I suppose it’s fair to say that Philippe Jaroussky is a singer who divides opinion; you either love his light bright “soprano” sound or you prefer something more muscular (Sesto vs. Cesare perhaps). He has a cult following and he knows it. That side of things was very much on display at Koerner Hall last night when he appeared with the Ensemble Artaserse in a programme of arias from18th century Italian opera. It was clear that a goodly section of the audience had travelled from out of town for the concert and knew exactly what to expect. This was exemplified by the three encores leading up to Handel’s “Lascio ch’io pianga” which the hard core fans had been shouting for and weren’t going to go home without hearing!
I’m not part of the “cult of Jaroussky” but I’m not countertenor averse either and it was interesting to hear him in unfamiliar music. Most of the rep before the interval last night was settings of Metastasio texts by various composers including Hasse (Demofoonte), Ferrandini (Siroe, re di Persia) and Piccinni (Catone in Utica). It was exactly what I expected; technically excellent singing with total command of the baroque style in Jaroussky’s characteristic light, bright sound. The Artaserses; string quartet plus theorbo and harpsichord, backed him up idiomatically and also produced some excellent playing in a Sinfonia by Ferrandini a Trio Sonata by Hasse.
After the interval it was on to slightly more familiar ground with Handel and Vivaldi (though only slightly more familiar… Giustino isn’t exactly Handel’s most performed opera!). Essentially it was more of the same including an excellent “Cara sposa”. I suspect “more of the same” was exactly what the fanbase wanted but likely left others besides myself yearning for a bit more variety.
And so to the three encores and a “Lascia ch’io pianga” that brought the house down. So baroque Jaroussky did what baroque Jaroussky does and did it very well. I wonder if we will ever get to hear him in something more contemporary? Kaija Saariaho’s Only the Sound Remains was written for him and is a COC co-pro. In the pre-plague Neef era I was confident of seeing it in Toronto. Now I’m not so sure.