The 18th century duel between George Frideric Handel and Nicola Porpora was the basis for the aptly titled “A Legendary Battle” –– adroitly voiced by Philippe Jaroussky at Walt Disney Concert Hall, February 5, 2014.
The French countertenor Jaroussky sailed through equal parts Handel and Porpora, delivering four transcendent arias by each composer. Jaroussky’s phrasings were both exact and delicate, his launch into Alto Giove from Polifemo especially notable for his clarion delivery of its single, soaring note.
He mastered other more tempestuous pieces, including Si pietoso il tuo labbro from Semiramide Riconosciuta. At times he turned notes fragrant, seemingly producing some rare and collective synesthesia among the rapt audience. From Handel he chose among the most familiar, including Ariodante. The 20-piece Venice Baroque Orchestra, all period instruments, matched and deftly dueled with Jaroussky’s voice, providing an optimal match.
A 21-year-old Jaroussky made his debut in 1999, at a French summer festival. He sang Scarlatti, latching onto a trend that favored Baroque repertory during subsequent years. Countertenors have enjoyed a resurgence in the past decade –– among them Andreas Scholl and David Daniels. But none seem to possess Jaroussky’s elegant stage presence and charm. Or his voice, variously described as “angelic,” “liquid” and “ethereal.” After his Disney Hall performance, I would add “ineffable” to the list.
Jaroussky has appeared widely in France – from the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and Opéra de Lyon to Salle Gaveau and Théâtre du Châtelet. In the U.S. -- Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and abroad: Grand Théâtre du Luxembourg, Konzerthaus in Vienna, Staatsoper and Philharmonie in Berlin, among others.