Thursday, February 21, 2013

Old Music Thursday

So I'm really into Early Music, right?  Like, the stuff before Bach.  And the other weekend I found a new radio show on Sirius (we got it in our new car, a Ford C-Max hybrid - yes, I drive a hybrid, don't start) called The Millennium of Music.  A whole hour of Josquin - bliss!  My staple for finding new/old music up until now has been the Harmonia Early Music Podcast that I get on itunes, but it's only like 10 minutes a week, which is enough for them to talk about 2, maybe 3 new releases.

My new favorite album, since hearing about it on Harmonia this week, is Arias for Guadagni: The First Modern Castrato.  So this is interesting because Gaetano Guadagni, the mezzo-soprano male singer for whom Handel wrote the arias, was an Italian who met Handel in London, where he had arrived as part of a traveling circus.  His family was musical, and it seems that they made an informed decision to have him undergo the operation that would have him be able to sing the mezzo-soprano pieces.

Guadagni showed up in London and, through connections, was able to meet Handel, who fell in love with his voice, and wrote several arias from the Messiah for him.  It was in London that he became well known, and became what we would think of as a modern actor/opera singer.  He wouldn't interrupt his performances for encores or applause, which audiences thought was rude, but was just the actor trying to portray the role authentically.  He played his role in Orfeo repeatedly, which was also unusual in a time when actors would rarely reprise a role for a second season.  He was "difficult" to work with for managers, and he got upset when composers (like Gluck) didn't cater to the personality of his voice, and his special techniques.  He was also caught in bed with other men's wives, which, considering he was, you know, castrated, would seem to support the rumor that castrati had some kind of sexual prowess.

Anyway, these days the roles are sung by counter-tenors, who have all their parts and were never operated on.  They simply train their voices to be able to hit the high notes.  Which is just slightly more boring, but probably a lot healthier and more hygienic than things were in the 18th century.


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