Yesterday I saw the second of two performances by Venezuelan male soprano Samuel Mariño with Tafelmusik at Trinity St. Paul’s. The programme was a mixture of virtuoso baroque arias by various composers interspersed with relatively short instrumental pieces.
So what does Mariño sound like and what is, in 2023, a male soprano? Well he’s a young man whose voice never broke. He doesn’t sound like a counter-tenor. He doesn’t sound like a female soprano. And he doesn’t sound like an immature male voice. He has the full soprano range and bags of power with a full sound throughout. Is that what soprano castrati sounded like? I’d like to think so. He’s also gender fluid and quite happy singing both men and women’s roles. I believe he has even sung Maria in West Side Story.
Yesterday he sang arias by Handel, Scarlatti, Hasse and Vivaldi. They ranged from up tempo display arias to more expressive pieces. The first few pieces on the programme demonstrated this pretty well. They were all from Handel’s Saeviat tellus. “Saeviat tellus” and “Stellae fidae” were fast and flashy and he showed incredible breath control in long, difficult runs, as well some discrete ornamentation in the repeats. In “O nox dulcis” he showed he could sing beautifully and expressively with a lovely legato.
Combinations of both sets of qualities recurred all the way through to the final aria n the programme; “Non sarà poco” from Handel’s Atalanta which sits very high and got the full treatment on the repeat. Even the encores echoed the contrast from Cleopatra’s aria “Tra le procelle” from Cesare e Cleopatra by Graun which was sung quite simply accompanied in a low key way by cello and arch-lute to the much flashier “Cara selve” from Handel’s Atalanta.
There’s a “rock star element” too to Mariño. He is obviously enjoying himself. He’s physically very expressive, he makes dramatic entrances and exits and the costumes… well look at the photos and they are just a sample.
The instrumental music was fun too. I particularly liked the Vivaldi Concerto for Cello in E Minor. It’s a bit of a misnomer really as billed soloist Keiran Campbell is engaged with bassoonist Dominic Teresi in a sort of conversation of equals. It might well be billed as “Concerto for Cello and Bassoon” but, whatever, it was fun. As always I enjoyed watching Tafelmusik as much as listening to them. There’s a chamber music like cooperation going on and concert master Julia Wedman has some great moves!
It was Mariño’s day and he brought the house down but I don’t think it would have been nearly as enjoyable without the sympathetic and skilled contribution from the orchestra.