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Mozart: Arias For Male Soprano

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Audio CD, January 26, 2010
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Editorial Reviews

Boston Baroque, conducted by founding music director Martin Pearlman release an all-Mozart release Mozart: Arias for Male Soprano. For the project, which marks their 20th release on Telarc, the ensemble has united with the fascinating American vocal artist Michael Maniaci, a true male soprano, in their first recording together and his first solo recording with orchestra. This recording of "firsts" is also the premier recording of Mozart's arias for the castrato voice that gives audiences the opportunity to hear it as Mozart heard it: sung by an artist not only with soprano range, haunting vocal color, and brilliant coloratura, but also with male vocal power. The disc contains arias from Idomeneo, Lucio Silla, and La Clemenza di Tito, as well as the beloved motet Exsultate, jubilate. The recording is rounded out with two brilliant orchestral numbers, the overtures to Idomeneo and Clemenza.

The first permanent Baroque orchestra established in North America, Boston Baroque is widely regarded as "one of the world's premier period-instrument bands" (Fanfare). The ensemble's performances and recordings of the Baroque and Classical repertoire have been hailed by audiences and critics in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia for their freshness, virtuosity, and exuberant appeal. Although Maniaci's voice is natural, his stunning performances give Boston Baroque the opportunity to add yet another "original" instrument - the male soprano voice - to their critically-acclaimed performing forces.

Michael Maniaci has been lauded for "his natural male soprano that is probably the closest thing on earth to the sound of the castrati of long ago; and he uses it with a finesse that's rare among singers so young" (Toronto Globe and Mail). A voice type that was enormously popular in opera and religious music in the 17th century but completely disappeared over a century ago, the male castrato's true chest voice - unlike falsetto singers - was in the soprano or alto range, yet extremely powerful due to the male lung capacity. Up until now, all we have really known of this voice are the verbal descriptions of contemporary listeners and a single, scratchy recording made late in the life of the last castrato performer.

Maniaci's voice gives us our first glimpse of the power and unique timbre of this voice in his hauntingly beautiful performances, and his extraordinarily agile coloratura and ornamentation. His vocal prowess is never more evident on this recording than in Mozart's popular and virtuosic "Exsultate, jubilate," a solo motet originally written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini in 1773 that most music lovers today have heard many times--but always as sung by a female. It is a fascinating treat to hear it sung by a male soprano.

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (January 26, 2010)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Telarc
  • ASIN: B0030GBT0G
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,984 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Michael Maniaci is a male soprano, which is a voice category unfamiliar to many lovers of classical vocal music. Unlike a countertenor, his voice sits naturally in the soprano register. His voice is really all about the fact that his vocal chords experienced fewer changes than what most young men experience when going through puberty. There are very few male sopranos, and Mr. Manicaci is without question the best male soprano in our midst. Thus we have here a singer who perhaps comes closer to giving us at least some idea of what the famous castrati sounded like more than anyone else today. He can sing high C's with ease and the voice here displays great agility and brio. I've listened to this album multiple times, and the more I hear it the more amazing I find it. The first time I heard it I was impressed with this his obvious joy, passion, and real sense of theater. This young male soprano's voice is gorgeous, but Michael Maniaci also understands that there is theater in this music and we can *hear* that in his singing.

The selections are all wonderful and it's difficult to name a favorite. Perhaps the allegro of Exsultate, Jubilate just because there is so much infectious joy in Mr. Maniaci's singing. It makes me smile and it stays with me! The voice is perhaps at its most exciting in the upper register--you'll hear five high C's on this album! He sings selections from three operas, and I would travel to see him in any of them: "Idomeneo", "Lucio Silla" and "La clemenza di Tito." He sings everything with beauty and feeling for what the words are expressing. This is one highly talented, sensitive singer.
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I was interested in listening to this recording since I have attended the concert itself in Boston, with Michael Maniaci singing and Martin Pearlman conducting Boston Baroque orchestra. It was also engaging to compare the live performance and the recording. I had already known enough of Michael Maniaci to make sure I do not miss the concert, and as always with Maniaci, it proved to be an exsultate evening.

My conclusion is that Michael Maniaci live is even better that on the recording, although this CD is excellent (yet I personally prefer to listen to a complete opera instead of assorted arias). I have first learned of Maniaci when he sang Nerone in Boston Baroque concert staging of Handel's "Agrippina". We were amazed at his high and beautiful voice, which is higher than of most countertenors, including Andreas Scholl and perhaps even Philippe Jaroussky - Maniaci is certainly a soprano, and not a mezzo or alto, as most countertenors are. We can see from this recording that Maniaci voice lends itself perfectly to the repertoire of a castrato soprano of Mozart times - Venanzio Rauzzini. It was for Rauzzini that Mozart composed the part of Cecilio in his opera "Lucio Silla" (1772), and the motet Exsultate Jubilate (1773). Maniaci sings arias from Lucio and the motet on the recording, and one can easily compare his voice with many other singers or his register, who are invariably female soprano. There are many Lucio recordings available, and a great soprano voice of Kristina Hammarstrom is on Adam Fischer's recording of the opera; one can listen to Cecilia Bartoli with Harnoncourt as well. In my opinion, his voice is more metallic than a female soprano, and certainly of a more beautiful coloring than of a lower sounding mezzo voice of Bartoli.
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Does he sound like a falsettist? No -- no breathiness or flutey quality at all. His is a complete voice.

Does he sound like a boy soprano? No -- too powerful and far too rich.

Does he sound like a woman? No -- his voice is clearly a healthy male voice. It's a bit like a vocal shoo-fly pie with a meringue crust: light and sweet, but with a nice, thick stripe of darkness beneath it.

Does he sound like a castrato (to judge from the Moreschi recordings and men like Radu Marian)? No -- there's not a hint of that annoying ringtone pungency. His voice has the complexity and texture of a healthy voice in a normal adult body.

Maniaci's entirely unique -- the light and airy voice of a boy in the body of a rather burly adult man, which adds a richness and "belt" to the sound that I imagine no castrato could touch given the effect of castration on the male body (maintenance of a high position in the throat for the larynx, nearer the small resonating chambers of the head, and a general lack of dark undertones due to the otherwise narrow shape of the body). His musicianship is pleasantly modern and reminds me a bit of musical theater, he's got a deft and somewhat playful touch, and he's got a nice feel for rubato, sadly not a common thing for many classical singers. I'd love to hear what he can do with Haendel after hearing him interpret Mozart so well.

He is at the moment one of a kind although as rare as he is, Mother Nature never makes a miracle only once. Hopefully, Maniaci's rise to stardom will signal to the other rare men with natural soprano (or more likely alto) non-falsetto voices that the time has come to step forward, claim their voices, and make miracles of themselves as well. Bravo!
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