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Fanfare Magazine: 44:2 (11-12/2020) 
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Reviewer: Raymond Tuttle

This CD, titled Care pupille, harkens back to a concert that was given on March 25, 1746 in the Haymarket Theatre in London. On that date, both Handel and Gluck appeared on the same stage and presented their own music. The former was represented by an organ concerto and by a selection of arias from his oratorios or operas. The latter was represented with excerpts from an opera pasticcio. Orfeo’s annotator writes that “this joint concert could only have occurred on the basis of mutual respect, although more or less credible anecdotes sometimes tell a different story.” For example, Charles Burney wrote that Handel had said that “he [Gluck] knows no more of contrapunto, as my cook, Waltz.” The joint concert is a somewhat flimsy excuse for the repertory on this CD, because none of this music was performed at that concert, as far as we know.

Nevertheless, this CD more than justifies itself for two reasons. One is that it claims to include several premiere recordings: Gluck’s Antigono (the Sinfonia and the second aria), the aria from La Sofonisba, and the aria from Il Tigrane. Although other selections from these works have been recorded before, these excerpts have not been, as far as I can tell. (Cecilia Bartoli recorded the other selections by Gluck on her Decca CD devoted to that composer.)

The second reason is that Care pupille marks the recording debut of a brilliant new singer, the Venezuelan male soprano Samuel Mariño. Born in 1993, he trained piano and ballet before deciding (with a little help from his family, apparently) on singing. After studies in Caracas, he went to the Conservatoire de Paris, and he credits Barbara Bonney as his current mentor. One might say that he is the next Jaroussky or Orliński, but that comparison would not be entirely appropriate, as Mariño’s Fach extends to bel canto roles and beyond. He has sung Oscar (Un ballo and maschera) and Romeo (I Capuleti e i Montecchi), and there are two YouTube videos of him singing, of all things, “Qui la voce” from I Puritani, one in competition and the other in recital. (He also has sung the role of Maria in West Side Story!) For the last few decades we’ve had a lot of fuddy-duddyish moaning about how standards of operatic singing have declined, about how there are no more great voices, etc. etc. Those pessimists are not taking countertenors and male sopranos into account! Perhaps they do not consider Baroque opera to be “real” opera. That would be shortsighted.

Care pupille is a stellar debut. Mariño’s voice is bright and clear, and falls easily on the ears. It is brilliant but not shrill. In a blind test, I think I might identify the singer as male but I am not certain—not that it matters, really. (On this CD he sings both male and female roles.) Florid writing holds no terrors for him, and there are many acuti sung with such confidence and attractiveness that many a female soprano will be jealous. Furthermore, he sings with personality—his own and that of the characters whose music he is singing—and even, when appropriate, with wit or sexiness. One might say that he finds the eroticism in Handel’s and Gluck’s music. Hear, for example, his performance of “Care selve” from Atalanta. Mariño captures King Meleagro’s dreamily sexual apostrophe to the forest and the shadows within to perfection. It is hard to tell from a recording, but I suspect that Mariño’s voice is not very large. (Neither is he.) That is not something one needs to be troubled by here, though; the balance between Mariño and the Händelfestspielorchester is excellent.

Conductor Michael Hofstetter clearly has approached this music with both passion and understanding—“scholarship” would be an appropriate word, if it didn’t also connote dullness. Hofstetter’s conducting is not dull! He and the orchestra complement Mariño admirably. The oboe soloist who dialogues with Mariño in “Quella fiamma” from Arminio is not identified, but he is wonderful too.

Bartoli’s aforementioned Gluck CD is excellent, but I see little point in saying that one is better than the other, because her voice is so different from Mariño’s. (In any case, she has a lot of voice at her disposal!) Better hear both!

This CD, and the singer that it introduces, made me sit up and take notice, and I hope that it will do the same for you. This is Want List material.




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