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I've just come back from hearing Michael Maniaci sing in Keiser's The Fortunes of King Croesus for a second time. And by the gods, am I glad I went.

I knew he was good last time, I did. But with the excitement of the weekend generally, the novelty of Keiser's music to my ears, and the fast-moving spectacle of the production, it was hard to concentrate on just one singer's voice. This time, I had the plot clear in my mind, didn't need to get confused about who was in love with whom, and knew when to expect Maniaci's big moments. It helped, too, that while last time we were in the Upper Circle (the middle of three balconies), this time I was in the second row of the stalls, slap bang in the middle and mere feet from the orchestra pit. The difference in position alone made the whole thing so much more intense - like seeing something in colour or hearing something in stereo for the first time, when you've only experienced it before in black and white or mono.

How could I describe Maniaci's voice to someone who hasn't heard it? Well, firstly you need to assume perfect technical poise and polish. Agility. Dexterity. Purity. Strength. No run, no leap, no unexpected accidental could throw him. Take that as read. He uses vibrato - but with perfect taste. No overdoing it, no messy warbliness obscuring the precision of his singing. Only rich colouration where the notes demand it. He swells, he fades, in all the right places. He conveys passion, grief, joy perfectly.

And his tonality? Unique. He's nothing like a countertenor. The colour and roundness of his singing just could not be matched by anyone using a falsetto voice. Nor is he like a woman. Here, it's harder to explain why, without knowing technical things about hertz and natural harmonies. The best I can say is that his voice is fuller and richer - less piercing, but equal or greater in power. Those words are inadequate for conveying the true subtleties of the difference, though. What about a boy treble? No, nothing like. Far greater strength, and of course, because he has trained for so much longer, far greater technical polish than I have ever heard any boy manage.

And nor, if Alessandro Moreschi is representative of his kind, is he anything like a castrato either. Here, the comparison goes less in his favour. There's an almost raucous quality in Moreschi's voice - a great, belting, blaring power that punches you in the stomach and takes your breath away; a swelling, overflowing richness of sound, especially in his lower register. And I love it. Michael Maniaci doesn't quite have that, and it's no great surprise, given that Moreschi had a chest the size of a beer barrel, and he doesn't. But, of course, to my infinite sorrow I cannot hear Moreschi sing live, whereas I can hear Maniaci. I'm now firmly of the belief that he is the single greatest living singer I have ever had the privilege to listen to directly with my own ears. Better even than Robin Blaze (sorry!). Moreschi is still my personal Apollo - I don't think anything can ever change that. But Maniaci - oh! He can be my Orpheus.

Talking of Moreschi's lower register, last time I came away feeling I hadn't really got the measure of Maniaci's. Was it like Moreschi's, or not? I didn't know, so I listened out especially for it this evening. In fact I'd been right before, really, in saying the score didn't offer much chance to hear it. But the glimpses I got were promising. It seemed sometimes in the recitative as though the lower notes were perhaps sometimes a little weaker than the higher ones - but not so in the arias. He could dip down without difficulty into a lower range that was sweet and delicate. Not like Moreschi, but good. Sound, solid, and well handled by him. I'd like to hear more of it, and I hope I will do when he releases his CD.

All night I was entranced - by Maniaci, but also by both Gillian Keith (Elmira) and Fflur Wyn (Clerida), who would both have been worth going back for even if it weren't for Maniaci. Gillian Keith especially flew and soared with searing agility through the part of Elmira, and rightly dominated the opera with an astonishing range of beautiful arias. But then there was the moment when Maniaci began to sing 'Elmira, where are you gone?' (Elmir! wo bleibest du?), and entrancement turned into complete absorption. His messa di voce on the long, plaintive 'Elmira!'s was devastating. My heart was in my mouth. I shut my eyes so that nothing could distract from the pure experience of the sound. I'd known the aria was good last time, but this time, pre-warned, I was overwhelmed. Could I really be hearing anything so powerful, and yet so human? The lingering grief, and yet the perfect control and rich shape which he gave to the sound. I was completely wrapped in the moment - nothing but a pair of ears sucking in the melody he was unveiling.

And then, once again, it was all over - too quickly - and it was out into the confused strangeness of the street. How could ordinary life be going on after that music had finished? How could buses run and drunks shout? How could people not know? The journey home sped by in shell-shocked bewilderment. Betrayal - that what had been so beautiful could be so definitively over. Already, the memory of the sound is slipping away, and there's nothing I can do to refresh it. I feel as though I don't want to hear anything ever again, if it can't be Michael Maniaci singing 'Elmira, where are you gone?'.

All is not lost, though. Radio 3 were there, recording the evening for broadcast later in the month. Believe me when I say that I shall be there, hovering by my set with a supply of fresh tapes in hand.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 11th, 2007 08:24 am (UTC)
What a lovely squee.

I have a Cunning Plan.

I've got a PVR (Freeview box) with an HDD that allows DVD recording. If you tell me when the opera's on Radio 3, I might be able to (a) record the programme and (b) record it digitally.
Nov. 11th, 2007 10:02 am (UTC)
Thanks - but in fact I could record the broadcast onto DVD myself from the Radio 3 channel on Sky. It's just a pity there doesn't seem to be any way of simply telling it that there are no pictures to bother with, and recording the soundtrack alone directly onto CD.

Mind you, my parents have a posh stereo which can record onto CD directly off the radio anyway - so I shall have them under instructions to do so!
Nov. 11th, 2007 09:47 am (UTC)
As Mole says, that is indeed a wonderful squee. I know exactly what it's like to find an Orpheus...
Nov. 11th, 2007 10:07 am (UTC)
Thanks! Yes, I am thunderstruck by his gift. But also deeply pained that I now shan't be able to hear any more of it until the CD comes out next June. June! It might as well be next century... :-(
Nov. 11th, 2007 10:51 am (UTC)
Yes, I'm looking forward to that. I've been listening to those recordings of Mozart and have been enormously impressed.

- K
Nov. 11th, 2007 11:03 am (UTC)
Oh, good - I'm glad you like them. They are indeed probably the best ones available so far.
Dec. 31st, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)
Any chance of you uploading the mp3s again? I would love to hear them. I found a Youtube clip of Michael singing "chi perde un momento," and I would so like to hear more.
Dec. 31st, 2007 05:15 pm (UTC)
Re: mp3s
If you leave your email address, I will email them to you.
Dec. 31st, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
Re: mp3s
It's mercat37@yahoo.com . Thank you very much!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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