Michael Maniaci / Martin Pearlman / Boston Baroque

Mozart: Arias for Male Soprano

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American male soprano Michael Maniaci (he declines the descriptor countertenor) pursues beauty rather than power in his singing, which is entirely worth hearing. The booklet notes for this Telarc release, by an unidentified annotator, spend a lot of time speculating as to whether castrati might have sounded like this in the 18th century, and not enough asking how often they actually sang Mozart's music; by the time of the latest opera represented in this collection of arias, La clemenza di Tito, the castrati were in decline. Mozart rarely if ever wrote the "arias for male soprano" promised on the cover of this release; he wrote for female singers. All this said, Maniaci's voice is unusual enough to make news. There is none of the sheer power that is generally held to be the distinctive quality of the high male voice. Instead, Maniaci cultivates agility -- quiet high notes are always impressively precise -- and a delicate melodic quality. His lower register is a bit underpowered; if a line begins at the bottom of his range, he tends to get lost among the strings of the Boston Baroque orchestra. But in the warm, mid-range selections from La clemenza di Tito (tracks 6 and 7), he has an unusual shine that blends perfectly with the orchestra's period strings. The album concludes with the virtuoso cantata Exsultate, Jubilate, K. 165, which is a real soprano showpiece; Maniaci's almost quiet but superbly controlled version is a true surprise. The entire program is quite a departure for the U.S. Telarc label, known for its orchestral showpieces and pops spectaculars, but the engineers, with the help of the fine acoustics at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA, present this smaller music to best advantage. Well worth hearing for aficionados of the high male voice.

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