Philippe Jaroussky looks like a Hollywood star and
celestially (though that's not his
France's leading countertenor
Nevertheless the army of adulatory fans that devotedly stalk
the man with the choirboy-like, crystal-pure voice, on his frenetic
tours around the world's opera houses, concert halls, cathedrals
and music festivals, use it incessantly.
Sales of his recordings, particularly those available via MP3
digital download (normally a younger audience) have topped charts
in France and made him one of the best sellers in the Virgin
Classics stable of rising talent.
In just over a decade of stunning his concert audiences with
the purity, extraordinary range, virtuoso coloratura technique
and strength of his soaring sopranist voice, Philippe Jaroussky,
33, France's leading countertenor, has breathed new life into
a Baroque art which in earlier times was the exclusive and controversial
preserve of castrati.
Jaroussky, whose Russian grandparents fled the Bolshevik Revolution,
was born February 13, 1978, north of Paris in the upmarket Maisons-Laffitte
commuter belt on the edge of the Saint-Germain-en-Laye forest.
He started his musical career learning violin at the Paris conservatoire
before switching to the piano and then, aged 19, made the move
to singing (and classical fame). He admits to a hankering for
conducting but "perhaps only when my voice loses some of
Jaroussky is noted for his compelling, enchanting interpretations
of baroque cantatas, operas and obscure vocal works, many of
which he has been responsible for rediscovering thanks to diligent
hunting around dusty music library archives. Jaroussky says
he enjoys reviving the works of long-forgotten Baroque composers,
adding with a mischievous smile, "that way there's no competition
from other countertenors"!
"the man with a voice of gold and
In an interview with Philippe Jaroussky - whom it bills as
"the man with a voice of gold and unequalled purity"
(a website seeking to cover all France's rich cultural agenda
and backed by the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication)
the singer gives some insights into his technique.
Jaroussky starts by deriding the clichés and fantasies
that persist about counter tenors: "It does the counter
tenor no service to describe his voice in clichés such
as 'the voice of angels, the voice from heaven' ... as if his
voice is a miracle! In fact there is nothing supernatural about
the counter tenor voice at all, it relies on well-known physiological
phenomena and a very solid technique."
Asked to describe his voice he says: "I sing in the same
range as soprano or mezzo-soprano, that is to say, in a woman's
voice. The counter-tenor voice existed in the past and was widely
employed before the era of the castrati (XVII-XVIII centuries)."
He admits there is a troubling sexual ambiguity about the counter
tenor voice. "Indeed, at the outset I refused to contemplate
this ambiguity, considering myself that I had chosen the voice
purely for its technical and aesthetic beauty - musically it
is a very flexible voice offering, in my opinion, the richest
musical possibilities. I have absolutely not chosen to sing
in this voice for sexual reasons, desires or some androgynous
fantasy. Having said that, with time and experience, I have
started to take this reality more seriously because I have seen
how often the public reacts with surprise on hearing my voice
at the start of a concert -- the contrast, the clash even between
the voice and the body of a counter-tenor, is as if a certain
unreality is being established. Myself, I just let myself be
surprised by the phenomenon but I am aware of the gap that exists
between the body and voice of those who sing in this register."
The view is affirmed by one record reviewer who, referring to
Jaroussky's 'liquid' and 'ethereal' tone, noted: "Throughout
history, male sopranos, whether in sacred music, opera or pop,
have been prized as much for an ideal of angelic purity as for
Much of the sacred music and many of
the opera roles sung today by Jaroussky or by mezzo-sopranos
like Cecilia Bartoli, were originally composed for Farinelli
and his peers."
According to his online biography Jaroussky's singing inspiration
came from the Martinique-born countertenor Fabrice di Falco.
Jaroussky's sopranist career began only in 1996 after he pestered
di Falco's reluctant voice coach Nicole Fallien to train him.
She admits that at first, she had reservations because, "while
he had a lovely voice
it was tiny".
Jaroussky's professional debut came at a French summer festival
in 1999 when, aged just 21, he performed works by Scarlatti.
Since then he has specialised in helping revive the neglected
operas and sacred music of Gluck, Monteverdi, and Purcell and
those of lesser-known masters.
He was awarded "The Best Singer of the Year" at the
Echo Classic Awards, 2008.
Cecilia Bartoli, who sang with him in Handel's "Giulio
Cesare" told the New
York Times, in a pen portrait the paper recently published
"His technique enables him to perform the most audacious
nuances and deliver impressive pyrotechnics. Philippe Jaroussky
has an extensive baroque repertoire, from the 16th century Italians
-- Monteverdi, Sances and Rossi -- to the later brilliance of
Handel and Vivaldi. Philippe Jaroussky has performed with some
of the world's best baroque orchestras such as Ensemble Matheus,
Les Arts Florissants, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Le Concert d'Astrée,
L'Arpeggiata, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie and Europa Galante and
under conductors such as Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Marc Minkowski,
René Jacobs, Christina Pluhar, Jérémie
Rhorer, Emmanuel Haïm, Jean-Claude Malgoire and Fabio Biondi.
He has sung in the most prestigious concert halls of France
- Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Théâtre
du Châtelet, Salle Pleyel, Salle Gaveau, Opéra
de Lyon, Opéra de Montpellier, Opéra de Nancy,
Arsenal de Metz, Théâtre de Caen... and abroad
- The Barbican Center and Southbank Center in London, Palais
des Beaux Arts in Brussels, Grand Théâtre du Luxembourg,
Konzerthaus in Vienna, Staatsoper and Philharmonia in Berlin,
Teatro Real in Madrid, Lincoln Center in New York. In 2002 he
founded l'Ensemble Artaserse, which performs with him all over