In the baroque era, certain young singers made an extreme sacrifice for their art.
By PATRICK NEAS
Special to The Star
Some poor Italian families in the 18th century would have a son castrated to preserve his beautiful singing voice, so he could perhaps make his fortune as an opera singer. Many castrati did become hugely successful, like Farinelli, a full-blown superstar, with lucrative contracts and leading composers writing for his talents.
A countertenor is a singer with all of his man parts who, nevertheless, can sing with a very high voice approaching that of a castrato. One of the finest contemporary countertenors is Philippe Jaroussky. He will perform the music of George Frideric Handel and Nicola Porpora with the Venice Baroque Orchestra on Feb. 14 in Yardley Hall.
Unlike castrati, Jaroussky did not begin singing when he was a child. In fact, he began his musical career as a violinist, then pursued piano.
I was 18 when I went to a concert in a church in Paris and heard someone singing arias that Handel wrote for Farinelli, and I was really shocked, he said.
I was charmed by this music and really felt that I wanted to sing like this and that I could sing like this, and thats how it started. I started to study singing with my teacher, and I think it was a good choice. Just three years after I started, at the age of 21, I was engaged in my first opera.
Singing as a countertenor does have its specific challenges, but Jarousskys musical talent and hard work overcame them.
When you start to sing high like this, you have to train and practice for many years, he said. I remember when I sang my first concert, I asked my family and friends if it sounded natural. I really didnt want to choose something that wouldnt be natural.
I feel very comfortable as a countertenor, and I think I can give the best I can with this type of voice.
Its hard to know what a castrato sounded like and whether a countertenor reproduces that sound. Jaroussky thinks that physiological differences prevent the countertenor from sounding exactly like a castrato.
They had very small vocal cords, like children, he said. But they had a huge capacity for breathing. They were really able to sing a long time without breathing. Can you imagine the sensation in the audience? It was probably something incredible.
There are times when Im singing an aria, and Ill hold a note between 20 seconds and 30 seconds and people are quite impressed. But a castrato was probably able to hold this note two or three times longer than me.
You can expect Jarousskys concert to be dazzling nonetheless. He is considered not only one of the worlds finest countertenors but one of the finest singers of any sort. For his program in Yardley Hall he has chosen works by Handel and Porpora, Farinellis teacher, pyrotechnical displays of vocalism that promise to wow the audience.
Jaroussky will perform works that came out of the rivalry that occurred when Porpora moved to London to set up a theater to compete with Handels successful company.
I think the story of the competition between Handel and Porpora is very nice for the audience, Jaroussky said. If you try to compare the quality, Handel is a pure genius. I think hes one of the most incredible geniuses in the entire history of music. Porpora is different, of course. Maybe not the same genius, but he composed perfectly for the voice.
I tried to choose the best arias from each, so I read a lot of different scores and I chose the best arias. I had a lot to choose from.
Moonlight and Music
For 31 years, the Fine Arts Chorale has been making beautifully blended, exquisite music.
In a town with no lack of great choirs, the Fine Arts Chorale made its mark and earned a place in the hearts of its devoted fans.
But after its April concert, the Fine Arts Chorale will be no more.
Terri Teal, the choirs artistic director, has resigned and the board decided to discontinue the group. So now is the time to savor its final concerts.
For example Moonlight and Music on Feb. 14 at Californos restaurant in Westport.
Teal resigned her position at the beginning of this season, but she says the decision to end the Fine Arts Chorale was not hers.
That decision was made by the board, she said. They did some research and a lot of soul-searching and looked at everything. I think I understand. Theres a natural evolution, groups start and come to an end, and there are so many choral groups in Kansas City right now, which is a good thing. So that was the decision they made.
In an email, Mary Ball, president of the Fine Arts Chorales board, wrote:
The (Fine Arts) Chorale has been presenting great choral music in the Kansas City area for more than four decades, and doing so for 20-plus years under the masterful hand of Terri Teal.
When Dr. Teal announced her decision to step down as artistic director, our board of directors took the opportunity to reflect on our organization and evaluate the choral music landscape in Kansas City.
After weighing a number of factors, we ultimately made the difficult decision that this season should be our last.
There is certainly no shortage of great choral ensembles in Kansas City, but the Fine Arts Chorale made an unusual offering. Under Teal, the group presented interesting programming, often with works commissioned for the group. Kansas Citys music lovers will certainly feel the loss of the Fine Arts Chorale.
But there are still two programs yet to come on this final season, like Moonlight and Music, which will take place on Valentines Day at Californos restaurant. There is certainly no lack of music that honors the orb of love, and Teal, as usual, has made some exquisite choices.
For the first set, were doing six pieces that all have to do with moonlight and romance, she said. One is a little Renaissance piece about the moon shining so brightly, one is a Brahms piece that has the most gorgeous, long, elegant lines.
And then were doing some more popular works like a gorgeous arrangement of Blue Moon and a moonlight medley which puts together By the Light of the Silvery Moon and Moonlight Bay.
The second half of the program will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arrival in the United States.
There are so many Beatles love songs, and I picked some wonderful arrangements, Teal said. Most of them are Kings Singers arrangements, and the people who write arrangements for them do such a good job.
One of them is I Love Her, and another is Cant Buy Me Love, which is set like an English madrigal. Its really cute. And, of course, were doing Yesterday.
The ticket price includes a whole romantic package: dinner, chocolates from Andres and a champagne toast. I will be hosting the evening.
So why do we associate moonlight and romance? Teal thinks she knows.
Theres just something about that big, full moon shining in the sky. When its full, I actually howl at the moon. Im like part wolf or something.
Think about the movie Moonstruck. Theres the darkness of the night, but that soft light that comes down, and, well, that just makes for romance.
Dinner at 6:30 p.m., concert at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at Californos, 4124 Pennsylvania Ave. $49. 816-235-6222 or FineArtsChoraleKC.org
Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is no stranger to the Harriman-Jewell Series, having played four times previously. The first time was in 1997 on a duo recital with Joshua Bell. Now hes returning, this time with Brazils Bahia Orchestra Project conducted Feb. 11 by Ricardo Castro in Helzberg Hall.
The Bahia Orchestra Project was inspired by Venezuelas El Sistema, the national music program that provides an instrument and music education for any young person in Venezuela who desires it.
The Bahia Orchestra, which is made up of some of Brazils finest young musicians, is underwritten by Bahia (a Brazilian state) and is giving hope to young people, many of them desperately poor.
For its first performance in Kansas City, the orchestra will perform the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as well as selections by various Latin American composers. Thibaudet will join the orchestra for Maurice Ravels sunny Piano Concerto in G.
Nicola Benedetti, 26, is one of the finest violinists of her generation. She already has outstanding recordings to her credit and has established an acclaimed international recital career.
She first appeared on the Harriman-Jewell Series in 2007 on one of its Discovery concerts, and now shes returning to Kansas City as part of Harriman-Jewells regular season.
Feb. 15 in the Folly Theater, Benedetti, accompanied by pianist Alexei Grynyuk, will perform music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Sergei Prokofiev and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Shell also perform a violin sonata by Edward Elgar, a rarity on recital programs.
Symphonys happy hour concert
Spend happy hour with Sergei Prokofiev and Arnold Schoenberg on Feb. 12 in Helzberg Hall.
Musicians from the Kansas City Symphony will perform Prokofievs Quintet and a chamber version of Schoenbergs over-the-top romantic Verklaerte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Next season, the Symphony will perform the full orchestral version of the Schoenberg masterpieces. Both versions are stunning and show different facets of the work.
6 p.m. Feb. 12 (bar opens at 5 p.m.) at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Free but reservations required. KCSymphony.org.
At this time of year, you can always count on the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra to present a delightfully romantic concert, and this year is no exception. Feb. 13, the orchestra conducted by Bruce Sorrell, will perform lovey-dovey music by Tchaikovsky, Edvard Grieg, Anton Arensky and Elgar on Serenade your Sweetheart.