Among the composers of the Neapolitan School of the 18th century, very few left such a recognisable mark as Leonardo Vinci, who gave his operas a dramatic flair made of passion and imagination. The Englishman Charles Burney, while visiting Italy to collect materials for his A General History of Music, wrote that “Italians did not want to see again any piece that they had already seen unless it is some excellent opera by Vinci.”

Franco Fagioli

Vinci created poignant melodies and virtuoso pieces with overflowing inventiveness, and he composed for the legendary castrato Farinelli, among others. When he was 40, his opera Artaserse premiered in Rome bringing him the greatest triumph of his life, after which he suddenly died – allegedly poisoned by a jealous husband.

Today, the main specialist in the Vinci's repertoire, at least for the last ten years, is Franco Fagioli, one of the greatest countertenors of his generation, possibly the best in terms of vocal prowess and virtuosity. Fagioli presented some of the most beautiful Vinci’s arias in a recital entirely dedicated to the Neapolitan composer at the Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival 2021, a Gala held at the Margravial Opera House under the baton of George Petrou, who conducted the Baroque ensemble Armonia Atenea.

Franco Fagioli, George Petrou and Armonia Atenea

Fagioli displayed his elaborate vocalism with glamorous allure. His timbre sounded as beautiful and his technique as impressive as ever. The audience in the hall was very impressed by his highly emotional performance and virtuoso coloratura passages. His countertenor voice was whole-hearted and charming, full of sincere emotion. His mezzo-soprano timbre shone effortlessly and was stunning, without the harshness we may hear in some of his other countertenor colleagues. He could also reach a high range and tessitura with superb breath control.

The aria “Quell’usignolo ch’è innamorato” came in like a breath of fresh air, and was striking for its vocal charm, exhibited with naturalness. “Fra cento affanni”(from Artaserse) was an exhibition of Baroque brilliance. Arias from Siroe, Il Medo, and Catone in Utica all showed Fagioli’s gift for nuances and detail, and the ease with which he sang bravura passages. His versatility was also amazing in “Nave altera, che in mezzo all’onde” from Gismondo re di Polonia

Franco Fagioli, George Petrou and Aromnia Atenea

The final aria, “Vo solcando un mar crudele” from Artaserse, was definitely one of the gems of this recital, to which the instrumentalists of Armonia Atenea gave their accurate and passionate support. The recital was interspersed with instrumental pieces of both Vinci (the sinfonias from Semiramide riconosciuta and Artaserse) and Handel (two of his Op.3 Concerto grossi.

This performance was reviewed from the Arte live video stream