Philippe Jaroussky – His Angel’s Voix – “Liquid Pure Gold”
Philippe Jaroussky denies that his is the liquid pure gold coloratura voice of an angel but that’s not how his vast army of devoted fans see it.
Philippe Jaroussky looks like a Hollywood star and sings … well … celestially (though that’s not his favourite adjective). 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.
Jaroussky singing “Farinelli, Porpora Arias”. This particular aria, is from the opera “Polifemo” by Porpora.
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.
France’s leading countertenor
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 its attraction”.
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 unequalled purity”
In an interview with Philippe Jaroussky – whom it bills as “the man with a voice of gold and unequalled purity” – EVENE.fr (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.
Clichés and Fantasies
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 romantic heroism … 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.”
Influence – Fabrice di Falco
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.
Watch the star perform in this concert recorded at the Palace of Versailles in 1999:
Philippe Jaroussky began his musical career with the violin, winning an award at the Versailles conservatory and then took up the piano before turning to singing. He is noted for a virtuosic coloratura technique and for compelling and enlivened interpretations of baroque cantatas and operas.
He formed his own ensemble called Artaserse, and also performs with the Ensemble Matheus under Jean-Christophe Spinosi and with L’Arpeggiata under Christina Pluhar.
Cecilia Bartoli, who sang with him in Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” told the New York Times, in a pen portrait the paper recently published :
“…When I heard Philippe Jaroussky for the first time, I was struck by his musicality and sensibility … There is a beauty in his phrasing and a delicacy, if not fragility in his soul, that touches the listener profoundly.”
James Bowman legendary English countertenor added :
“Jaroussky sounds like the boy Bach would have loved to write for.”
Reviewing his recording of Stabat Mater Dolorosa by Sances, and other motest, a recent release by Virgin Classics Dr Jacques Coulardeau, a University of Paris academic and musician notes: “Jaroussky’s voice is perfect in these in-between impressions of curbed emotions and dark feelings.”
Another Jaroussky fan writing on Amazon under the pseudonym Giordano Bruno says:
“Trying to describe Philippe Jaroussky’s voice is like trying to find fresh adjective for a vintage wine: butterscotch and vanilla, with plenty of oak and a hint of pear! Describing his technique is more straightforward: perfect pitch control, expressive dynamics from intimate to operatic, astonishing agility in singing the most lickety-split ‘passagi’ of 32nd notes, thrillingly masculine affect even in his coloratura range. What? Coloratura? Yes, Jaroussky is a male soprano, with the ability to sing, not squeak, passages well above the range of most countertenors.”
“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 Europe.”
Story: Ken Pottinger
- Cecilia Bartoli in Giulio Cesare – watch it live here (intermezzo.typepad.com)
- Viva l’Opéra – Live in a Cinema near You
- Viva l’Opera- The Met in a Cinema Near You
- Un-Stageable Parsifal Wonderfully Sung
- Reprising a Myth: Death of French Culture
- From French Folk to Rock and Back Again
- A French Cow Shed and The Silent Movies
- A Ringtone to End all Ringtones