Naples in 1750 was one of the ten biggest cities in the world, and it spawned two of the biggest musical stars of the era: the castrati Farinelli and the much lesser known Caffarelli, whose real name was Gaetano Majorano. This release consists of arias written for Caffarelli, and you might treasure it for the flamboyant, high-volume singing of countertenor Franco Fagioli, who arguably comes as close as any of his contemporaries to conveying what the high-powered sound of the castrati was like (in the understandable absence of the genuine article). Or, you might be grateful to hear the music associated with Caffarelli, who in his own time had a reputation for being troublesome and has generally ignored by the historical opera revival movement. The composers represented on the program are not household names; the best-known of them was German Johann Adolph Hasse, and some, such as Gennaro Manna and Domenico Sarro, are all but unknown. The bright, blooming orchestral work of Il pomo d'oro under conductor Riccardo Minasi is unfailingly exciting. Beyond all this, however, is the presentation of the whole package.
Giovanni Battista Rubini (1794-1854) was the leading Italian tenor of his generation, during the time Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini were creating some of their greatest works, and all the selections on this album are from operas that were either written especially for him, or in which he performed. Rubini, who was hailed as "king of the tenors," worked most closely with Bellini, who wrote some of his greatest and most demanding tenor roles with his voice in mind. One of the strengths of Juan Diego Flórez's tribute to Rubini is the fact that he largely chooses excerpts from less familiar repertoire over the more famous and frequently performed operas. (Fans hoping for the high F in I Puritani's "Credeasi, misera," for instance, will have to look elsewhere.) In these selections, though, there are plenty of vocal fireworks on display, so the album is not likely to disappoint fans of coloratura bel canto. This early nineteenth century Italian repertoire suits Flórez's voice perfectly, so it makes good sense for him to pay tribute to Rubini's career.
Michael Maniaci is a male soprano, which is a voice category unfamiliar to many lovers of classical vocal music. Unlike a countertenor, his voice sits naturally in the soprano register. His voice is really all about the fact that his vocal chords experienced fewer changes than what most young men experience when going through puberty. There are very few male sopranos, and Mr. Manicaci is without question the best male soprano in our midst. Thus we have here a singer who perhaps comes closer to giving us at least some idea of what the famous castrati sounded like more than anyone else today. He can sing high C's with ease and the voice here displays great agility and brio. I've listened to this album multiple times, and the more I hear it the more amazing I find it. The first time I heard it I was impressed with this his obvious joy, passion, and real sense of theater. This young male soprano's voice is gorgeous, but Michael Maniaci also understands that there is theater in this music and we can *hear* that in his singing..
Sebastián Durón was, together with Antonio de Literes, the greatest Spanish composer of stage music of his time. He served as organist and choirmaster at various cathedrals (Seville, Cuenca, El Burgo de Osma, Plasencia) until in 1691 he was appointed master of the Royal Chapel of King Charles II in Madrid.