Castrati and unknown Venetian baroque repertoire
with Musica Fiorita — Basel, 7. December 2013
Star of the craft — During the second part of the soirée, a young man appeared who seemed to fulfill the previously described stereotype: baroque costume, slightly affected manners and a high speaking voice. It was countertenor FFB, a star of his craft and what nowadays can be understood as approximation to the castrato voice. Together with Musica Fiorita he sang baroque pieces that hadn’t been heard for 300 years. The sound and the intensity of his performance touched immensely. He gently reserved himself in the Strozzi cantata, then developed in the Lamento di Apollo his full expressiveness. Then, in the Marcello “Lettera per Vittoria Tesi” he went to the comical genre, and finally in the Zanatta cantata, showed expression and shaping in top form.
In the end notes he sometimes changed to chest voice — and the awesomeness of his bell-clear alto voice was evident. It is actually so that it looks magic when a man sings those passages. The facial expressions and the interpretation make a big part too. So, on this evening it was really evident, how fascinating castrato voices must have been. Especially, one asked himself, why was castration actually necessary…”
“Der Star der Zunft — Als es zum zweiten Teil des Abends ging, begegnete einem ein junger Mann, der dem beschriebenen Stereotyp ganz zu entsprechen schien. Barockkostüm, leicht affektierte Art und eine hohe Sprechstimme. Es war der Altus Flavio Ferri-Benedetti, ein Star seiner Zunft und das, was man heute als Annäherung an die Kastratenstimme verstehen kann. Zusammen mit dem Ensemble Musica Fiorita sang er einige Barockstücke, die seit 300 Jahren nicht mehr zu hören waren. Der Klang und die Intensität seiner Darbietung berührten ungeheuerlich. Hielt er sich bei der Kantate «Presso un Ruscello Algente» von Barbara Strozzi noch vornehm zurück, so entwickelte er beim «Lamento di Apollo» seine ganze Ausdruckskraft, schwenkte in der Briefvertonung «Lettera die C. A. Benati per Vittoria Tesi» über ins komische Fach, um schliesslich bei «Sorta è la notte opaca» zu absoluter Höchstform an Ausdruck und Gestaltung zu finden.
Bei den letzten Tönen wechselt er ins Brustregister und die Ungeheuerlichkeit seiner glockenklaren Altusstimme wird offenbar. Es ist tatsächlich so, dass es magischer erscheint, wenn ein Mann diese Passagen singt. Grossen Anteil hat aber auch das Mienenspiel, die Interpretation. So lässt sich an diesem Abend wirklich nachvollziehen, was das Faszinierende an den Kastratenstimmen gewesen sein muss. Allerdings fragt man sich auch, wozu die Kastration eigentlich genau nötig war.”
9 Dez 2013
Clemenza di Tito — GLUCK — Leverkusen
(L’Arte del Mondo) *** 3 nov 2013
“Flavio Ferri-Benedetti stattet den Vertrauten Titos in beiden Arien mit weichem Countertenor und sauber geführten Spitzentönen aus.”
[FFB provides both Publio’s arias with smooth countertenor voice and cleanly-executed high notes.”]
[Online Musik Magazine.de]
“Der zweite Countertenor Flavio Ferri-Benedetti als Publio beeindruckt mit enormem Volumen in seinen zwei Arien.”
[Second countertenor FFB as Publio impresses with huge volume in his two arias.”
“Passo di pena in pena” — Nº1 on Basler Zeitung TOP CLASSICS
Interview on Basellandschaftlicher Zeitung
17 April 2013
(Flavio Interview — BLZeitung 17Apr2013 –> PDF ARTICLE)
“The singer is a messenger of the passions”
Countertenor Flavio Ferri-Benedetti published his first CD, Passo di pena in pena.
By Christian Fluri
The Italian-Spanish Countertenor Flavio Ferri-Benedetti is an artist who goes his own pathways, a baroque singer who also moves in the fields of classical and romantic. Thus, at his Masters’ recital at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in the autumn of 2010 (which he accomplished cum laude) he sang Brahms together with baroque pieces, causing sensation. He followed the steps of other countertenors like Andreas Scholl, who convincingly approach the art of romantic Lied with their own touch.
Ferri-Benedetti, whose big passions are music and literature, especially poetry, has just published his first solo CD with Italian cantatas of the late Baroque – he is accompanied on this fantastic CD by Ensemble “Il Profondo”, founded by former students of the Schola in Basel.
The countertenor is well known to the music fans in Basel (and not only) due to his role of Linfea in Jan Bosse’s funny staging of Cavalli’s Calisto (May/June 2010). Virtuosic and teasing, he took the drag role and found himself a real comedian. “This role brought me many good things but one inconvenience;” tells Ferri-Benedetti during our coffee-talk: “I was widely known and vowed for it, but at the same time I was being reduced to the role of comedian and drag-queen.” He feels almost more at home in dramatic, serious roles. “I am actually quite a melancholic person.”
The Italo-Spaniard received many engagements with first-class ensembles for baroque Italian repertoire. Recently he sang his first Bach passion, Johannespassion, with Ensemble Orlando Fribourg under Laurent Gendre. In our conversation it really shows how deeply he feels for the Passion’s music, how he is moved by it.
Knowledge of poetry is vital
His interpretation of Alessandro Scarlatti’s cantata Ombre tacite e sole on his CD, a real treasure of baroque literature, makes clear how touchingly Flavio Ferri-Benedetti sings the betrayed, hurt lover and how great he is at shaping song. Here one can hear the “tear in the voice”, la lacrima nella voce, which has been mentioned in our meeting. “It isn’t easy to find it – it needs some experience. You know the feeling if you have cried in life.” As a singer, you have to allow strong emotions and, at the same time, be able to control them.
To him the shaping of the text is of big importance. One can transmit the contents of a song only if the poetical text is fully understood and fathomed. Prima le parole, poi la musica – this is the law for this countertenor. “I always study the text first, then the music.” Diction, phrasing, ornamentation – it all depends on the text. “The singer must bring along a thorough knowledge of the poetry.” This is part of what Ferri-Benedetti, who gives courses at the Schola, explains to his students.
The singer takes ideally a role “that is one of hardest roles of his life, a role he sometimes forgets: messenger, sailor, confessor, reporter or the small and big human passions,” writes Ferri-Benedetti in his beautiful text accompanying the CD, where he explores the role of the singer, the descendant of Orpheus. And he quotes the important baroque poet and librettist Pietro Metastasio: “He who wants to move, should try to move himself first.” And Ferri-Benedetti knows well: “If you give the audience, you receive back.”
One hears in each and every word that Ferri-Benedetti is a fully passionate singer and also a teacher. Also in this role he considers the teacher to be a messenger who brings the art of singing to young people – learning a lot about himself and his profession as well.
He always wanted to come to Basel
He wanted to be a singer very early, actually a baroque singer. Born in the Italian Aemilia, he moved at the age of 11 with his family to Spain. The young boy, while studying piano, heard all baroque albums and was fascinated by the high male voice. “Countertenor and conductor René Jacobs was my teenage hero.” When he read an interview with Jacobs at the age of 13, when Jacobs was a teacher at the Schola, he told his mother: “I want to study Early Music and Singing in Basel!” – and it happened.
From 1994 to 2004 he studied Piano and Theory at the Conservatorio de Vila-real. After, he studied Translation and Interpretation from 2000 to 2005 at the Universitat Jaume I (Castelló) and now doctorates at the Universidad de Valéncia in Literature about Classical Tradition and Metastasio.
He was accepted, then, at the Schola. He is still extremely happy to have studied in Basel especially with Gerd Türk, whom he treasures extraordinarily as an artist, a teacher and a friend: “The Schola and the city of Basel are my second home. The Schola is really my Alma Mater and the Basler are my favourite audience.”
This talented man has incorporated the spirit of the Schola: he is not only a baroque musician with big historical knowledge, he is also a researcher and an editor of works that he discovers. Now he is busy with the pieces of his second CD – again with Ensemble Il Profondo – this time with a huge continuo group. This time he goes back to the birth of baroque in Italy around 1600, with pieces by Monteverd, Strozzi, Caccini and “an anonymous Lament that I have discovered”. La Pazza, this is the name of the CD, where all variations of madness are displayed. These laments and this madness/follia he will present on Sunday at the Zinzendorfhaus in Basel.
[…] Four cantatas from 1716 to 1733 were chosen by the countertenor for his debut CD – they are mini-dramas that sign of betrayal, soul-pain and hope. Indeed, the one suffering for love goes “from pain to pain” (di pena in pena) like the one in Vivaldi’s Amor hai vinto.
Ferri-Benedetti’s sensual, radiant high voice gives touching expressivity to the love’s desperation in Scarlatti’s Ombre tacite e sole. One can feel the pain, the abysmal pain where the soul of the unhappy lover falls. The countertenor shapes his recitativi in a trhilling way, shapes every word and enchants with deeply felt configuration of the arias, as a master of ornamentation. With a sound-discourse full of passion and colours, the strings and continuo group of Il Profondo accompany excellently. […]
The inner struggle finds, here, its dramatic shaping. A wonderful CD that communicates stirring passions.
Nisi Dominus / Sum in medio tempestatum
With Stella Maris Orchestra — Dir. Cristoforo Spagnuolo
Wettingen/Seon/Bad Zurzach March 2013
(Photo: M. Steimer — Aargauer Zeitung)
“Dem Dirigenten ein “Bravo” entlockt“
Flavio Ferri-Benedetti ungekünstelt und technisch brilliant.
Leidenschaft lautete das Thema des Konzertes. Dahin gehend optimal war die Altus-Besetzung mit Flavio Ferri-Benedetti. Selten vermag es ein Solist derart ungekünstelt Emotionen auszudrücken und gleichwohl technisch zu brillieren. Die Koloraturen perlten in aller Lockerheit, die Spannungsbögen schienen kein Ende zu nehmen, der Altus schwitzte vor gebanntem Publikum bis zur Zielnote. Ferri-Benedetti entlockte sogar dem Dirigenten Spagnuolo ein spontanes «Bravo!».”
“Even the conductor says ‘bravo’”
Flavio Ferri-Benedetti: genuine and technically brilliant.
Mesmerized audience: “Passion” was the topic of the concert. So, having Flavio Ferri-Benedetti as the alto soloist was an optimal cast. It is seldom to see a soloist being able to express such genuine, unaffected emotions and, at the same time, shining technically just as well. The coloraturas “fizzed” in all ease, the suspension bows seemed to be endless and the singer sweated in front of the mesmerized audience up to the goal note. Ferri-Benedetti even elicited a spontaneous “bravo!” out of the conductor Spagnuolo.
4th March 2013
“Das Stella Maris Orchestra hat mit Sänger Flavio Ferri-Benedetti und Werken von Vivaldi und Haydn einen wahren Begeisterungssturm ausgelöst — Sauber und klar war auch der Gesang von Flavio Ferri-Benedetti. Die Altus-Stimme von Flavio Ferri-Benedetti wusste in allen Lagen zu überzeugen, ohne je an Reinheit zu verlieren. Wie er scheinbar ohne jegliche Anstrengung sang, machte Eindruck. — Der «Unwettersturm» hatte sich längst gelegt und machte nun einem wahren Begeisterungssturm des Publikums Platz, das seine Freude mit einer stehenden Ovation zum Ausdruck brachte.”
[Stella Maris Orchestra and singer Flavio F. B. have caused a big reaction of enthusiasm — The singing of F. F. B. was clean and clear — His alto voice convinced in all registers without losing any pureness. It impressed how he seemed to sing without any struggle or effort. — Standing ovation.]
18. March 2013