Argentinian countertenor Franco Fagioli is among the best Handel performers. His Festival d’Aix debut sees him play Pleasure in the production of Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. Let’s meet a passionately exuberant singer.
You know Handel like the back of your hand. Who do you think Handel was?
Handel was the Andrew Lloyd Webber (Cats, Phantom of the Opera) of his day! He was a brilliant businessman! Just look at his time in London. Handel was also a genius who could create very personal musical speech.
What do you mean by that?
Castratos took pride of place in Italy at the time. Carestini and Caffarelli were among the singers who were overtrained by great teachers such as Nicola Porpora so they were involved in writing the opera score that they were going to sing. Handel was in his twenties when he went to Italy. He explored and took inspiration from Italian opera at the time and, despite the rules set by singers, he managed to stand out from his contemporaries (Leo, Vinci, Pergolesi). He created his own version of Italian opera and put his own stamp on the music.
Have you played Pleasure before?
No because Pleasure is usually performed by a mezzo-soprano. I loved the idea when I was offered the countertenor version for the Festival d’Aix. Although with my range I am used to performing scores sung by women (Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito, Idamante in Idomeneo), it is still a challenge.
How would you describe Pleasure?
Piacere! Pleasure! Plaisir! There are lots of ways to describe him. My role in this oratorio is to say: Carpe Diem! Seize the day, do not think about the future or the past. You may age, you may get ugly, you may get ill but you may not! Smell the roses and leave the thorns so you do not get hurt. It is a colourful score and that really comes across in Handel’s music.
How was working with Krzysztof Warlikowski?
It is very inspirational. He has a very clear vision of the story he wants to tell. He focuses on youth today, young people growing up in complicated families who sometimes make mistakes when trying to find themselves. Everything that happens to Beauty in the first part is in her head. It’s like she is dreaming or still drugged by what she took the night before. I am not real and nor are Time and Truth. She never looks at me when I speak to her and neither does the nurse because I only exist in her mind. We become real in the second part, we become members of one and the same family. I become the brother who tries to save Beauty from the clutches of her parents. It’s a great idea!
It looks like you are having fun playing a bad boy when we see you on stage…
It is great fun I must admit. My type of vocals means that I tend to perform the hero, lover or victim. Pleasure has many sides to him. He is kind, sometimes irresistible, but he is also jealous and sly. He is a bit like Nero in the Coronation of Poppea. I love playing that kind of crazy character! Pleasure is full of contrasts so I tried to create a character that you sometimes want to be with but not always.
In this version, Beauty is constantly dwelling on dark ideas. I try to convince her not to drown in her darkness and show her that there may be another way. She kills herself at the end of this production. It is terrible! But what is worse? That she kills herself or that she sometimes talks to bad people? I may not be the best person she can be with but I’m probably not the worst…
Interview by Saskia de Ville on 8 July 2016