2019-03, Das Opernglas, by Yeri Han

“When I will have done my first tentative steps towards conducting, maybe then, when it’s time, it won’t be quite as sad for me, to little by little, sing fewer performances – who knows!”

Translation to English
This is a fan translation; no infringement of copyright is intended. We believe it fulfills the criteria for “fair use,” discussion and study. Translation by *L

2019-03, Das Opernglas, by Yeri Han

Philippe Jaroussky

The Interview

Great fun

Just in time for the carnival season, Philippe Jaroussky surprises in some cheeky costumes. His new album offers the matching program. Yeri Han wanted to know more.

The last time we talked to each other was almost four years ago. In the meantime, a lot of good things have been happening for you. Where do you currently see yourself, and what are you looking forward to the most?

2019 will be a big trade Hänel year for me. For once, because I have the opportunity to sing “Alcina” in Salzburg, next to Cecilia Bartoli, with whom I am going to give my house debut at La Scala in Milan this autumn – as Sesto in “Giulio Cesare”. These will be my only two stage productions this year, but they are really big, fantastic projects! Then there is also the start of my Cavalli tour for my new Album, as well as the release of yet another album that is planned to go on sale in January 2020, and for which I am going to do a big German tour. With this new project, I am going to explore new avenues that may be unexpected for some. They’re in for a surprise.

Another project that continues to gain importance in my life is my “Académie Jaroussky” that I founded in 2017. Each year, we are giving lessons to 25 young talents with free master classes in the categories violin, cello, piano and singing. It is incredibly moving and uplifting to witness, how the children learn to play their first pieces. It makes me incredibly happy!

You already mentioned your upcoming debut at La Scala. What special significance does this debut hold for you?

As a young singer, you keep dreaming about singing “somewhere”. I’ve done enough of that in the meantime; I sang in so many places all over the world, most of which I never had imagined. The Scala never was a defined goal, but obviously, it means a lot, especially as it always irked me that, in spite of basically singing exclusively in Italian and frequently with Italian ensembles, I almost never sing on Italian soil. So it is almost fair to say that “Giulio Cesare”, after 20 years, is my Italian debut.

That’s one of the paradoxes of my job, and a little frustrating for me. I often gained the impression, that the Italians don’t like programs with works written for castrato voices. And after all, the matter has some ambivalence. On one side, it is about pure beauty and music, on the other, historically, it’s about mutilation of children. I often had the notion that it makes Italian audiences uncomfortable. Because of that, I hope that this “Giulio Cesare” is going to be one of the big events of the season, and a good opportunity to introduce baroque repertoire to the Italian audiences as well as inviting the listeners to engage themselves with the topic of the castrati.

How is it in other countries; do you have the feeling that a part of the audience is still a little wary of countertenor singing there as well? Can you relate to the scepticism?  

I can very well understand that some people quite plainly don’t like the specific timbre of countertenors very much, and even in Baroque music prefer mezzo-sopranos or sopranos. At the same time, there needs to be some credit given to fact that a lot has changed during the last 20 years; not only, that now there are far more countertenors around, who vary wildly concerning their vocal techniques, vocal ranges, and personalities, but across the board, a lot has changed. At the start, it has been said that our voices were quite small – which is untrue. It’s also been said we all sound alike – which is of course false as well. I still remember doing “Sant’Alessio” under the baton of William Christie; we were seven countertenors in total, and some members of the audience told me they had been afraid of hearing the same voice all the time – a fear that fortunately proved to be unfounded. Nowadays, there are countertenors whose voices have more facets than that of a many female singers.

Do you have any idea yet how the new “Giulio Cesare” at the Scala will look like?

No not yet. But I am pleased that Robert Carsen will be in charge of for the new production as a director. I like the feeling of knowing in advance that you are going to work with someone you already know. It means much less stress – because opera productions are stressful as a default. You travel there, and you are still unfamiliar with the costumes, the general aesthetic of the production, or what you have to do on stage. Then you are surrounded by a multitude of people who you never met before; there are a lot of rehearsals; you are nervous before the premiere, … A stage production really means a lot more stress than a concert tour!

Right at the beginning, you were mentioning your album shortly to be released: there you focus entirely on opera arias of Francesco Cavalli. What tempted you about this repertoire in particular?

For me, singing Cavalli is a little like returning to my musical roots. At the very beginning of my career, I was given the chance to sing three Monteverdi operas with Jean-Claude Malgoire. So Monteverdi and early Baroque became my first contact with operatic music in general. Shortly after, I met Gabriel Garrido and his ensemble Elyma, who have been playing a lot of Cavalli even back then – in fact, thy belong to the very first who were interested in this wonderful music. Since then, I always had this thought on my mind that once in my life, I wanted to realize a Cavalli project – and during the last years, it started to become more and more palpable: “Cavalli is in the air!” (Laughs) And not only because of the wonderful music. But also because the dramaturgical potential his operas have to offer – and there are 27 in total! They aren’t quite unlike Monteverdi’s – very lively, a bit like theatre plays, without any long arias, full of contrasts, with an abundance of comical passages, erotic and salacious bits, and veritably grotesque plot turns. I thought it was delightful to finally being able to show with my album how modern, funny, and free the genre of opera could be in its infancy. In Cavalli’s music, there are incredibly tragical passages with sublime lamenti – and right in the next scene, there’s capering about and fun. It is never limited to just one sentiment; everything is very rich in contrasts and lively.

“How modern, witty and free the genre of opera could be in its infancy!”

The cover as well as the promo pictures for your new album suggest you are a fan of carnival?

Well, I am not a fan of Venetian carnival in particular, but I definitely like to slip into a costume and become someone else. Even in, in private, I prefer it more subtle: the opera stage allows us to be eccentric. I’m not a born actor, but quite early on, I realized that Make-Up and costumes assist me a lot when it comes to become one with a role. With the cover, we wanted to give a cue to a modern take of carnival in Venice. I suppose you have seen that I am wearing a white shirt; but what seems to be the frills of a cravat, in reality, is a plastic bag. The cover, with white being the predominant colour, is supposed to be a contrast to the back, which is kept in black. A little like Yin and Yang. Venice was well known as a rich town, famous for its carnival season, when the rich and the poor mingled in the anonymity of the masks. That’s also mirrored in Cavalli’s operas: his operas feature gods, kings, wealthy merchants – but then there are poor people as well, which results in a wide range of society being depicted. We consciously decided on “Ombra mai fu”, because we wanted to tickle people’s attention and curiosity a little who might not be as familiar with Cavalli as they are with Händel and other composers of the 18th century. However, it’s Cavalli who wrote the very first “Ombra mai fu,” with exactly the same libretto we’re familiar with from Händel! So this track is surely going to cause some confusion and curiosity.

Which changes do do perceive yourself in your voice?

There definitely have been some, that’s why it isn’t entirely by chance that I am doing the Cavalli project at this point. It’s a lot less viruosic than, for example, my Händel album from two years ago; it contains fewer coloraturas – which doesn’t mean that it is easier to sing. Also it’s a lot more text based. In the future, I don’t want to focus this much anymore on the big castrato roles, but work to establish a repertoire that is a bit more “human”. Cavalli, for example, does not focus on any spectacular high notes or virtuosic coloraturas; it’s more about the vocal expression. And something else that is particularly nice about the music of the time: Not everything is notated, so as a performing artist, you have some freedom when it comes to embellishments or the choice of instruments. Which means, you get to pick the musical colours all by yourself. That was a lot of fun!

What plans and thoughts do you have for the future?

For quite some time now, I have had that dream to conduct and most probably, within the next four years, I am going to be able to do my first project in that direction. It makes me very happy, but I am nervous as well, because it is somewhat the start of a second career. And without wanting to start sounding sad or melancholy: it’s not easy to get older as a singer. Inevitably, there will be a moment, where you will be on stage, but suddenly, you don’t sound as exciting or brilliant anymore than you did in years past – and no one dares to say it out loud. And even if I love to sing: this business comes with with a huge amount of pressure. Only a few, I think, really can imagine, what it means to be uncertain, when you go on stage and sometimes, you are not sure whether you’re in top shape. I withstood this pressure now for twenty years – and they have been twenty fantastic years with wonderful projects and collaborations with a plethora of amazing artists! However: whether I am able to do the same in ten years from now, …? When I will have done my first tentative steps towards conducting, maybe then, when it’s time, it won’t be quite as sad for me, to little by little, sing fewer performances – who knows!

The new album: OMBRA MAI FU

Opera arias by Francesco Cavalli

Excerpts from Il Xerse, Statira, Erismenea, Calisto, Eliogabalo, Ercole Amante, Ormindo, Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne, Orione, Eritrea, Giasone, Doricla, Calisto, La Virtù dei Strali d’amore, Pompeo Magno

Release: 8. März