In the Studio - Hasse's Il Siroe Re di Persia

by Katherine Cooper. 23rd July 2014

This autumn will see the release of a Decca recording which is quite literally a dream come true for me and, I hope, for many more fans of baroque opera and superb singing. When I don't have my Presto Classical hat on, I moonlight as a singer, and back in summer 2008 I was offered a rather unusual assignment – the female lead (in itself a rare treat for a contralto!) in the first complete performance in 280 years of Johann Adolf Hasse’s Il Siroe Re di Persia. I knew next to nothing about Hasse at the time (I think I was dimly aware that he came somewhere between Handel and Mozart), but wanted to learn more the moment I started leafing through the newly-prepared score. Over the next few weeks, it was thrilling to bring this fantastic music to life after such a long silence – the opera's packed with wonderful melodies, dramatic recitatives and breathtaking bravura writing, and I remember thinking how much the piece deserved an A-list outing on disc. At the time, though, this seemed unlikely: not only was Hasse comparatively unknown, but the opera features two fiendish roles for male soprano (Hasse’s original cast included the star castrati Caffarelli and Farinelli) and even six years ago there were no countertenors scaling the necessary heights at international level.

But that was before the rapid and recent rise of a new breed of super-countertenor, including Max Cencic who has assembled a dream-team of singers to bring Siroe to life in spectacular fashion with his company Parnassus this year. Cencic sings the eponymous Persian prince, torn between loyalty to his father King Cosroe (sung here by the elegant Spanish tenor Juan Sancho) and love for his secret fiancee Emira (Greek contralto Dilyara Idrisova), an exiled Cambian princess who has infiltrated the Cosroe's court disguised as a man in order to avenge his murder of her father. The plot is further complicated by the machinations of Cosroe's young mistress Laodice (Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva), who falls in love with the wrong man and threatens to wreak havoc when rejected.

The lion's share of vocal fireworks, though, fall to Siroe's Machiavellian younger brother, Medarse, who wants the throne for himself and will stop at nothing (patricide and fratricide included) to achieve his goal. His Act One showstopper 'Fra l'orror' proved a scintillating opener to Franco Fagioli's much-feted Arias for Caffarelli disc last year, and it's wonderful news that the Argentine countertenor will take on the entire role on this recording. George Petrou will conduct Armonia Atenea for the recording; following a live performance in Athens last month, the opera will play at Versailles in late November, around the time of the CD release.

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