Friday 15 May 2020

Care pupille: The London Concert 1746 - Samuel Mariño in soprano arias by Handel and Gluck

Care pupille: The London Concert 1746 - arias by Handel and Gluck; Samuel Mariño, Handel Festspielorchester Halle, Michael Hofstetter; Orfeo
Care pupille: The London Concert 1746
- arias by Handel and Gluck; Samuel Mariño, Handel Festspielorchester Halle, Michael Hofstetter; Orfeo

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 May 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The young Venezuelan counter-tenor sings soprano arias by Handel and Gluck in a debut recital which demonstrates his remarkable poise and technical facility

Samuel Mariño is a young counter-tenor from Venezuela whose voice has the astonishing ability to sing in the soprano register. His debut disc evokes the tantalising relationship between George Frideric Handel and Christoph Willibald Gluck; the two met whilst Gluck was in London but there are conflicting reports of their relationship. The new disc from Orfeo, Care pupille: The London Concert 1746, invokes a joint concert that was given by the two composers. Samuel Mariño sings largely soprano castrato arias from Handel's Berenice, Atalanta and Arminio, and Gluck's Antigono, La Sofonisba, La Corona, Il Tigrane, accompanied by the Handel Festspielorchester Halle, conducted by Michael Hofstetter.

In March 1746, there was a benefit concert for Decay'd Musicians in London, where music by Handel and Gluck was performed, opera arias by Gluck, opera and oratorio arias by Handel. Handel's focus during this period was firmly on oratorio, he would premiere Occasional Oratorio in 1746 and Judas Maccabeus in 1747. His last opera Deidamia, premiered in 1741 and since then Handel rather seemed to have turned his back on opera, even going so far as to refuse to write a new opera for the Earl of Middlesex's operatic venture in London. Gluck, by contrast, was at the beginning of his career and was invited to London to write for the Earl of Middlesex's company at a period when Gluck was a young travelling virtuoso opera composer. It was bad timing for Gluck as in 1745 the theatres were closed owing to the Jacobite rebellion, but two operas were performed in 1746, La caduta de' giganti and Artamene, both essentially pasticcios. What has come down to us of the relationship of the two composers is a wry anecdote from Handel, and a statement from Gluck about how much he learned in London. Handel's comment (that Gluck knew less about counterpoint than his cook) can be read two ways, as a put down pure and simple or as an indication of the compositional gap between the two.

Mariño, Hofstetter and the Halle orchestra do not try to reconstruct the original concert (which probably included one of Handel's organ concertos), instead they give us their own selection of arias, those by Handel selected from his operas from the 1736/37 season and written for the soprano castrato Gioacchino Conti. The Gluck arias are selected from the composer's surviving early Italian operas, dating from 1743, 1744, 1752 and 1755.

Samuel Mariño has an astonishing voice, unlike some men who sing in the soprano register, Mariño does so with ease, bringing a remarkable fluency and fluidity to his singing. He seems happy to sing roles with a high tessitura, rather than just throwing occasional high notes into the mix. He has a naturally sweet tone, but it is quite narrow in focus

We start with Alessandro's aria, 'Che sara quando amante accarezza' from Handel's Berenice, written for Gioacchino Conti 1737, the last opera of the season. Handel's operas from this period are often denigrated, and few have the sort of genius that operas from his earlier periods have, but there is still plenty to enjoy. Mariño shows remarkable facility in this rather perky number, showing great technical facility.

He then sings three arias from Handel's Atalanta, all from the character of Meleagro sung by Conti during the 1736/36 season. The gentle 'Care selve' allows Mariño to present us with some high, quiet singing, with the singer offering a remarkable degree of control. There is a drawback, however, and by the time of the second aria from Atalanta, the lively show-piece 'Non sara poco', we are aware that whilst Mariño sings with superb technical control, the high tessitura of his voice seems to offer quite a narrow range of colour. The arias are finely performed, but there is a limited sense of the differing emotional states of the characters. The final aria from Atalanta, 'M'allontano, sdgegnose pupille' is rather gentle and shows Handel giving his listeners a taste of the simpler galant style.

The final Handel aria is from Arminio, 'Quella fiamma' sung by the character of Sigismondo (also created by Conti during the 1736/37 season) is altogether different and very much a show-piece, allowing Mariño to demonstrate his ability to sing fast passage-work and fine ornamentation. [On George Petrou and Max Emanuel Cencic's recording of the complete opera, the role is also sung by a high counter-tenor, see my review]

We then move on to Gluck, first a scene from Antigone, which was premiered in Rome in 1755. Mariño sings a scene from female the character of Berenice, which was sung at the premiere by a castrato. This is a terrific piece, a fine accompagnato followed by a vividly passionate aria (where we can hear distinct pre-echoes of Iphigenie en Tauride, and in fact Gluck based one of the arias in the opera on this aria from Antigone, one of a number of borrowings in Iphigenie) in which we can hear the mature Gluck to the fore. Mariño brings out the drama of the piece, but his bravura performance harks back more to the composers of the previous generation rather than bringing out the expressive style of the mature Gluck.

This is followed by the sinfonia from the opera, three short but vivid movements which give the orchestra a chance to shine. Then Demetrio's aria 'Già che morir degg’io’ from Antigone, in which we can hear a clear anticipation of 'Che puro ciel' from Orfeo (premiered in 1762). Mariño's control and tone is astonishing here, but there is a little too much high, quiet singing. I will be frank and admit that I wanted a little more amplitude in the tone, a little more expressive warmth.

We then move on to Gluck's fifth opera, La Sofonisba which premiered in Milan in 1744. Mariño sings an aria for the character of King Massinassa, which was played at the premiere by a female soprano, Rosalia Andreides. This proves to be a rather graceful piece, with some lovely wind writing complementing the soprano line.

La Corona was one of the short operas that Gluck, now settled in Vienna, wrote for the princesses of the Imperial family to perform, though in fact the emperor's sudden death put paid to plans for La Corona. We hear an aria for the character Atalanta, intended for Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria, in which mature Gluckian lyricism alternates with vivid bravura, clearly the Archduchess (who would go on to be Duchess of Parma and end up ruling the duchy in her own right) was a talent singer. There are a number of these one-act operas written for the royal family, in 2015 Les Bougies Baroques performed Gluck's Il Parnaso confuso [see my review].

Il Tigrane was premiered in Crema, near Milan in 1743, both it and La Sofonisba suffer in that not all the music from the opera survives. Mariño sings an aria for the character Cleopatra, 'Care pupille amate', a character recently incarnated on disc by soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian on DELOS [see my review]

CD booklet has a fine article giving the background to the arias, including brief plot summaries, but there are no texts which is tricky for the lesser known operas.

Throughout, Mariño is vividly and stylishly supported by Hoffstetter and the orchestra of the Halle Festival. I was particularly struck by their playing of the Gluck arias and sinfonia, where the composer's writing really gives the instruments chance to shine.

When it comes down to it, little of this programme links to that 1746 concert but the performers have put together an intriguing programme of lesser known arias by the two composer contemporaries. Mariño's is a voice that I would be interested to hear live, there is no doubt that he brings enormous confidence, technical facility and a remarkable way with bravura passages to these arias. For me, the recital is one to dip into as I find that the very narrow focus and limited tonal range of Mariño's voice lacks the variety needed for this type of recital. That said, individual items are simply astonishing and this makes a fine debut disc, and we look forward to finding out what this singer does next.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Che sarà quando amante accarezza (Berenice, Regina di Egitto HWV 38)

George Frideric Handel - Care selve (Atalanta, HWV 35)
George Frideric Handel - Non sara poco (Atalanta, HWV 35)
George Frideric Handel - M’allontano, sdegnose pupille (Atalanta, HWV 35)
George Frideric Handel - Quella fiamma (Arminio, HWV 36)
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) - che fai... Perché, se tanti siete (Antigono, WV 1.20)
Christoph Willibald Gluck - Sinfonia (Antigono, WV 1.20)
Christoph Willibald Gluck - Demetrio: Già che morir (Antigono, WV 1.20)
Christoph Willibald Gluck - Tornate sereni (La Sofonisba, WV 1.5)
Christoph Willibald Gluck - Quel chiaro rio (La Corona, WV 1.36)
Christoph Willibald Gluck - Care pupille (Il Tigrane, WV 1.4)
Samuel Mariño (soprano)
Handel Festspielorchester Halle
Michael Hofstetter (conductor)
Recorded Halle Volkspark, 28-31 October 2019
ORFEO C998201 1CD [71.40]

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  1. Robert, I don't think Samuel Mariño is a countertenor; he seems to be a natural soprano. I have heard him interviewed briefly on radio, and his speaking voice is in the treble register. I don't (and don't wish to) know the state of his reproductive apparatus, so I doubt we can call him a castrato, but it appears that his voice did not change as he entered adulthood.

    As a high soprano rather than a mezzo, I don't think we can look to Mariño to become a new Carestini or Farinelli (let alone a Senesino, who was a low alto), but he could be as close as we're likely to get to the voice for whom Handel wrote the Angel in La Resurrezione, Acis (in the Italian version), and Saeviat tellus.

    1. Interesting, and we shall never know for certain without being extremely intrusive. But there have been counter-tenors/falsettists who have sung and recorded in the soprano register. Handel did write for soprano castratos, not as many, but a number of the late operas include such roles.



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