Franco Fagioli / Alessandro De Marchi / Academia Montis Regalis PORPORA Arias

Porpora (1686 - 1768) wrote operas from 1708 up until 1747 and was revising them until at least 1760 but it is with his works in the 1720's such as Meride e Selinunte (1726) that he came to prominence as part of the new Neapolitan style. The selection here includes Ezio, Semiramide riconosciuta, Didone abbandonata, Meride e Selinunte from the 1720's, Polifemo from 1735 and Carlo il Calvo from the same decade. Il verbo in carne is in fact an oratorios written for Christmas 1748 for Dresden.
Porpora taught two of the finest singers of his age, Farinelli and Cafarelli. Fagioli has explored arias by Porpora and others written for Cafarelli on his previous disc. Here, he includes two arias written for Farinelli from Polifemo which was written for London as a rival to Handel. As might be expected from a distinguished teacher, Porpora knows how to write for the voice and to show it off to its best advantage. The arias here often have a largeness of scale and can last up to eight minutes (with the aria from the cantata Vulcano lasting nearly 10). But that does not imply simplicity of scale, within these structures Porpora includes an astonishing number of notes and Fagioli copes superbly. The arias are all in the mezzo-soprano range and need Fagioli's style of high counter-tenor singing. But they also need his incredible facility with singing complex passage-work at high speed.
The results are breathtaking. Fagioli makes a very particular sound. He has a vibrato warmed voice with a soft-grained timbre, but he can move it with alarming dexterity. The more bravura items such as the opening Set tu la reggi al volo from Ezio or Gia si desta la tempesa from Didone abbandonata are done in a supremely bravura manner with style and expressivity. Listen and marvel. Often Porpora throws in trumpets and drums, and the orchestra contributes to the overall dazzling virtuoso sound.
In the slower items, Fagioli brings a shapely poise to the music. When writing the gentler pieces Porpora's style veers towards the galant, rendered stylishly by Fagioli, De Marchi and his ensemble. But the slower pieces are never simple, Porpora still includes a remarkable number of notes, and the vocal lines are often quite wandering.
Throughout Fagioli is accompanied with bravura and style by De Marchi and the Academia Montis Regalis who acquit themselves with no less virtuosity.
The CD booklet includes an article giving background to Porpora's career, with full texts and translations, but you will struggle to discover when and where each aria was first performed and by whom.
With a recital disc like this, you are never quite certain how representative of the composer's style these arias are. There are no simple pieces here, the sort of arias like Handel's Verdi prati which puzzled his Italian singers and required fits of temper from the composer to persuade them to sing. But the disc does give the lie to the idea of Porpora writing generic arias which are suitable for anything. There is some profoundly expressive music here, in stunning performances, and I now look forward to a complete opera by Porpora. In the mean time, we have this disc from Fagioli. Listen and marvel! (Robert Hugill)

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