music area. Were you just attracted to that kind of music originally? Did that play into you wanting to sing countertenor?

PJ: Actually, when I was a violinist, I was more interested [in] Shostakovich, Stravinsky, all the Russian music, and Brahms, you know? The first time I was engaged to sing an opera, it was L’incoronazione di Poppea [by] Monteverdi. It was a huge shock for me, because as a violinist I didn’t know the music of Monteverdi. As a young singer, it was really something special for me. Now, of course, for example I’m [giving] concerts of Baroque music because there are lovers of this music all around the world, which is fantastic, and I think that Baroque music is working a lot in the USA now, too. It’s true that now, sometimes, I need to sing different things. I’m trying to collaborate with composers from now, also I like to sing French songs by Fauré, [and] Debussy. It’s true that most of the time I sing the Baroque repertory which can sometimes be quite stressful because I’m singing the kinds of things like arias that were composed for castrati. We know that a countertenor is not a castrato, fortunately, and those are quite different voices. Sometimes, I choose this repertory because it’s very demanding, very virtuosic, very challenging, and of course to have the first contact with music that doesn’t work so well, it becomes very risky sometimes. It’s high, it’s low, there’s plenty of coloratura things, and of course it’s showing off all the capacities of the voice. You have to be in good form. I chose this repertory because it’s only my second tour in America and I really wanted to have something very, we can say, show-off more than other repertory.

KH: In an effort to engage more with new music, have you considered collaborating with and commissioning composers to write new works for you?

PJ: Yes. The countertenor voice in the world of classical music is quite new. We’re discovering this voice in the last forty, fifty years now. The first countertenor, Alfred Deller, started to sing like this after the Second World War. Naturally, we have to think about music because of course, [there is] an option, if [the music] is for castrati, then you can choose a male or female singer, but at the same time I think each countertenor has to build his own repertory, something to be comfortable with, and some of my colleagues will be more comfortable with Mozart, [etc.]. For me, it’s more contemporary music or French songs. As a countertenor, I feel quite free to choose what I really want to sing. I think each countertenor can really build his own repertory. Of course, I have to sing things not composed for me, for my voice, and of course to collaborate with a composer is a totally different thing. You can really think, you can really change with the composer, tell him what you think is good for your voice. You know the castrati, they were doing that all the time, all the time they were singing things composed for them. For me, it is more fun to make this type of project.

KH: Can you explain a little bit about the concert you’ll be performing in Kansas City on Valentine's Day? American audiences recognize the name “Handel” but I think the name “Porpora” escapes most of us a little. Can you tell us why these two?

PJ: I did an entire Porpora album a few months ago and his music composed for the castrato Farinelli. I did a big tour in Europe of the project, but in America I wanted to make a program more like one I had already tried in Australia, which was a program trying to make a revival of this very legendary battle between Handel and Porpora in London. They had two different theaters, and they were fighting each other. And of course when Porpora had to fight with Handel, Porpora was very conscious of the talent of Handel, who was of course one of the most incredible geniuses. [So Porpora] had Farinelli come to London because at this period, everybody wanted to hear Farinelli, he was already a legend. Of course this was a concern for Handel because he had to fight without Farinelli, but he had Carestini, who was one of the most incredible castratos. Finally, we see that Handel gave two of his best operas during this period, Alcina and Ariodante, because of this competition with Porpora. That’s what I want to make in this program, to see that Porpora and Handel composed incredible arias during this period for two legendary singers, and of course I have to change my way of singing if I’m singing arias composed for Farinelli or for Carestini, and I’m sure the audience can imagine, because the writing is a little bit different. I think it’s a very entertaining program for the audience also because you have some very, very famous arias by Handel. One of my favorites is “Scherza infida” from Ariodante, which is probably one of the most amazing arias Handel composed, and I really wanted to sing this aria in the US.

KH: Well I know our audiences are very much looking forward to hearing you!

PJ: Thank you!

KH: I just wanted to close with one question about future projects. You had mentioned that you’re starting to collaborate with other musicians, and I noticed that you’ve collaborated on an album that’s coming out in a couple of months. What’s in the future for you?

PJ: Sometimes it’s difficult to speak too clearly about future projects, but it’s true that I have a lot, lot, lot of different projects—CDs, opera recordings—I think my schedule is quite full until the end of 2017!

KH: [laughs] Wow!

PJ: [laughs] Yes, it’s a bit scary, but it’s quite difficult now to announce projects, but a few months ago I did my first CD in English, a special project with Christina Pluhar which will be released in March, which will be very interesting program because it’s Purcell’s music with some jazz improvisation on it, and it’s very refreshing because it’s a way to show that Baroque music can be very modern and sound very, very modern, and I’m sure that the CD will be something very…controversial [laughs].

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