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American counter-tenor Randall Scotting his disc of arias written for the castrato Senesino and the analysis that went into creating it


Randall Scotting (Photo Joel Benjamin)
Randall Scotting (Photograph Joel Benjamin)

Regardless of dwelling in London for eight years, the American counter-tenor Randall Scotting will not be a widely known identify on these shores. Nevertheless, having made his Royal Opera Home debut in 2019 as Apollo in Britten’s Loss of life in Venice and simply launched his debut recital disc, The Crown: Heroic Arias for Senesino, with Laurence Cummings and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) on Signum Classics, that needs to be about to vary. And we caught Randall singing the position of the Refugee in Jonathan Dove‘s Flight in a filmed efficiency from Seattle Opera [see my review].

The repertoire on the brand new disc, arias by Bononcini, Ariosti, Giaj, Orlandini, Ristori, Giacomelli, and Lotti, may be very a lot the fruit of Randall’s years in London when he was engaged on a Ph D on the Royal School of Music, researching into lesser-known Baroque composers. The disc assembles arias written for the good castrato Senesino, finest recognized for making a sequence of main roles for Handel. Randall explains that in addition to creating over a dozen roles for Handel, Senesino had an enormous European popularity through the 1720s and 1730s and was very a lot a celebrity.

Folks these days know Senesino’s identify, however not the numerous quantity of music that was written for him. Randall’s analysis for his Ph D concerned finding music in archives and creating editions, thus feeding immediately into this disc. Randall enjoys this sense of being concerned within the rediscovery of the music, however by trying on the arias written for Senesino, Randall additionally realized an incredible deal extra concerning the castrato’s voice.

Randall had sung a number of of Senesino’s Handel roles and the arias appeared to suit him. He describes his voice as a mezzo-soprano-ish alto, with a excessive extension and each the tessitura and technical points of Senesino’s arias suited Randall. Senesino was famend for his dramatic skills, in addition to his technical talent together with his notable messa di voce, and he favored arias that enabled him to indicate off these totally different points of his voice.

Francesco Bernardi ('Senesino') by Alexander van Aken, after Thomas Hudson - mezzotint, published 1735 - Nationl Portrait Gallery (NPG D1059)
Francesco Bernardi (‘Senesino’) by Alexander van Aken, after Thomas Hudson
mezzotint, revealed 1735 – Nationwide Portrait Gallery (NPG D1059)

The music that different composers wrote for Senesino tells us extra concerning the singer and helps put Handel’s music into context. Two of the composers on the disc, Bononcini and Ariosti, have been Handel’s colleagues within the Royal Academy of Music in London, he would have heard their work. Apparently, Randall factors out that Bononcini’s music for Senesino is commonly written a 3rd increased than Handel’s, however Bononcini additionally makes use of Senesino’s decrease register greater than Handel. Senesino was very involved with how his was acquired, that the music ought to present him as his finest. Randall feels that numbers the place the viewers is in a position to attract the singer in similar to ‘Dolce Sogno’ from Bononcini’s La Griselda (on the disc) present this. We now have accounts of how transferring and touching Senesino was within the music. 

Senesino had over 100 roles written for him in his 33-year profession, he definitely knew methods to construct fame for himself. Randall factors to the instance of an aria by Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, written for Senesino in Venice in 1729 that included an decoration, martellato, that doesn’t happen in another aria written for the singer. A little analysis confirmed that additionally showing within the opera was star soprano Faustina Cuzzoni, whose trademark the decoration was. This was Senesino basically saying ‘Something you are able to do …’

These insights into his character make Randall describe Senesino as ‘a little bit of a shit’. It’s clear that Handel stored a stronger management over the music he wrote for the singer than another composers, but Handel was in a position to present the singer off effectively. Handel and Senesino’s relationship was by no means a straightforward one. When Senesino arrived in London in 1720, Handel referred to as him a damned idiot. For a lot of the first Royal Academy of Music, their relationship was sufficient, every realising the mutual profit they drew from it. However issues fell aside through the second Royal Academy. For a begin, a task just like the title position in Handel’s Orlando was to not Senesino’s style as there have been few conventional Da Capo arias to allow him to indicate off, and Handel retains the voice till management. Pissed off that Handel wouldn’t do what Senesino needed him to do, the singer went behind Handel’s again to create the rival Opera of the The Aristocracy.

However we even have to remember that Senesino’s voice was ageing. After leaving London for the final time, he was hardly ever effectively acquired in Italy. Randall feels that his was not helped by Senesino persisting in singing primo uomo roles in massive theatres (such because the San Carlo in Naples which seated 3,000), whereas at that stage of his profession he would have been extra appropriate to secondary roles in smaller theatres – one other perception into the person’s character. And all this helps inform the method to the music that Handel and others wrote for the singer.

There are seven composers on the disc, Bononcini and Ariosti who labored alongside Handel in London, Lotti who wrote operas for Senesino in Dresden in a method that was much less modern, (an aria from his 1718 opera, Ascanio is on the disc), plus Giaj, Orlandini, Ristori, and Giacomelli. Handel was adept at marrying music and drama in his operas, however Randall feels that these different composers solely actually get the bones of the drama, in order that performing the music takes extra perception from the performer to deliver the music out. And Randall feedback that that is very true of Lotti’s music have been the musical outlines and patterns imply you must know the place to decoration. And his Ph D is useful right here too, due to his stylistic analysis into kinds of kinds of trills, cadenzas and the like. Sadly, there’s little or no documentation for the kinds of decoration that Senesino used. His youthful rival, Farinelli (who sang in London however by no means sang for Handel), wrote out his ornamentations in a presentation manuscript that was a present for a patron. However Senesino didn’t appear to care about creating monuments for his legacy, so we now have not such comparable info.

A number of the arias on the disc can sound difficult, however they’re so effectively written for the voice that they arrive out effectively. The Lotti aria is totally different, extra instrumental in the best way he conceives the vocal writing. Right here, Randall and I’ve a one thing of an enchanting diversion in our dialogue speaking about different analysis that Randall has achieved, the truth is our dialog was filled with fascinating highways and byways of analysis. Considered one of Farinelli’s most well-known arias (steadily carried out right this moment) was ‘Son qual nave’ written by Farinelli’s brother Riccardo Broschi, however while trying in archives Randall got here throughout an earlier model of the aria by the composer Giovanni Antonio Giaj (whose music can also be on the disc). Giaj’s model of ‘Son qual nave’ has the identical melody line for the A bit, with totally different accompaniment and a special B part; so, it it appears that evidently Riccardo Broschi reworked an present aria as a showpiece for his brother. Giaj’s music will not be well-known, he wrote operas for Turin, which was a serious opera centre, however the composer appears to have been a little bit of a recluse and his music didn’t unfold. He was one in every of three composers whose work Randall took as operatic case research in his Ph D. 

Musical archaeology fascinates Randall, and as one other instance his cites Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, his Reform opera which premiered in Vienna in 1762, however most of the options on this opera might be present in a model of Orfeo written by Josef Fuchs some 50 years earlier. Randall factors out that always neglect that composers weren’t working in isolation. 

Recording The Crown (Photo Nic Mramer)
Recording The Crown – Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Laurence Cummings, Randall Scotting
(Photograph Nic Mramer)

He now finds it arduous to carry out music the 18th century the place he has not created the version, as he prefers being concerned and doesn’t belief older editions. He enjoys discovering the manuscript, and creating his personal version, interrogating the manuscript and making his personal selections, fairly counting on another person’s model. And this influences the best way he performs and interprets the music.

They’re hoping to place collectively a live performance primarily based on the disc, however within the UK, by way of performing, Randall is new, he’s primarily generally known as an instructional, so promoting the programme with him is tougher. He’s conscious of the necessity to concentrate to the enterprise facet of issues however admits that it isn’t his ardour. His popularity is rising, not solely has he made his Royal Opera debut, however he has carried out on the Met in New York and might be returning to Seattle. 

His subsequent venture is a brand new disc, to be launched in February 2023, which he smilingly refers to as an anti-valentine. Known as Love Sick, it’s a disc of lute songs with lutenist Stephen Stubbs. That is very a lot a pandemic venture. He began speaking with the OAE about The Crown in 2019, however plans needed to be placed on maintain. He discovered everybody was doing lockdown initiatives, however one of these private venture didn’t work for him. Feeling considerably determined, he turned to lute songs.

Chatting to Randall, it’s clear that he’s very conscious of his voice and magnificence. He’s an enormous man, tall and imposing, and he works out, discovering that it grounds him and varieties an antidote to the emotional facet of his singing job. His voice is all of a bit with this, considerably totally different to the prevailing fashion of counter tenors. This leads us to an enchanting dialogue about how voices have change into extra homogenous. Randall feedback that these days there are usually two kinds of tenor, Peter Pears or Luciano Pavarotti, whereas within the early nineteenth century there have been some 20 several types of tenor. Recordings have a robust affect; a single recording is just one solution to report a piece however turns into the best way to report the piece with different singers becoming themselves to it. 

Randall Scotting (Photo Stephanie Girard)
Randall Scotting (Photograph Stephanie Girard)

He comes from a small city in Colorado and sang baritone in highschool
earlier than learning the cello. When he went to school, he knew he needed to
examine music however wasn’t positive what, although he knew that he wasn’t able to
quit on the cello. So, he studied cello and voice, and studied
composition and piano privately. Rising up in a small city in Colorado
there was little in the best way of tradition, and he feedback that it was a
problem. At school, he sang baritone within the choir however throughout
sectionals would sing together with the sopranos, not realising that this
skill was uncommon. He talked about it to his voice instructor and was fortunate
that the instructor had studied in Germany the place the counter tenor voice was extra frequent, notably in Bach. 

For a 12 months, Randall sang baritone, tenor and counter-tenor. Counter-tenor Andreas Scholl‘s instructor was a buddy of Randall’s American instructor, and so for his first go to to Europe, Randall sang for Scholl’s instructor, they usually gave Randall encouragement. He was simply 19, and he switched to counter-tenor. At one other faculty within the USA, he had a instructor who knew extra concerning the counter-tenor voice and inspired Randall to focus on the bread-and-butter repertoire, together with Handel and Britten’s Oberon. However Randall, at first, was not drawn to Baroque music and felt that it wasn’t for him. Within the visible arts he cherished Kandinsky and Jackson Pollok and needed to translate this contemporary fashion into music. 

Now he balances the bread and butter with different more difficult initiatives, similar to Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for Mad King. He has nice curiosity about totally different modes of expression and mentions the music of Olga Neuwirth, he enjoys the total vary of what a voice can symbolize. In Spring 2022, he made his debut on the Bavarian State Opera as Michael in Georg Friedrich Haas‘ opera Thomas, a piece which requires the singers to work in microtones all the way down to a sixth of a tone. One of many challenges of studying the music was discovering the fitting instruments to make use of. He feedback that many modern counter-tenor roles play up the voice’s otherness, and he’s inquisitive about repositioning trendy counter-tenor writing in the direction of the dramatic. He’s speaking to composer mates concerning the potentialities.

The Crown: Heroic Arias for Senesino – Randall Scotting, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Laurence Cummings – Signum Classics [further details]

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