Opera + Classical Music Features

Interview: Ian Bostridge

Ian Bostridge

Ian Bostridge

Ian Bostridge never stands still: not content with pre-eminence in Schubert and Britten, he has expanded his repertoire into the more obscure reaches of Handel’s music his earlier recording of arias by that composer, Great Handel, explored favourite pieces from the operas, but the latest one, Three Baroque Tenors examines in detail the differing styles of three of the great singers of Handel’s own day, and includes six arias which are here recorded for the first time. The CD is released in tandem with a 14-date European tour with Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi, and the tour reaches London’s Barbican Hall this Friday.

Chatting with him about the recording, he reveals both his enthusiasm and his scholarly interest in this music. “The last disc was called Great Handel after an epitaph which described him thus, and it was really my selection of pieces I’d fallen in love with over the years, irrespective of who they were written for. The present disc is more a research project, exploring the differing styles of Beard, Borosini and Fabri.”

Handelians will of course be familiar with Beard, described by Bostridge as really more of a musical theatre singer, although he did do many roles for Handel, the most prominent being Jupiter in Semele. Beard’s characteristic nobility, lyricism and manly style are represented on the disc by Ian’s forthright singing of Arne’s Rise, Glory, Rise and in the concert by the little known but very beautiful Softly rise, O southern breeze from William Boyce’s Solomon.

Borosini is the tenor most associated with the great role of Bajazet, in Tamerlano, recently taken on by Domingo, and I asked Ian if he had any designs on that part, too. “Of course I have! It’s something I’m hoping for in the future, and Ive been discussing it with Laurence Cummings! You can get a taste of what he might do with it on the CD, where he sings Forte e Lieto.”

The third tenor, Annibale Fabri, was taught by a castrato and was especially proficient in the music of Vivaldi; one of his most characteristic arias was the meltingly tender Ti stringo in quest amplesso from L’Atenaide, which Bostridge sings with his usual commitment and musicality. Fabri’s most famous Handel part was that of Alessandro in Poro, and this is represented on the CD by one of the baroque eras most florid and demanding arias, Dun barbaro scortese.

Bostridge has clearly enjoyed the research for the disc and concert series; as he says, “We all tend to think we know so much about Handel and baroque music, but really all we have done is scratch the surface, and there’s so much more to discover.” I asked his opinion as to why so many singers seem to be discovering Handel. “Apart from the greatness of the music, I think that many people are looking at the breadth of his genius, at his Italianate qualities, as well as his Englishness which we know so well, and his art is such that it appeals to singers who may not in theory be specialists but who are just enraptured by the operas, and rightly so.”

The concert tour has taken in Amiens, Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Luxembourg, and Bruges before coming to London this week, but he is not fazed by the intense scheduling. “In a way it’s quite a relaxing experience being on tour, since your children aren’t with you, so as you can imagine you just get yourself into this mode of things and get on with it.” Audiences have clearly been enthusiastic, supporting Bostridge’s confidence in the repertoire to the extent that he has been singing Scherza Infida as an encore. “Usually sung by a counter-tenor or a mezzo of course, but I’m absolutely insistent on the fact that it’s acceptable to transpose these arias for tenor it was standard practice in Handel’s time, as was the habit of compiling sets of arias rather than full operas.”

Aware of my own views on this, which might perhaps be called purist, he insists that its just as valid to have a tenor singing Handelian heroic arias as a counter-tenor, especially since “We really have no idea what the castrati sounded like”. I agree that we have Moreschi’s recording, but that was at the end of his life and isn’t exactly definitive. “Castrati sang ecclesiastical music in the main, so there’s nothing inauthentic about a tenor singing, say, Ruggiero’s arias.” He backs this up in practical terms with a first-time recording of an aria for Sesto in Giulio Cesare which Handel re-wrote for Borosini at the opera’s revival.

It’s fascinating music, and whether or not you agree with Bostridge’s take on it, you cant help but be carried away by his zeal; you’ll be able to judge for yourself on Friday, when he sings at the Barbican. I’ll be looking out for that encore.

Details of Ian Bostridge’s concert can be found at barbican.org.uk

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