One of most gifted new stars of the Early Music revival, which is now becoming an ever more important part of the international opera scene in general, is Philippe Jaroussky, a brilliant young French alto whose remarkably beautiful and flexible voice, coupled with both a precious and precocious musicality, is attracting an ever wider and more enthusiastic audience.
Born in 1978, Jaroussky began his musical studies with the violin and won admission to the Versailles Conservatory, where he soon switched his area of focus to voice, via a short stint of piano study. He received a diploma from the Conservatoire de Paris, having worked there with the Early Music faculty.
The first musical selection, "Pianti, sospiri," from a Vivaldi cantata for voice and continuo, shows the essential Jaroussky: young, vigorous, extremely musical, and absolutely brilliant in his execution of the very demanding fioratura in this piece. I wish to call to attention something that might sound like a strange thing to focus upon, and that is the very obvious delight that these young players and singers bring to their music. This is one of the things that is most attractive about ancient music, and that is the unalloyed pleasure and enthusiasm that accompanies pure music. This is a superb example of ars gratia artis—art for its own sake, art as its own reward. For the musically and aesthetically sensitive music and theater lover, this is the perfect antidote to the vulgar and dreary self importance of verismo, which has come to annoy so many. This is pure music, almost pure magic. Its appeal is instantaneous to those for whom the best music, the ideal music, is something that can be classified as a "sting quartet in Ab," as opposed to "The Mountain King Surveys the Wondrous Beauty of His Realm." The typical post-Wagnerian program music, for me at least, has always been just one step short of a film score. [There is, however, a great exception here—program music is often the ideal format for interactive programs created by music educators to introduce young people to classical music. The utility of such music there is extremely important.] But enough. Back to the 18th century. There is a short spoken introduction to this section, but the radio button moves forward quickly, so you should be able to move it rapidly to the beginning of the musical selection, which starts at 1:25. Also, there are several selections on the video—the first is perfectly adequate on its own:
Aren't they adorable! It's hard to say who is having the most fun; Jaroussky, the harpsichordist or the cellist. It's hard not to fall in love with everyone in the ensemble. This is unalloyed pleasure and musical happiness and it is greatly affecting. I'm well aware that all these young people are "precious and expensive" conservatory types (Jaroussky has spent a large part of his life in conservatories), where not only musical sophistication but even virtuosity are taken for granted, which makes musical execution like this possible. They are so far advanced that they can pretty much forget technique and self-consciousness and relax into the rapturous expression of musical art. That is certainly part of the charm, but it goes beyond that. One can see it easily in another famous alto, Cecilia Bartoli, who has basically chosen to dedicate her life to Baroque music, even musical scholarship, to the dismay of some opera fans who resent the fact that they seem to have lost a breast-beating Amneris in favor of an entire album dedicated to Antonio Salieri or to the many concerts showcasing Vivaldi's music, an area in which she has established herself as a respectable scholar, even to the point of having discovered some of the Prete Rosso's previously undiscovered manuscripts. This is a new breed of independent young singer indeed, and I applaud them.
Finally, here is Jaroussky doing an operatic selection, "Se in ogni guardo," from Vivaldi's Orlando Finto Pazzo (Orlando Feigning Madness). This is the kind of music in which the 18th century castrati excelled, and with which they made splendid livings, attracting huge audiences. My own feeling is that the great bulk of them could not compete with today's altos such as Jaroussky or David Daniels. The pen is mightier than the sword, and technique mightier than the knife! Again, the music starts at 1:35, and the first piece is adequate:
That is so spectacular! I will say, however, that Jaroussky's hopping and bouncing around, while it is amusing to watch, is not the best idea. Great singers have characteristically stood absolutely still when they sing in concert; their entire attention concentrated on the diaphragm and the throat. He is very young, though, and he may well learn to hold it down, lest he take flight on gossamer wing, up, up and away:)
Let's all wish this brilliant young man a continuing career. No one can say what is going to happen, but the signs of stress are everywhere apparent in the operatic repertoire we have all become accustomed to in the last 50 years. The history of elegant singing during the Baroque represents a distinguished past, and if past is indeed prelude to the future, then we have reason to rejoice.