Rivals: Arias for Farinelli & Co – David Hansen about Beauty

Hansen Arms Wide

That daredevil, dashing Australian born guy who uniquely sings high virtuoso countertenor David Hansen has, in the last few years, raised himself to the status of an international super-star.

Carolyn with David HansenHis first recording Rivals is pure magic, a triumph for the art and age of modernity in classic music. David Hansen is brilliantly accompanied by players of the Academia Montis Regalis with Allesandro de Marchi on harpsichord and as conductor.

On Rivals David Hansen ‘explores and celebrates music composed for Farinelli and his castrato rivals’ including Caffarelli (Gaetano Majorano 1710-1783), Giovanni Carestini (1704-1760) and others.

From the late seventeenth to the nineteenth century young boys with superior voices in Europe were castrated in the name of ‘art’, a fact for us all to come to terms with. But there it is, it’s part of our inglorious past and thankfully we have moved on.

Castrato Farinelli (Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi 1705-1782) during his career was ‘primo uomo’ a hero of the eighteenth century opera stage, fascinating admiring men and making women swoon.

David Hansen returned home earlier this year to take the audience by storm at Leo Schofield’s Hobart Baroque Festival in Tasmania. Friends who were there said it was a spine tingling experience. It was also a victory for both art and the beauty of the countertenor voice.

Truly wonderful and uplifting sounds filled my apartment all afternoon as I listened to Rivals. David Hansen lets loose with rarely heard, difficult works that range across three octaves from composers Leonardo Vinci (1690 – 1730), Leonardo Leo (1694-1744), Antonio Maria Bononcini (1677-1726) and his brother Riccardo Broschi (1690-1756).

It is simply staggering stuff. Awesome!

Early (Baroque) music has well and truly come back to the fore once more. This marvelous music of friends reflects the notion that man and nature are once more back in harmony with each other and happy.

You can sense the happiness in Hansen’s voice as he sings emboldened by the words of the songs and the instrumental player’s superb backing of his performance.

Just as Italian tenor Mario Lanza in the late 1940’s and 1950’s made the tenor voice popular in Hollywood musicals, so did young Welsh ‘treble’ Aled Jones bring high male voices back to contention during the 1980’s.

His very high youthful voice was believed to be of such remarkable quality it became the subject of an Emmy award-winning documentary ‘Treble’ in 1985. He recorded 16 albums and sold 6 million of them before it ‘broke’.

What Jones achieved was giving a whole new age an appreciation for the high male voice, one that possesses vocal athleticism, agility and strength to sing in the top range generally reserved for female voices.

Today the professional milieu of adult countertenor voices in our world has reached a good place. It includes Germany’s much loved Andreas Scholl, who came to notice during the late 80’s and early 90’s as did Australian countertenor, the renowned Graham Pushee, whom I was blessed to see perform many times.

Both were a bridge from then until today. As fate would have it Hansen was able to further his studies with Graham Pushee.

Overseas David Hansen has passionately pursued additional coaching and a glittering career on the international stage. In 2004 he made his European début for the Aix-en-Provence Festival to much acclaim and Graham Pushee became his Australasian agent.  Since then he has sung in Australia for The Pinchgut Opera, all the time covering himself with the glory of it all; music that resonates with distinction.

In Europe, among stiff competition, David Hansen has confirmed his commitment to his art form. Based in Oslo, Norway he has evolved his voice and style in the interim far beyond what he could have ever imagined and has met morphed into a world that today he can truly call his own.

Jacopo Amigoni, Portrait Group, the singer Farinelli and Friends, c1750, courtesy National Gallery of Victoria

Jacopo Amigoni, Portrait Group, the singer Farinelli and Friends, c1750, courtesy National Gallery of Victoria

The concept of the union of beauty and virtue first found literary expression in ancient Greece where the eminent position of the arts in their culture called for both ‘universal admiration and the fostering of their practice’. We are in such a period again. Baroque music as sung by voices such as David Hansen’s is a joyous celebration of life.

The inevitable parallels will be drawn for Hansen with castrati, as it is with his colleagues. There is no comparison really and we really should not even visit the thought any more.

His CD Rivals is already a ‘classic’. With this recording Hansen has truly reached new heights in achieving renowned excellence and it is and will remain of lasting significance; a legacy of great worth from our time and place in the evolution of art, style, society and culture.

Rather than looking for superlatives to describe Hansen’s performance we should perhaps just give ourselves up entirely to listening to the poetry, purity and clarity of a voice that helps us to explore the very depths of our own spirit and soul.

It is truly sublime. For me there will never be enough words to explain or say how I feel when listening to, and being part of someone delivering such beauty.

These days we have the best of all worlds in music. We don’t have to like one genre or another more. We have gained enough sophistication and sense to admire, understand and respect excellence in all.

From a rock band on the Queen St Mall in Brisbane, to the Erhu busker on the bridge in Melbourne, from an aspiring star on the X Factor and Australia’s Got Talent the sounds of music are really all about expressing our humanity.

When sensational soprano Simone Kermes was compared to Lady Gaga recently it drew condemnation from some, instead of seeing the comment for what it was meant to be, a compliment. Lady Gaga has elevated herself to being well above the commonplace in her music world by being the best that she can be.

So has David Hansen in his and in any age and genre that is to be admired.

It’s about giving respect to each other’s choices.

To attain the highest pinnacle of one’s chosen genre is what every true artist strives to do.

The style of singing, the changes in technique and re-interpretation of early music sung by David Hansen, played by the Academia Montis Regalis and conducted with such amazing sensitivity on Rivals by Baroque specialist Alessandro de Marchi, is a wonderful achievement.

While this music may have been composed for high male voices in the past Hansen and his team have a whole fresh new approach to their genre as they celebrate living in this age and time on this wonderful CD.

Hansen on fire singing “Se in fiorito” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare 2010 in the Opera House, Oslo Norway. It’s a role that his mentor Graham Pushee made famous in Australia in the 1990’s.

Hansen confidently commences with the aria ‘In braccio a mille furie’, which translated means ‘In the arms of a thousand furies’ composed by the remarkable Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730). It makes for a wonderful start.

Using his remarkable ability to ‘quaver’ his voice like a coloratura soprano, with great strength, clarity and joy he lives and breathes the music so much so that you become completely wrapped up in his world.

The next aria, also by Vinci is the breathtaking ‘Sento due fiamme in petto‘, and it makes you heart ache coping with so much beauty in one song.

The highlight piece on Rivals is Hansen’s wonderful rendition of the aria ‘Son qual nave ch’agitata‘. This is based on a text by Italian poet Metastasio (Pietro Antonio Domenico Trapassi 1698-1782) and set to music by Farinelli’s brother Riccardo Broschi (1698-1756). It was famously performed by Farinelli in 1734.

In a great deal of early music when the composer wrote a phrase the singer was meant to repeat it, adding his own embellishment. Farinelli wrote his down and Hansen and his team were able to re-instate all of his exciting, difficult musical ornamentation with great success. They also re-instated some of the instrumental music, so this version is very different from what has gone before.

The whole album is so masterfully put together that by the end you are left in absolutely no doubt of the purity and perfection of Hansen’s sound.

David HansenAs he moved from one beautiful aria to the next I was reminded of the wonderful words Opera Australia’s Lyndon Terracini delivered so eloquently in his Peggy Glanville Hick’s Address of 2011. “When an artist understands how to weave the text and the music together and is able to communicate every individual moment within a musical and dramatic context to the audience it is a wonderful and often awe inspiring experience.”

It would be hard to say what I mean about this CD any better.

David Hansen as Giasone and Celeste Lazarenko as Medea, Pinchgut Opera 2013 photograph Keith Saunders

David Hansen as Giasone and Celeste Lazarenko as Medea, Pinchgut Opera 2013 photograph Keith Saunders

Today I realize how lucky I was to grow up with the sound of music being something special in our home. My mother bless her, was self taught on the piano, which she played with great gusto by ear and with such joyous, glorious abandon teaching me what it means to entirely give yourself up not only to the music but also the moment. For me it is always thrilling to have the opportunity of hearing a great singer or to watch a great actor embrace the audience with a complete understanding and love of performance art.

It’s about giving beyond self and so I always endeavour to ‘sieze the day’ because great experiences can pass by if you don’t dare to reach for them.

There is a great responsibility when taking on someone else’s life’s work with respect. David Hansen does that with the music of composers of two hundred plus years ago, and does them proud. He and his team are creating a whole new audience and connecting cities and cultures through their love of creativity and understanding of what quality means.

Our remote ancestors had not the slightest notion that such a thing as communicating ideas and feelings to someone else through the sounds of music was possible and would and could happen. With this recording it certainly does.

Beautiful sounds elevated and accompanied their own efforts as the ancient Greeks strived to attain moral sturdiness as they embraced ideas of responsible citizenship, both of which reflected the quality of the education that was reserved for those who were free.

This is a spectacular tribute to those amazing men who arranged the notes, which are full of the vigour of life sung by a singer, who is a craftsman of supreme excellence.

Undoubtedly David Hansen will influence other young people to follow as he raises the bar to a whole new level and with such great depth, love and style. Men sang out their feelings long before they were able to speak their thoughts and the voice became the original musical instrument.

David HansenDavid Hansen is truly blessed with his. He said in an interview with The Australian on the eve of Rivals release “music, no matter from what period, should be about beauty. I hope I’ve brought something beautiful to this recording.” He most certainly has.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013

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