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German countertenor Andreas Scholl talks about his album Arias For Senesino and his debut at the Last Night Of The Proms.
Who was Senesino?
He was an alto castrato who was the biggest singing star in London during Handel’s time. In fact, the composer wrote at least 15 main roles for him. All the arias on the album were created for, or made famous by, Senesino.
Why do you find Senesino so inspiring?
His range is exactly the range I sing in, so I’m lucky to be able to perform the most beautiful music written by Handel. It’s fascinating to see how Handel adapted his compositional style for Senesino; nowadays, it seems a composer is more interested in presenting the voice as a technical vehicle, whereas Handel was more focused on delivering a message.
What parallels do you see between yourself and Senesino?
Although we have no recordings from that time, we have letters that describe how Senesino sang. He didn’t use excessive ornaments, relying instead on the beauty of the voice – I try to do that too. He also had real stage presence – an energy and a way of establishing contact with the audience; this is something we should all strive for.
How was it to work with Accademia Bizantina?
They are a special group of musicians. They have the same power and energy as other Italian Baroque orchestras, but they never sound wild. It’s a question of taste but, for me, I like the fact that they are very energetic but also precise and extremely disciplined.
You’re the first countertenor to sing at the Last Night of the Proms…
Yes, and it’s a tremendous responsibility. Among the TV and radio audiences, there may be people who have never heard a countertenor. In the first half, I’ll be performing arias from the album and, in the second half, I have chosen to sing the folk song Down By The Salley Gardens. The guitarist John Williams is accompanying me, which is a great honour. I’ve sung at the Royal Albert Hall many times before, and I always find it amazing that when I see this huge crowd before me I don’t just run away!
You’re touring the UK…
I don’t really like travelling – it isolates you from friends and relationships that need regular attendance. But I’m looking forward to the tour – I enjoy developing my ideas of interpretation. Singing is a great profession, and I really wouldn’t want to do anything else.